Maybe you’ve heard: IoT (short for: Internet of Things) is all the rage. And yes, in agriculture, too! Maybe you still wonder: What can IoT do for me? Is this so-called “smart farming” really smart? Is it worth investing? It is, after all, high-end technology that comes with a price tag. In this article, we will show you some use cases for IoT in farming. Who knows, it might be just what you need, right? So let’s dive right in to the cutting-edge technologies for the farming industry.
Using technology in agriculture, you know that better than anyone, is anything but new. And surely, that is also smart. “Smart agriculture” as well as “smart farming”, however, specifically refer to the use of IoT in farming and ranching. The Internet of Things makes use of smart devices –sensors or machines equipped with sensors – providing data that, properly analyzed and transferred into adequate measures, makes farming much more efficient and precise.
While currently the market is still small growth rates are at 20% annually in the United States; the number of farms and ranches to adopt IoT technologies is expected to triple by 2025.
Depending on what is suitable for the farm in question, smart agriculture can mean almost anything from relatively simple monitoring of herds and crops to complex systems of farm management. Let’s take a closer look at the possibilities and see, how IoT can help in agriculture.
One of the easiest and most frequently used options in smart farming are weather stations. To these stations, placing in the fields, various sensors can be added, allowing basically everything from mapping climate conditions to steering irrigation systems. Mapping climate conditions can be helpful in deciding which crops are most suitable for the patch of land in question, and thus helps maximizing the yield. In other words: It is a perfect basis for precision agriculture.
Sensors on a weather station can also indicate when there is a drought or when the ground is to wet. Even if there is not automatization connected to the sensor, it can help the farmer see where actions need to be taken in time to save crops or livestock.
Herds, of course, can also be monitored with IoT technology. Ear tags contain sensors that inform herd managers or ranchers about the location, but also health and well-being of the herd and the individual animal. As a consequence, ranchers no longer need to search for missing animals – and save a considerable amount of man power. Sick animals or animals giving birth can be detected easily via sensor monitoring, thus making it far easier to get the right treatment or help in time.
Specific crop management devices – planted in the fields like weather stations – can not only monitor the general condition of the soil, but also deliver data like temperature or precipitation to leaf water potential.
In addition to mobile weather stations in the fields, agriculture drones can also be used. Drones can provide real-time data for things such as irrigation or crop health and the number of plants. They provide valuable insight which helps counterbalance tendencies that endanger the yield, but which also, among many other things, helps with yield estimation.
Drones provide visual, thermal and multispectral data and images. They automatically return to the place they started the flight from once data collection is completed.
Weather stations, as mentioned before, cannot only be used for monitoring, but also for things like irrigation and other regulative measures. This principle is used extensively in greenhouse automation.
Sensors detect when plants need to be watered or when the temperature needs to be adjusted. The mechanism is simple. A temperature spectrum is set as the optimum. Once the temperature rises above or falls below the predefined spectrum, the temperature regulation is activated and the greenhouse heated or cooled accordingly.
Once again, this makes greenhouse management more precise and saves manpower – since all the sprinklers and the AC system can be controlled remotely or even be activated and deactivated automatically, as in this example.
Farm productivity management systems are, of course, the state-of-the-art when it comes to using IoT technologies for farming and ranching.
Basically, they are integrated systems that use a large number of sensors to cover as much data as possible from a variety of sources. They come with a powerful dashboard with analytical tools and usually also include accounting and reporting applications. They can even include features such as fleet or vehicle tracking and logistics.
These all-in-one solutions are perfect for precision agriculture that can be controlled, for the most part, remotely.
So this sounds just amazing, doesn’t it? Still, there are some things you need to bear in mind when entertaining the idea of investing in IoT-based agriculture.
You can collect all the data you want – but at the end of the day, a human brain needs to work with it. The collected data on the soil condition, weather and climate, but also on the wellbeing of the herd need to be analyzed and measures need to be taken. Even in a fully automated greenhouse, a human brain needs to define the parameters correct for the system to function. So while there’s a lot of manpower to be saved by using IoT in agriculture – it doesn’t work entirely without human brains at work.
Yes, it is expensive – and it’s not a one-time investment: Sensors need to be maintained, updated etc. – because if they do not generate accurate data, the yield is in danger. On the other hand, a lot of money can be saved by investing in these technologies. But there is no one-for-all solution when it comes to IoT in agriculture. What is needed is a careful evaluation of what really makes sense for your farm – and a calculation of the ROI.
While this may sound trite at first glance, it is something to bear in mind. Agriculture, by the nature of the endeavor, is located in rural, often remote areas. Stable terrestrial communication networks can be hard to come by or at least be unreliable. Therefore, it is in many cases advisable to use satellite communication for agricultural IoT solutions. Satellite network systems such as LoRaWan are available almost anywhere, even in the remotest areas. They provide stable networks for data transfer under most conditions.
If you bear these aspects in mind, IoT is an extremely useful tool in agriculture – one that can actually help you as a farmer or rancher to do more things remotely from home – and increase the yield at the same time.