The Internet of Things is changing the future of many industries. One of the industries that will be most affected by the IoT is agriculture.
It is well known that the world’s growing population will need more food in the future. But when you combine this trend with the effects that rising living standards have on food consumption means that, in the future, the global agricultural sector will have to deliver up to 70% more food. And it will have to do this in a short space of time – the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that this requirement will need to be met by 2050. Fortunately, the IoT can help meet this target.
The challenge then is determining how to meet the need for increased food production, while at the same time also addressing problems that are having a negative impact on agricultural production – such as declining agricultural workforce numbers in many countries and the need to balance environmental protection and food production.
Technology and Agriculture
Technology clearly has a major role to play here. Science and technical solutions have a proven track record for increasing food production in the past, for example in the Green Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. The challenge that is faced today and in the coming years will also be addressed, at least partially, by technology and in particular by communications and connectivity solutions.
The introduction of IoT solutions to agriculture – what has been termed ‘smart farming’ – has been happening already in parallel with the role out of IoT solutions in more high-profile sectors. But awareness of the types of IoT applications in agriculture is lower than for those within the consumer world or for manufacturing. And the uptake of IoT in agriculture will need to expand substantially if the needs of the future are to be met.
But what type of IoT solutions can be used in agriculture?
Business Insider talks about the benefits of IoT in the future of agriculture. The IoT Solutions World Congress also highlights several key areas in which IoT can play a role:
- Data collection. As with all other IoT solutions, the heart of IoT in agriculture is based around the collection of data with appropriate sensors, the processing of this data and then action being taken as a result of this when the data is shown to change outside of certain parameters. A range of tools can be used in agriculture, including robotics, automated hardware and vehicles, motion sensors and variable rate technology. One well proven instance is the use of sensing technology with automated sprinkler and watering systems so that the appropriate amount of water for plants is delivered at the right time of day.
- Drones. Reducing the manpower and time requirements for agriculture is important in many countries, given the aging agricultural population and general problems that the sector faces in attracting a young workforce. The use of drones has a role to play in this. Whether they are the more common aerial drones or ground-based ones, the use of drones can help farmers monitor agricultural production, crop health, livestock, and soil and field conditions. With the data gathered by drones, increased analysis can be undertaken to enhance a range of agrarian practices.
- Livestock management. The use of drones to monitor the physical location of livestock is one potential use of IoT solutions, but IoT in agriculture does go much further than this. Farmers can make use of IoT solutions and tools to monitor data on livestock health, condition, and location. This had clear benefits in terms of increasing returns but can also have a major impact in those parts of the world where cattle theft remains a major issue.
- Smart facilities. Whether it is greenhouses or barns, monitoring the conditions within a building and then providing an alert or taking automated action when the conditions change is one of the key bread-and-butter tasks that IoT solutions have performed in a wide range of sectors. Automated climatic control, motion sensors and local micro-environmental analysis can all be undertaken and reduce the impost on farmers and labor.
- Predictive analytics. One of the more challenging tasks in agriculture is in predicting what future conditions will be like. Data gathering is critical to improving the ability to do this. Where IoT smart farming really comes into its own is through gathering and collating all the different data sets that can be required and presenting these in a manner that can be easily understood. This can link to short-, medium-, and long-term monitoring of environmental conditions (temperature, humidity etc) as well as more specialist monitoring of soil chemical compositional changes. All this can help reduce the risk faced by farmers, increase production and reduce wastage.
There is no one silver bullet that is able to meet the food requirements of the future. Solutions are needed across a wide range of areas. But one of the most important tools that is already available and will continue to be refined in the future are those linked to IoT in agriculture and smart farming. These are having an impact, making a real difference to those areas where they have been implemented, and will have an increasing role to play as the agriculture sector looks to face the challenges of the future.