The Internet of Things (IoT): Smart Agriculture?

According to UN, the current world population as estimated at 7.49 billion will further increase to 11.2 billion in the year 2100. Ensuring food security for this growing population is an all time challenge for farming sector. The quantum and type of challenge is not simple but more complex for different countries to fulfill their needs. On one hand, developing countries constitute majority of 870 chronically undernourished million people in the years 2010-2012. On the other hand in developed countries, improved affordability to purchase not only basic but also quality food products further increases this burden on agro industries and world leaders.

Different experts argue in different ways to solve this issue covering a wide range of methodologies like employing biotechnology to develop GM food, adopting modern techniques of farming, spreading information by using available research and extension tools to make farmers more aware, bridging gaps between research labs and farmers and many other. But all experts and global leaders have consensus on using biotechnology, information technology and Internet of Things (IoT) to bring second green revolution and adopt Smart Agriculture.

The use of sensors and other technologies to improve agricultural production, involving all fertile land available, and automating as many tasks as possible to analyze and implement technology is termed as precision agriculture. There are four key areas for precision agriculture: productivity, pest control, water conservation, and continual value. This article will focus on use of IoT to improve the farming practice to meet the challenges of global food security.

IoT tools for precise agriculture:

  • Farm Management Software: Allows farmers to more efficiently manage their resources, crop production, farm animals, etc.
  • Precision Agriculture and Predictive Data Analytics: Focus on using big data and predictive analytics to address farm-related issues and make better farm-related decisions in order to save energy, increase efficiency, optimize herbicide and pesticide application, and manage risk, among other uses.
  • Sensors: Collect data and help farmers monitor crop health, weather, and soil quality.
  • Animal Data analysis tools: Software and hardware specifically aimed at better understanding livestock, from breeding patterns to genomics.
  • Robotics and Drones: Perform various farm functions more efficiently (such as Blue River Technology, backed by Monsanto Growth Ventures, Syngenta Ventures, and Khosla Ventures, among others).
  • Smart Irrigation tools: Help in monitoring and automatic water usage for farms using various data exhausts.
  • Marketplaces or ecommerce tools for farmers: These mobile app/information based tools offer marketplaces relevant to agriculture by connecting farmers directly to suppliers or consumers without any middlemen. While some are e-commerce platforms, others use tech to facilitate physical marketplaces.

Precision Agricultural Tools

How IoT can help farmers? 

  • By using IoT like automated robotic machines and tractors, farmers can save time, energy and money by hiring less number of farmhands at planting and harvest seasons. 
  • Big-data analytics can review easily collected data from sensors, cloud services such as weather or maps, connected equipment and existing systems to predict optimal periods for seeding and harvest.
  • IoT start ups and agro-industries should quickly build and bring to market new innovative IoT applications at 10 times the speed of other approaches with our rapid application development environment and drag and drop mash up builder.
  • Leverage big data and analytics to provide new insights and recommendations to aid in better decision-making. If farmers can take right decision at right time, the productivity may be enhanced substantially
  • Enable farmers to easily visualize data and take action on insights and recommendations
  • IoT can help farmers by employing different sensors and technologies in farming associated practices like dairy, poultry, fishery, sericulture, apiculture and many more. 
  • Sensor technology based tagging to regulate animal movements is widely used in big dairy set ups in developed countries now a days which requires less number of helping hands and improve the milk production. 
  • The favourable environmental conditions like temperature and humidity in poultry set ups can be regulated by using sensors based automatic devices and equipments to improve the poultry production. 
  • Two major components in fishery industry are very important to take care of. First is oxygen and other gas contents and second is proper food supply in pond water. These components can be regulated properly by measuring real time data by using sensors and automatic responding equipment's to replenish oxygen and food in pond water. That will reduce the need of human hands as well as maintaining favorable conditions for fishes to grow. 

Examples of recent IoT start ups to improve agriculture:

IDTechEx predicts the precision agriculture market will increase to $10 billion by 2022. Other market research firms have similar forecasts. this year said the “smart agriculture” market will be worth $18.45 billion in 2022, enjoying a compound annual growth rate of 13.8% over seven years. WinterGreen Research estimated the worldwide market for agricultural drones is $494 million at present, growing to $3.69 billion by 2022. There are many IoT startups like Topcon Precision Agriculture, Pessl Instruments, Blue River Technology and Naio Technologies already working for better agriculture which can be studied as examples by future start up aspirants. Topcon Precision Agriculture already operating in more than 10 countries and claims to brings efficiency and productivity to virtually every phase of the farming operation. This company is providing proper guidance, auto-steering, seeding and planting, spraying and spreading, crop sensing, harvest, connectivity/data management and water conservation. Pessl Instruments is a start up in Austria and provides instrumental solutions for crop and plant protection by providing irrigation automation, insect monitoring, frost and flood warning and nutrition sensing. Blue River Technology is United States based startup which provides smart machines to improve productivity and precise agriculture. These automatic machines will further reduce the need of man power will save expenses, energy and time of farmers. France based startup, Naio Technologies develops and markets robots for agriculture and viticulture. They also supply a range of electric tools for weeding, hoeing and harvesting to help farmers efficiently collect the fruit of their hard work. They claim that their robots assist farmers in their daily tasks in order to relieve their workload and increase profitability while reducing impact on the environment.

The success story of IoT in agriculture does not stop here. 

There are many startups mushrooming in big developing economies like India. TheAgrihub provides authentic product information about brands in conventional and hi-tech agriculture. The platform connects, companies, distributor’s retailers to cater to the needs of farmers in India. AgroStar have built a “direct to farmer” m-commerce platform through which farmers can procure agri-inputs needed for their farms by simply giving a missed call on their platform and eventually accessing their mobile app. There are hundreds of examples of such startups around the world working for betterment of agriculture by using IoT.

The world will need to produce 70% more food in 2050 than it did in 2006 in order to feed the growing population of the Earth, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. To meet this demand, farmers and agricultural companies are exploring the possibilities of using IoT for analytics and greater production capabilities. The IoT is set to push the future of farming to the next level. Smart agriculture is already becoming more commonplace among farmers, and high tech farming is quickly becoming the standard. Although a lot of research and innovation to develop new tools and speedy application/implementation on ground is required but hopefully, IoT will facilitate smooth transition to smart agriculture and will bring second green revolution in near future.

Further suggested readings:
1.     "World Population Clock: 7.5 Billion People (2017) - Worldometers". Retrieved 2017-03-18.
2.   "World Population Prospects - Population Division - United Nations". Retrieved 2016-09-15.

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