How IoT is positively impacting the agriculture sector.
The world has always been pretty much divided into rural and urban areas—a divide that has increased since the industrialization wave. While urbanization flourished, little attention was given to improving the rural (agriculture) sector. Though many countries have become less dependent on agriculture, other countries find it contributing to a large share of their GDP. Considering the exponential increase in population, decline in manual labour, and shrinking rural lands, the agriculture sector is heavily constrained.
Fortunately, IoT is offering smart, cost-effective, automated solutions that help farmers increase crop yield with limited natural and human resources at little expense requiring rudimentary technical expertise. IoT solutions are focused on helping farmers close the supply-demand gap by ensuring high yields, profitability and protection of the environment. Smart farming using IoT is a capital-redirective and hi-tech system of growing food cleanly and sustainably for the masses.
This article sums up the top applications of IoT in the agriculture sector:
While raising livestock and growing crops are heavily dependent on physical conditions—temperature, soil management, lighting, humidity, CO2 concentration, etc—precision farming offers an easy way out. In this technique, farmers receive a large array of data via different sensors; control systems; robotics; autonomous vehicles; automated hardware from every microscopic portion of their land. This data can be accessed using the internet from anywhere, helping in quick and intelligent decisions. By taking the guesswork out of the equation, there is a higher chance of a profitable yield.
Being one of the leading applications of IoT in the agriculture sector, several companies are offering solutions based on Precision Farming. CropX builds IoT soil sensors that measure soil moisture, temperature, and electric conductivity enabling farmers to approach each crop’s unique needs individually. Arable is another tool that allows you to combine weather and plant data with soil composition details through a cloud-based platform, providing in-depth insights and predictions that can help maximize yields.
Greenhouse Farming is a methodology that helps in enhancing the yield of vegetables, fruits, and crops by creating an artificial environment. Smart greenhouses employ different sensors to measure the environmental parameters according to the plant requirement. The data is then accessed remotely over the internet. This eliminates the need for constant manual monitoring. IoT sensors inside the greenhouse provide information on the light levels, pressure, humidity and temperature, working in collaboration with actuators to maintain the optimum conditions required by the crop. These actuators can automatically open a window, turn on the lights, control the heater, or turn on a miser, all of which are controlled over WiFi. Timely reports are sent to the user through email and SMS.
Companies like Synnefa and Argus Controls are working to provide smart greenhouses at affordable prices. Synnefa is a drip installation and Agri-Tech greenhouse organization that uses new modern technologies for providing services. It builds modern and affordable greenhouses by using solar-powered IoT sensors. Using these sensors, the greenhouse state and water consumption can be reported via SMS alerts to the farmer. Similarly_, Argus Controls_ provide automated control systems for horticulture, aquaculture, and related biotechnology industries. A leading provider of control systems, the company uses computers for integrating controls of greenhouse environments with irrigation systems.
Traditionally, farmers would take a morning stroll on their land for crop growth assessment, irrigation, crop monitoring, crop spraying, planting, and soil and field analysis. Naturally, the bigger the land, the longer it would take the farmer. Agricultural drones come in handy here. Aerial-based drones can now automatically monitor the land through software-controlled flight plans in their embedded systems, working in coordination with sensors and GPS. Drones with thermal or multispectral sensors identify the areas that require changes in irrigation. Once the crops start growing, sensors indicate their health and calculate their vegetation index. Besides making life easy for the farmer, drones have also reduced the environmental impact. Results have indicated a reduction in chemicals reaching the groundwater.
HummingBird Technologies — a UK-based startup — develops drones with customized sensors with machine learning algorithms and computer vision to gather accurate data and imagery to aid precision farming. Advancements made by these and many more such startups worldwide will create fertile ground for the growth of this market. Another example is Gamaya — a Swiss startup — focused on boosting productivity and scalability of small farms by using advanced mapping and diagnostic systems, enabling farmers to efficiently manage their farms.
Efficient and prosperous animal agriculture historically has been the mark of a strong, well-developed nation. It is an industry in itself that plays a role in providing protein for food for most of the world’s population — something that IoT has made more efficient. Sensors are attached to animals to monitor their health and log performance to cloud. Livestock tracking and monitoring help collect data on livestock's health, wellbeing, and physical location. Farmers can use livestock collars with smart sensors to gather individual data on each animal’s nutrition regimen, temperature, blood pressure and many other parameters. This information helps in monitoring the individual and the herd alike; identifying and separating sick animals reducing diseases from spreading. Considering that the entire process is automated, human interaction and involvement are curbed, thereby reducing labour costs.
Cowlar is an example of an IoT system that uses cow collars to gather data and transmit it to the cloud. This enables dairy farmers to optimize milking and farm performance while reducing labour costs. It can also help farmers monitor cattle reproduction. Another solution, SCR by Allflex, enables smart intelligence for individual cows and the herd as a whole. Each collar collects data on body temperature, nutrition details, and vitals. Combining this data into herd management plans results in actionable insights into all aspects of dairy farming, from milking management to livestock identification.
With increasing demands and shortage of labour, agriculture robots (AgriBots) are starting to gain attention among farmers. Recent advancements in sensors and AI technology have played a vital role in keeping crop yield up. There are a number of AgriBots working to reduce manual labour and shift to more automated solutions.
Weeding Robots use digital image processing to look through the images of weeds in their database to detect similarities with crops and weed out or spray them directly with their robotic arms. Farmers are under a ton of pressure to reduce their use of herbicides and other chemicals which can contaminate the ground and surface water. Destroying weeds with lasers and UV light uses zero chemicals which improves hygiene.
Machine Navigation enables tractors and heavy ploughing machinery to be easily controlled from the comfort of home through GPS. These integrated automatic machines are highly accurate and self-adjust when they detect differences in terrains, simplifying the labour-intensive tasks. GPS controlled steering and optimized route planning recommend the shortest route across the fields, minimizing soil erosion and compaction as reducing fuel costs. These machines are connected to the cloud, allowing them to be tracked and controlled through a smartphone.
Gone are the days when the whole family would be called in for the harvest season. Harvesting Robots are now designed to pick up fruits and vegetables 24/7. Intelligent harvesting robots are launched on the basis of machine vision technology, integrating the mobile carrier, robot arm, picker, traverse mechanism and intelligent module, which achieves the travel route programming of the robot picker, auto-judging the ripe fruit.
Material Handling Robots are specially designed to perform intensive-labour tasks. They can lift heavy materials and perform tasks like plant spacing with high frequency optimizing the space and plant quality and reducing production costs. IoT WMS (Warehouse Management System) uses sensors and tags on materials and products to track them throughout the warehouse. That way, facilities have an interconnected, accessible system telling them where everything is and what it's doing.
IoT has greatly influenced the agriculture sector, giving it a better and more productive direction. The use of technology will bridge the difference between rural and urban areas, uplifting the living standards of the former. However, this is just the beginning of the era of IoT, and much can be improved. Building on the concepts laid down now, many amazing inventions are on their way into the world.