Food production and distribution are among humanity’s greatest challenges. Access to sufficient fresh & safe food is already problematic in less advanced parts of the planet and is only likely to worsen if items remain the same. The United Nations estimates that there are going to be near 10 billion people on Earth by 2050. Meanwhile, the amount of arable land at our disposal will shrink because of overuse and climate change.

We’re faced with the daunting task of having to produce more food with fewer resources, so every advantage helps. The Internet of Things is already proving instrumental in maximizing food manufacturing, albeit on a restricted scale.

On the other hand, the future of IoT in agriculture is looking bright — a research published by BIS Research demonstrates that the agriculture IoT market will be worth $26.8 by 2023. This means that more and more food producers are taking advantage of joined technology to boost their yields and smooth out inefficiencies in the manufacturing procedure.

But what is IoT, and how can it impact food production? This article examines the benefits implementing IoT into agriculture brings as well as the challenges IoT should conquer. It gives an summary of the way IoT is making an impact on every aspect of agriculture from livestock & plants to the supply chain that delivers food to our tables.

You will also learn about sensors and drones, the IoT tools that are the easiest to implement in agriculture. Finally, we take a look at the future of agriculture and IoT’s part in it by researching the concepts of smart greenhouses and urban farming.

How does IoT apply to agriculture?

The internet of things, in general, refers to devices that share information over the internet and can act on one another. IoT in agriculture is a subset of the IoT space which focuses on generating data on plants and livestock, assessing their health, and implementing solutions to associated problems more efficiently than relying on human input.

The function of IoT in agriculture is to present a circle of monitoring, decision making, and action into the farming procedure. First, attached sensors take measurements on a crop or farm animal’s condition.

This data is aggregated and uploaded onto a cloud platform where it is analyzed and recommendations are made based on preset parameters. The vast amounts of data are condensed to a format that can be easily translated by farmers or automated bits of machinery. These then implement appropriate actions.

The most obvious result is increased efficiency. By having applicable data at their fingertips at all time, farmers can make informed decisions on animal health or necessary crop treatments. They can predict returns and plan out associated labor or logistics costs. This is referred to as precision farming.

IoT is closely tied to automation, so less human input and therefore fewer workers are required. The resulting increases in yield and decreases in overhead and logistical cost make farming more profitable. And that’s not just true for large-scale farming operations either — small family farms, organic farms, as well as rooftop gardens can benefit from IoT adoption.

The benefits of IoT for cultivating field crops

Knowledge is the greatest asset IoT brings to crop cultivation. By installing an array of sensors throughout his fields, a farmer has 24/7 access to information regarding weather patterns, soil humidity & nutrient levels, and how much light the plants are getting. This allows for optimized irrigation and fertilization costs and saves considerable sums while also ensuring that the harvest is thriving.

Smart weather stations are the most popular kind of IoT device employed in fields today. They gather data on weather conditions throughout the year and send it to the cloud. A farmer can access not only the weather station’s current and historical data but also has all past data and future forecasts for the local area at his disposal.

This makes it easier to establish patterns or past trends and make better decisions on crop rotation. Mid- and short-term weather predictions also impact a farmer’s decisions on when to plant, apply fertilizer, or start harvesting. This leads to less waste and better yields while decreasing the negative impact of adverse weather.

IoT is instrumental in fleet automation and optimization. By feeding info on the fields to connected vehicles, the total number of trips needed to harvest or fertilize them can be decreased. Route mapping makes sure that automated vehicles take the optimum path from the field to a silo and further cut down on fuel costs.

Agricultural drones

Sensors are vital to assessing a field’s conditions, but they aren’t a comprehensive solution. That’s why modern farms utilize them in conjunction with agricultural drones. These are specialized remote-controlled vehicles that can assess the state of a field in a more nuanced way. 

Agricultural drones are equipped with specialized mapping software and multispectral sensors that grant the farmer access to more advanced information such as the amount of chlorophyll produced, canopy density, or plant development.

Drones can produce detailed aerial maps of areas as small as a specific field. These maps assist the farmer assess whether the crops are growing equally and quickly enough, make it easier to find problematic patches in a field that might otherwise seem fine, and detect potential problems in the irrigation method.

Drones also take an active role in the farming process since they can be used for crop spraying. Both fertilizers and pesticides can be administered via drone and at a reduced cost since drones follow a pre-programmed flight path and will spray sections of a field which require extra nutrition or protection.

While adopting the use of drones comes with high up-front expenses, doing so is profitable in the long run. It is much cheaper and easier to learn how to use a drone to survey a field than to pay a licensed pilot or train to become one.

Survey planes and crop dusters have higher running costs and need landing strips to operate. Drones, on the other hand, need a small flat surface to land on and can be stored together with other farming machinery.

Using IoT for the management and welfare of livestock

Commercial herds number in the thousands, so it is difficult to keep track of individual animals. By installing tracking connected tracking processors, a rancher can instantly locate a stray animal and return it into a herd faster. Since the rancher knows where his possessions is at all times, fewer hands are needed to find and bring back strays.

The livestock’s health is of paramount importance, which is the reason why connected sensors that monitor an animal’s vitals are quickly catching on. These sensors assess the animal’s body temperature, heart rate, activity levels, and other factors to determine if it is in good shape. The rancher is notified when problems are found so the sick animal can be isolated and treated.

Since an illness can be identified in its early stages this way, the risk of it spreading to other animals in the herd is significantly reduced. Sensors already exist that activate an alarm when an animal is about to give birth, ensuring that it is given proper attention in time and increasing the chances of a routine birth.

Dairy farmers are always looking for more efficient ways of enhancing their yields, and IoT can help with that too. Monitoring a cow’s food intake and milk yield leads to data that can be used to tweak its own diet and increase output. From the long-term, aggregating data on which animals produce the maximum amounts of milk leads to more optimized breeding and increases production much more with each new generation.

What are the challenges for IoT in agriculture?

It is clear that implementing IoT into agriculture brings numerous advantages, but some challenges will need to be addressed before it becomes more widespread. The biggest difficulties IoT in agriculture is facing today are lack of information, lack of infrastructure, higher adoption costs, and safety concerns.

The Internet of Things is a recent idea and is known best to folks who work with cutting edge technology. Most farmers aren’t even aware that IoT in agriculture is a thing. More problematic is the fact that some of them are compared to new ideas and do not wish to adopt IoT even when its overall benefits are evident.

The very best that can be done in order to raise awareness of IoT’s impact is to demonstrate to farmers what drones, sensors, and related IoT technologies can do for them in a way that’s easy for anyone to understand and accompanied by real-world examples.

When they want to embrace IoT, many farmers can’t take advantage of it because of bad communication infrastructure. Farms are often in remote locations, far away from access to broadband internet. A farmer has to be able to access crop data reliably at any time from anywhere, nevertheless link issues can render even the most advanced monitoring systems useless.

Acquiring the equipment required to execute IoT in agriculture is pricey. Sensors are the least expensive component, yet outfitting all of a farmers fields together with them can cost several thousand dollars. Automated machinery costs more, and there are also costs associated with utilizing farm management software and having cloud access to think about. While the potential for higher profits down the line is significant, many farmers may find the initial investment hurdle hard to conquer.

Lastly, there’s the matter of security. Since IoT devices interface with older gear that has access to the internet, there’s no guarantee that someone will not access a drone mapping data or sensor readouts by taking advantage of the people link.

Agricultural IoT systems gather enormous amounts of data which are hard to guard. Someone with unauthorized access to an IoT provider’s central database could steal information on projected returns and manipulate the market.

Tagged in: