As the population continues to increase, so does the demand for food. As such, farmers are facing more challenges today than in the past. Technology may provide one answer in the form of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Rising input costs and fluctuating market costs place immense pressure on the profit margins of the agriculture industry.
Precision farming and other technologies, such as variable rate spraying, have helped to reduce costs and increase yields when growing crops, while other technologies are also reducing costs and increasing output in the livestock industry.
“However, these technologies can only go so far,” says Richard Tuke, vice president for EMEA and APAC at KORE Wireless, a provider of Internet of Things solutions and services.
“Historically, connectivity and cost have been barriers to wider adoption of digital technologies in farming. The evolution of cellular networks, the integration of satellite networks with cellular (providing cover anywhere), and falling costs of sensors provide new opportunities to agriculture to further digitize.”
For example, better data on moisture and nutrient levels – nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus – will allow growers to reduce inputs — saving money and increasing environmental sustainability, according to Tuke.
All this is made possible by the Internet of Things. Put simply, it is connecting machines/sensors to the internet, allowing data collection that can then be analyzed using farm management software to make decisions or utilized by machinery, such as sprayers or irrigation, to control inputs, Tuke explains.
“Then farmers can rely on these IoT monitoring systems to give them accurate data anywhere at any time, leading to safer, more sustainable, and cost-effective farming practices,” he says
7 Ways to Use IoT in Agriculture
Here are seven ways to use IoT in agriculture/farming:
1. Crop Monitoring
Drone-based surveillance can be performed with drones equipped with IoT sensors and cameras capable of surveying crops to monitor crop health, disease, and nutrient management and detect problems, says Aman Anand, senior digital partnerships manager at Nutrien Ag Solutions, a provider of agricultural products and services.
“Drones are being used to apply products around high insect and disease pressure concerns.
“With the advent of IoT, applying products in real-time is much easier based on the information provided.”
Drones can also assess the size and condition of crops, helping farmers estimate yields and plan optimal harvesting, says Giri Baleri, director of product management at Trimble Autonomy.
IoT is also invaluable in crop management solutions to identify where there are issues that need to be addressed, i.e., diseases, pests, weather damage, flooding, irrigation issues, etc., using a combination of satellite imagery, drone data, and IoT sensors, adds Jared Johnson, strategy director at digital transformation consultancy Kin + Carta.
Johnson explains that crop management solutions work best when they enrich data from the IoT devices near farmers’ fields with drone data, satellite data, and other data sets to paint the most complete picture possible.
“This data can help farmers understand more precisely where they need to make changes to their crops, saving time and resources and ultimately creating better profit margins,” he says.
2. Precision Farming
IoT sensors measure soil moisture levels to optimize irrigation and prevent overwatering or underwatering, says Baleri. And IoT weather sensors provide real-time data on temperature, wind speed, precipitation, and humidity, helping farmers make informed decisions about planting and harvesting. In addition, IoT devices track crop growth and health as well as outbreaks of disease, enabling timely interventions.
This data can be combined with drone aerial views for real-time monitoring, says Robin Manke-Cassidy, director of solution marketing at Cradlepoint, a cloud-managed wireless edge networking equipment provider. These technologies empower farmers to act and correlate data to act quickly and adjust. These same technologies are used for all facets of the agriculture industry.
3. Livestock Management
When it comes to managing livestock, farmers use IoT-enabled devices to track and monitor the health of livestock. They can track the whereabouts and actions of their livestock in real-time by using IoT-enabled tracking devices, says Shafkat Chowdhury, co-founder of Nodes Digital Limited, an IoT-based agricultural solution provider.
“And with the help of geofencing, they can create virtual boundaries and get notifications when animals venture outside of approved zones,” he says. “This technology improves animal welfare and guarantees more effective management of grazing patterns.”
In livestock production, monitoring health and wellness with collar and ear tags and internal boluses can optimize milk and beef production while streamlining the use of pharmaceuticals, says Keith Olawski, IoT business development executive at SAS, an AI and analytics provider.
IoT systems can also automate the feeding process, ensuring livestock receive the right amount of food at the right time, says Baleri.
