IoT In Agriculture
Agriculture and IoT
Even though modern agriculture is already heavily automated. There is still a lot of room for improvement in terms of productivity and predictability. Nowadays, pests, droughts and the consequences of climate change wreak unprecedented havoc on farmers across the globe. Data-driven solutions using IoT devices are able to provide useful insights that can be used to predict such dangers. Even if the next harvest is at no particular risk, IoT-devices will still help to increase overall efficiency by reducing costs and allocating resources (such as water, fertilizers and pesticides) to where they are truly needed.
Overall increased efficiency
In the near future, IoT utilization will be very prevalent in the agriculture space. Its ability to increase productivity while also reducing the effect on the environment should be enough to warrant support from regulators. This article examines the disruption IoT created in the agricultural sector so far and identifies distinct use-cases for IoT across different agricultural processes.
In the agricultural sector, one does not only have to pay careful attention to his crops but also market conditions to maintain a competitive advantage. IoT sensors can be used in order to increase efficiency and as such, dominate the market.
One success story leads us to China, where a strawberry farm managed to increase its production by over 100%, all while significantly shortening its time to market. The system also reduced the labor force by around 50% per kilogram or fresh strawberries and halved the volume of water and fertilizers required. This trial of IoT-solutions was conducted in five of the farmer’s winter greenhouses, the means to connect all of the devices to seamlessly analyze the data were provided by China Mobile (a state-owned telecom company). The sensors installed collected data, such as air conditions (CO2, temperature, humidity), light intensity, substrate conditions and leaf moisture.
Strawberries are not a highly specific crop. The reality is that this use case is rather simple, and the same technology could be implemented in many other scenarios without too much effort.
Optimizing pest management
Inefficient management of pests can seriously decrement crop yield. Checking for pests manually is hugely time-consuming and never a scaleable process.
IoT sensors can provide farmers with accurate, real-time information about the health of their crops, which can be used to identify a pest presence. Low- and high-resolution image sensors can be used in an IoT approach to gather insights into the overall behavior patterns of particular pests on a farm. If, for example, climate sensors detect specific conditions that allow certain pests to thrive, IoT can help to predict infestations, enable farmers to prepare early on.
Using these sensors and additional smart farming devices, one can analyze the efficacy of the current pesticide usage. Users can make optimizations on how, where and when to apply specific strategies. IoT in agriculture takes many many variables, including subjective experience and human errors out of highly complex equations.
Tracking Grazing Animals
Not only do these trackers help reduce a farmer’s time required to find lost animals, but it will even provide insights into the animal’s behavior. At which spots do these cows prefer to graze?
Speaking of cows, an Austrian start-up called SmaXtec created a tool that helps farmers to remotely monitor the cows’ health or well-being. Connected sensors are placed inside cows’ stomachs in order to collect and transmit data over Wi-fi. The monitor will not only track the cow’s overall health but also inform the farmer if a cow is pregnant (which is accurate 95% of the time).
While the benefits of these devices are undoubtedly appealing to every farme, the setup is still very expensive. The costs are around $600 per cow. This device also only lasts for four years before it needs to be replaced.
Decreasing water consumption
Water is a precious resource that needs to be used as efficiently as possible. While watering plants in a garden might seem easy and straightforward, irrigation at a certain scale is a crucial agricultural process that can make or break a yield. Too much or too little water can have adverse effects on both crop and soil health (which may continue to inhibit the cultivation of future crops)
Some providers of IoT solutions claim that their technology, which consists of sensors measuring soil moisture, can reduce water consumption by 30%. It provides farmers with data to take timely action against overwatering or droughts.
Avocado farmers in Southern California placed sensors around their trees to measure the water levels. These sensors are connected to irrigation systems (in this case, a sprinkler system) to irrigate only trees that are actually thirsty. The water supply shuts off at night, to avoid times were irrigation would be wasteful. This approach reduces the margin of error significantly and spares farmers from several manual tasks.
Becoming Climate-Proof through vertical farming and IoT
As the global population keeps increasing, scientists wonder how more people can still get access to nutritious food. Not only are there more mouths to be fed, but the population growth drastically affects climate change. Which could wreak havoc by disrupting the usual growing season.
One answer to this problem might be vertical farms. A topic that has skyrocketed in popularity within the smart farming industry. Many experts agree that the benefits of this farming technique can potentially prevent future food crises. For example, vertical farms can have 12 growing cycles per year. These indoor farms do not require soil or natural sunlight to thrive.
Operators can not only grow more fruits and vegetables but also do so in strictly controlled environments, which is centered around data provided by IoT sensors.
In urban areas, vertical farms are a great way to utilize otherwise abandoned spaces, such as old parking garages or empty warehouses. Conventional farming in cities is not profitable, as there is simply not enough space and soil quality for crops to thrive. So produce has to be transported to those who need it in the city, which also increases carbon emissions.
Vertical farming could soon be the answer many environmental-conscious cities are looking for, providing its people with nutrient-dense produce using indoor setups that are almost guaranteed to provide a fruitful harvest year-round, even if weather patterns are not ideal.