IoT is Driving Advancements in Agriculture

By: Surinder Dhar, Director of Mobile Solutions – Business Development

The impressive gains in global food production during so-called “Green Revolution” have subsided over the time and are too small to keep pace with population growth. The world population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. The challenges of extreme weather conditions, rising climate change, and environmental impact resulting from intensive farming practices has made it even harder to keep up with demands for higher agricultural production.

AgriTech/Smart farming is one of the technologies that will lead to the quantum jump in food production.  AgriTech is performed by using specialized software intended to improve one’s agricultural business profitability and efficiency, while Smart farming is collecting and processing various agricultural data via a battery of sensors in and around the farm and using data science and artificial intelligence (AI) to automate farm activities. These two terms are often used interchangeably and cover the use of IoT solutions to improve a certain aspect of one’s agricultural business.

The use of IoT in agriculture started with the incorporation of sensors in connected farming machines and equipment. John Deere, the USA based farming equipment manufacturer began connecting tractors by putting an in-house hardware module MTG (Modular Telematics Gateway) for internet connectivity and developed JDLink iOS and Android application for analytics as early as 2013. They have created a method of sharing the insight from the data analytics with the farmers, which is a boon to agricultural community.

The concept of self-driving tractors is also catching up fast. Self-driving tractors are controlled remotely, providing significant savings in labor costs and free up farmers to perform other tasks and further increase efficiency. The key to self-driving tractors is an efficient route planner.

The other areas of smart farming can broadly be classified into following four categories:

Precision Farming: Precision sensors help farmers collect data related to weather conditions, soil moisture and nutrients, controlling water usage for optimal plant growth, determining custom fertilizer profiles based on soil chemistry, and determining the optimal time to plant and harvest. This data then leads them to make smarter decisions.

Livestock Management: Livestock management solutions are based on sensors connected with livestock wearables. These sensors can monitor the heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, breathing rate, and even digestion and send the data to a central computer for further analysis.  With these sensors, farmers can also track individual farm animals and even spot sick ones by tracking their optimal grazing patterns. Farmers can rapidly react to an infected animal and stop its disease from transferring to other animals in the herd.

Smart Greenhouses: Smart Greenhouse is a self-regulating and micro-climate-controlled environment designed for optimal agricultural produce. Climatic conditions inside the greenhouse, such as temperature, humidity, luminosity, and soil moisture are monitored around the clock and automated actions are triggered based on the changes in these climatic conditions. In terms of sensors and data processing, it is very similar to precision farming.

Agricultural Drones: Drones have proved to be highly useful in managing agricultural processes.  Drones collect the pictures and aerial maps of the farms and farmers, which communicate an immediate understanding of the state and health of their crops.  In agricultural there are uses for both ground-based and aerial-based drones.  Drones are ideal for gathering the field data like ground resolution and altitude. The field data collected via drones can be utilized for plant counting, yield prediction, health indices, height measurements, the presence of chemicals in plants and soil, drainage mapping ,and various other data. Data collected from the drones can be used to create 3D maps for seed planting predictions, planting, crop spraying, crop irrigation, and health evaluation. Drones are a great source of collecting farm data and can take care of the full cycle of crop growing.

Depending on the use case farmers may, use one or multiple technologies described above. If done properly, SmartAGRO can be affordable and a scalable solution keeping both small and large farmers in mind.

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