4. Smart Greenhouses
IoT sensors and actuators are essential to the automation of greenhouses, says Chowdhury.
“Crucial environmental elements, including temperature, humidity, and lighting, are monitored and managed by these sensors and actuators,” he says. “IoT facilitates careful cultivation, speeds up plant growth, and boosts the overall productivity of the greenhouse by maintaining ideal conditions.”
According to Anand, IoT systems can capture and deliver continuous communication to central processing units related to temperature, humidity, and lighting in greenhouses to optimize crop growth. This enables automatic control of the growing environment.
“Advanced 5G technology and low Earth orbit constellation broadband Internet would help IoT deployment in greenhouse settings.
Also, the precision application of agrochemicals would reduce the cost of the application chemical to make it more economically environmentally sustainable.”
And farmers can remotely control and monitor greenhouse conditions through mobile apps, ensuring the right crop conditions, says Baleri.
5. Equipment Monitoring
IoT sensors can also monitor how farm equipment is performing and transmit that data to a central location via mobile connectivity to give farmers real-time data about how the equipment is being used, how much fuel the machines are consuming, and if there are any maintenance issues.
“IoT devices can monitor the condition and performance of agricultural machinery, providing data for preventive maintenance,” says Baleri. “And IoT enables farmers to track the locations and usage of their equipment, reducing theft and improving logistics.”
The Internet of Things has completely changed how irrigation is done, says Chowdhury. Soil moisture sensors are essential to optimize irrigation schedules and guarantee crops receive the appropriate water.
“IoT systems can reduce water waste and increase agricultural water use efficiency by automating irrigation equipment based on real-time data,” he says.
7. Waste Management
According to Chowdhury, ioT solutions can be used to manage agricultural waste productively.
“IoT technology ensures the proper disposal and recycling of waste, including organic materials and crop residues, by monitoring and managing them,” he says. “This helps to promote sustainable farming practices.”
By collecting data, such as the soil’s moisture levels, IoT solutions can provide valuable insights into how farmers are using resources and identify any waste.
For example, farmers can use IoT sensors to monitor the levels of nutrients in the soil and only apply fertilizer when needed, which reduces waste and improves the health of the crops.
Visibility is the Overall Benefit of IoT in Farming
As with other industries, IoT implementations provide much better visibility into what’s happening in the fields, greenhouses, on-farm experiments, and processing facilities of the world’s food and agriculture systems, says Eric Taipale, chief technology officer at Sentera, a provider of agricultural analytics.
“We can produce a continuous stream of diverse data that allows customers to understand the status of their operations more precisely and manage more quickly and efficiently than ever before,” he says.
“Without the use of IoT sensing and processing tools, humans would have to gather and process these data points. It’s expensive, error-prone, and slow to operate this way. IoT has revolutionized what we can accomplish.”
IoT enables farmers to gather real-time data on weather conditions, soil moisture, temperature, and other relevant parameters, says Meiko Martin, director of business development, off-road autonomy at Trimble Autonomy, an autonomous technology provider.
“This data can be used to make informed decisions about planting, irrigation, and harvesting, resulting in higher crop yields and reduced resource waste,” he says.
In addition to challenges around seasonality and environmental unpredictability, agriculture faces challenges with the site specificity of data, according to Taipale. Soils and even growing conditions can vary significantly between fields that are located relatively close together.
He says the data needs to be captured at each field to conclude what’s happening there. Leveraging IoT and associated devices unlocks the ability to capture data at every location relatively quickly compared to previous methods of manual data capture.
Farmers have plenty of demands on their time, and IoT is a great tool to let them focus on more important issues in their operations, says Taipale.
“Every person in this world relies on agriculture in some way,” he says. “Being able to leverage technological advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence, advanced sensing, and all the other elements of the IoT infrastructure is imperative for agriculture to adapt to the needs of our world.”
Looking to the future, the evolution of connected machines, data, and AI creates the potential for more remote and digitally driven farming, according to Tuke.
“While this may not be something that appeals to all who farm today, it may be the sort of evolution needed to attract future generations into the industry,” he says.