IoT application in agriculture: 5 real examples
A global digital concentration camp with total surveillance over voiceless masses through implanted microchips is a popular bugaboo among many anti globalists who can recognize technical capabilities of the contemporary IoT sector. But the concept becomes much less creepy if we change humans as the object of surveillance with animals. Consider a livestock industry, for example. Twenty five million cattle roaming around endless Australian flatlands can be much better treated and thus can bring more meat and milk to the livestock industry if blood oxygen levels, heart beat rate, body temperature, and daily activities of the cows are monitored remotely representing precise data about the herd health to cattle farmers. And a startup from Sydney, by the way, has already started using implanted IoT devices providing what we can call a smart farming. But more on that later.
Significance of smart farming
A potential of the IoT is well recognized in both industrial and municipal sectors. Smart factories and smart cities are not front-page news anymore. It is the turn of agriculture to acquire the “smart” prefix in the light of a total digitization. The so-called “agriculture 2.0” or smart farming is transformed from a conceptual category into a common practice due to several determining factors. The major one is the development of the Internet of Things which keeps booming in both hardware and software aspects (the use cases below in this text prove the statement explicitly). This factor can be seen as an indirect one pushing agriculture toward digitization from outside: why not try available gadgets in farming-specific applications?
The second factor comes from within the agriculture. To be more precise, it is created by the following challenges the contemporary agriculture faces:
More than 800 million people throughout the world remain undernourished;
Agriculture generates 19-29% of the total greenhouse gases being one of the main causes of the climate change;
The world population keeps growing at such a furious rate that we will need to produce 70% more food to satisfy about 9 billion people by 2050;
The irreversible globalization implies creeping urbanization when “ballooning” megalopolis wash workers out from rural areas;
Land which may be suitable for agricultural cultivation has a particular limit of growth from both technological and environmental perspectives
Hence, the agriculture 2.0 becomes an inevitable practice while various IoT-based solutions help smart farming emerge.
On a data-driven efficiency again
The above-mentioned challenges make the agricultural sector figure out how to intensify food production. In other words, farmers should do more with less somehow. As in the other sectors, this is all about efficiency. In order to optimize workflows and decrease production costs, farmers need an integrated approach to managing available innovations. To analyze what can be improved in agriculture, they have to collect more data from everything capable of generating data in their environment. This is where sensors come into play. And the data-driven analytics is exactly what the IoT offers. Hence, the IoT-based agricultural projects can show the way to the advanced nutrition security.
Objectives and constraints
Urban citizens in the developed Countries may be unaware of the fact that 75% of the world’s poor make a living through farming only. This is about billions of people around the globe. Making IoT-based smart farming affordable en masse can enhance the effectiveness of their work and therefore increase their income. It will have a positive effect on urban population, by the way, who will appear less vulnerable to a food deficiency in such a case.
The cost of IoT hardware, nevertheless, is not the main problem for farmers in the developing countries. Still insufficient broadband internet coverage is what keeps many farmers away from the contemporary IoT achievements, unfortunately.
However, even in the areas where internet connection is available, there is still enough space for the new IoT implementations in agriculture. In sum, the general directions to where smart farming should move through using IoT solutions come to the following:
- Monitoring of crops, animals, and weather to transform available parameters into valuable data;
- Optimization of use of water and land;
- Reduction of waste and GHG emissions;
- Improving work efficiency through better planning based on constantly collectible data;
- Improving resilience through mitigation of vulnerabilities to environmental disasters (droughts, floods, wildfires, global warming etc), pests, and pollutions;
- Reduction of costs to boost both the productivity and affordability of agricultural products.
There is a good reason for quite enthusiastic expectations regarding a market size of smart farming which is going to reach $15.3 billion by 2025. The IoT keeps covering agriculture at a robust pace. The following telling examples of the successful IoT applications reflect some possible paths to go in the realm of smart farming for the IoT developers.
An implantable health tracker for livestock was developed by an Australian IoT startup EmbediVet. The idea comes from a creepy globalistic concept of the future digital concentration camp where humans with embedded microchips are exposed to continuous surveillance of the Big Brother. The guys changed humans with cows in the concept and a worthwhile IoT use case appeared.
The IoT solutions for remote monitoring of herds are not radically new in the contemporary cattle sector, in fact. However, the rest IoT devices for such an application belong mainly to wearables - the gadgets fixed somewhere on a cow’s body. Ears and tails are usually considered the most convenient parts for fixing such gadgets. EmbediVet went further for a reason: since cattle could hardly be convinced against losing of the IoT devices (not to mention taking them off intentionally), the most secure place for sensors should be found literally inside a cow. Being implanted under the cow skin, the EmbediVet sensors become an integral part of cattle. An in-built tablet battery provides a 3-year power supply for the device which sends collected data about both the health and behavior of herds through the cellular internet. The “always connected” livestock becomes totally trackable that, in its turn, allows farmers to develop a better treatment to get more with less. The solution seems meeting the objective of smart farming, right?
An independent farm data company, as Farmobile calls itself, explicitly declares the very reason of using IoT solutions in agriculture: generate revenue from your data. The company from the US focuses on collecting and sharing data from the farmers’ mixed fleets through two original IoT software products: Farmobile DataEngine and Farmobile DataStore.
Both products at their core are aimed at optimization of farming machinery exploitation and thus at reduction of operational costs that brings more value from agricultural activities. Farmobile combines knowledge of farmers, agronomists, agricultural retailers, and insurance companies in order to monetize their data sets. The IoT technologies from Farmobile reflects a collect-share-monetize digital strategy which implies the famous “do more with less” principle after all. Redefining wireless data transfers between offices and farming vehicles Farmobile enhances the significance of farming-centric IoT solutions within the Agriculture 2.0 paradigm.
“We create products making your farming more efficient and your life less stressful” - this is what Moocall project from the US declares on its website (a mobile app for both iOS and Android is also available, by the way).
The livestock hardware is gaining momentum in smart farming since the data collected directly from cattle allows farmers to give up guessing about what their cows feel and do in favor of precise knowledge. And knowledge is power as they say. Moocall offers two types of “wearable” sensors to monitor calving and heat remotely. Looking like a hi-tech gizmos they are fixed on tails and necks of the cattle. The hardware-software IoT project is developed in accordance with everything we used to expecting from an advanced Internet-based solution including monthly service plans, text messages on mobile phones etc. A certain wordplay in the very name of the project - “Moocall” hints at a possibility to receive calls from cows, how odd it may sound. The original free-to-download Breedmanager mobile application empowers control over herd management through a widely accepted mobile user experience. Indeed, the global “smartphonization” has already reached even animals.
Climate Control Systems
Two words inherent originally in agriculture - “greenhouse” and “climate” have received some negative connotations in a contemporary environmental discourse. And this is for a reason since notorious “greenhouse gases” generate the horrific “climate change”. However, it is worth remembering that a greenhouse technology in agriculture is a true silver bullet for the areas lacking fertile soil (hydroponics allows growing plants without any soil at all). Climate Control Systems Inc from Ontario (Canada) offers several IoT solutions for greenhouse automation.
Having more than a 30-year experience in manufacturing of hardware-software systems for greenhouse management, the company shows that smart solutions appeared in agriculture much earlier that we all started talking about the Internet of Things. Three basic systems from the CCS Inc are aimed at reducing costs in three greenhouse domains: the Fertigation Manager reduces costs for fertilizers and irrigation, the Climate Manager reduces heating and cooling costs, and the Ozon Pro reduces costs inherent in environmental compliance. Taking into consideration the many-year success of the company in smart agriculture, it is worth admitting that improving greenhouse efficiency through automation works. This is really a persuasive use case for those who are still hesitating about the capabilities of the IoT solutions in agriculture.
Robotic milking in the era of dairy automation is what a large corporate smart-farming technology provider Lely from Netherlands advocates.
Some statistics first: established in 1948 (!), 1200 employees, 4 R&D departments, customers in more than 40 countries, 1600 patents, and a revenue more that € 500 million. Impressive, right? What does Lely offer agriculture to have such achievements? Among many other solutions