4 Ways the Internet of Things Is Transforming Agriculture

February 13, 2019 - 7 minutes read

The Internet of Things (IoT) is bringing so many changes to various industries that it’s hard to keep up. But do you want to know where the real innovation in IoT development is happening? Agriculture.

Together with artificial intelligence (AI), IoT is ushering in a new renaissance in the field (literally). And it’s just in time.

A Need for Smarter Farming

In a recent interview with IoT For All, Chris Penrose, AT&T’s President of IoT Solutions, discussed where he sees IoT heading in 2019:

“We’ve been doing IoT for 10 years now at AT&T. We deal with nearly every vertical / industry on the planet. Connected cars are definitely a huge space for us, but where we’re seeing even earlier adoption of these autonomous technologies is in the agriculture space.”

That answer may be a surprise, but it’s a welcome one. By 2050, the agriculture industry will have to support the needs of 9.8 billion people worldwide. And besides this exponential population growth, there are a plethora of other factors to consider: environmental challenges and drastic weather pattern changes are just a few.

With these obstacles in mind, it’s easy to see how farmers will need all the help they can get. The issues staring down the agriculture industry could easily come to define our future if they’re not dealt with appropriately. Fortunately, IoT is helping us pave the way toward a better tomorrow. Let’s take a look at how IoT is bringing the future of farming to us today.

Acres of Open Land = Autonomous Tractors

Self-driving cars have been dominating headlines for a while. But if you ask Penrose where the real innovation in autonomous vehicles is occurring, he’d point you in the direction of the nearest farm: “Tractors and farm equipment, heavy machinery for things like mining, drones, and robots will lead the first wave of automation… [They] will provide an early proving ground and will pave the way for mass automation in the future.”

When you think about it, this actually makes complete sense. Farms are generally confined and isolated away from vehicles and pedestrians. This lack of interference makes these open acres prime real estate to test out plotting, fertilizing, and plowing by autonomous tractors.

Besides this, farmers are just like anyone else—with only 24 hours in a day, there’s only so much time they can really dedicate to driving these vehicles. Automating tractors and other heavy machinery would unlock unparalleled efficiency by increasing the amount of time they could operate.

On top of this, autonomous tractors can also apply their machine precision to complete tasks more effectively. Utah-based ASI Robotics and London-based CNH Industrial are collaborating to construct tractors that utilize path-generating algorithms to find patterns that would yield the most efficient area coverage.

Simplifying Livestock Monitoring

Besides crops, many commercial farmers are also tasked with managing legions of livestock. Since these commodities are living, breathing, and moving, monitoring them is quite a bit more difficult than produce. You not only have to worry about their health but their location as well. And how well farmers do this can often determine the success of their businesses.

IoT solution providers such as Telit are introducing new paradigms to make livestock management much easier. Farmers simply equip each of their animals with wearables that contain embedded connected sensors. While sensor capabilities vary from one supplier to the next, they can usually monitor various health metrics such as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, respiratory rate, and digestion.

Location-wise, these sensors can track an animal down to a few steps. This data allows farmers to find lost or sick animals faster. And when analyzed, it can elucidate optimal grazing patterns as well as solutions to potential problems plaguing a whole herd.

Smart Beehives

Around the world, the bee population has been declining for quite some time now. IoT offers some opportunities to help farmers bolster their bee colonies. Portuguese company APiS has created B-App, a web-based platform that enables beekeepers to monitor their hives remotely and assess bee population health through data analysis.

Besides streamlining project management for beekeepers, B-App can also be coupled with the company’s Smart Hive package. This set of hardware comes with a cork to regulate hive temperatures as well as a gate that can count bees as they depart from and return to the colony.

Last but not least, the hives are equipped with APiS’s Hive Monitor, a tool that transmits hive data to the cloud. After being analyzed, this data can help beekeepers tailor their colonies’ schedules for optimal results.

Prime Real Estate for Precision Farming

The introduction of these various IoT technologies marks the beginning of a new era for agriculture: Welcome to the age of precision farming. Here’s how Remi Schmaltz, Co-Founder and CEO of Decisive Farming, describes it: “Everything that makes the practice of farming more accurate and controlled when it comes to the growing of crops and raising livestock.”

Next time you’re at a farm, take a look around. Whether it’s the crops, livestock, bees, or greenhouses, you may find wireless sensors hard at work connecting the dots between seemingly disparate data.

For farmers, these sensors are providing deeper insight into how they can operate more efficiently and drive down costs. For everyone else, well… they may just end up being the reason we all have food on the table in the near future.

What are your thoughts on precision farming and IoT’s place in agriculture? What unique ways do you think this technology could be applied? Let us know in the comments!

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