6 Ways IoT is Revolutionizing Agriculture

The internet of things has already brought us huge improvements across numerous industries, including construction, health, and education. However, another use case where IoT is being increasingly applied is agriculture.

The effects of climate change, soil erosion, and population growth have meant that producers are having to increase efficiencies, reduce waste and adopt more environmentally friendly farming practices. 

Fortunately, IoT is providing novel solutions to many of the challenges, helping producers to cut costs and have more control and oversight of the production process. 

As such, IoT in agriculture has shown high adoption and it is only expected to grow in the coming years. In this blog, we’re going to explore some of the most common use cases of IoT in agriculture today, as well as some promising developments for what the future could hold. 

1. Data Collection and Precision Farming

IoT systems can gather and process vast amounts of data from countless sensors, at a very low cost. When applied to an agricultural setting, the opportunities this can provide are immense. 

Sensors can collect data such as the amount of sunlight, humidity, moisture, and temperature, across an entire farm. This data can then be analyzed in real-time and used to inform better decision-making or to automate certain processes. 

For example, if a sensor for a specific crop detects that the moisture content of the soil drops below a certain threshold, it will communicate this information back to the system, which will then automatically turn on sprinklers within that quadrant. The same can apply if a sensor detects that the ground temperature is dropping below a predetermined threshold. In this scenario, a polyethylene roof can be expanded to cover the crops. 

The name for this IoT-supported food production is precision farming, which is the concept of using the exact number of resources that a farm needs for optimal growth, no more no less. In the example above, by implementing IoT, watering only occurs when data determines that this is required, which therefore reduces water waste to near zero. 

By implementing precision farming, food production is maximized, and the number of resources needed is optimized. This not only leads to more food being produced but also to cleaner farming and a more environmentally friendly process.

2. Drones

IoT-enabled agricultural drones are among the most common use cases of drones today. They enable farmers to monitor crops across large areas of land. This can help to identify any problems with pests or rot that, if left unchecked, can severely damage crop yields. Today’s IoT-enabled drones are able to do this by analyzing the color of crops. The less vibrant the color, the more the likelihood of an infestation or disease. 

As well as monitoring crops, drones are also used for the distribution of materials across a farm. This includes spraying pesticides and fertilizers on crops. All of this activity can be controlled by an operator on the farm or based at a remote location. What’s more, many of these activities are being automated, such as regular crop monitoring, meaning farmers are not required to use scarce and expensive labor to perform these activities.

3. Livestock Tracking

IoT-enabled devices are also being used for livestock. Keeping a small sensor on the tag of an animal collects a wealth of useful data that can be used to optimize farm operations.

These sensors collect data such as the general health of the animal, their temperature, nutrition, and location, and keep track of their age. Keeping track of their health and location, for example, can help prevent diseases from spreading.

These tags can also be used by farmers in the meat and dairy industry to dynamically keep track of how many animals are in the gestation period, lactation cycle, or have calves, in order to know what attention each animal requires, in real time.

4. Smart Greenhouses

Traditional greenhouses create a static environment, whose parameters are largely influenced by sunlight. Smart greenhouses, on the other hand, enable precision control of many variables to produce optimal growing conditions.  

IoT sensors within the greenhouse collect data on variables including temperature, humidity and soil moisture. The management system then analyses this data and can activate HVAC systems if variables need to be adjusted. For example, water sprays can be activated if a hot spell of weather has reduced the soil moisture level.  

5. Predictive Analytics

The data collected from IoT devices is increasingly being used to model advanced simulations of future agriculture production within farms. In order to run accurate simulations, the data inputted into the model needs to have the highest fidelity possible. Until the widespread use of IoT systems became the reality, much of this relied on estimations or guesswork. But thanks to the vast amounts of accurate data that IoT sensors can collect within a farm, predictive analytics is now more precise than ever. 

For example, a simulation with accurate data collected from IoT devices can model what would happen in the event a crop contracted a disease. An accurate simulation can show how fast this disease would spread, what areas would be more vulnerable, and more importantly, what preventive and corrective actions can be taken to keep damages to a minimum. 

6. General Farm Management

At the highest level, IoT-enabled farms can provide farmers with dashboard reporting and analytics of KPIs, in much the same way a bank or an insurance company would monitor its business. This provides an unprecedented level of data and insight that was never possible until the advent of IoT systems. As such, farmers now have a wealth of data to help them make better decisions, allocate resources more effectively and plan for the future. 

Final Thoughts 

We’re still in the early stages of IoT in agriculture. As the price of sensors, drones, and processing power continues to drop, we should expect to see more farms adopt this technology. What’s more, with the added pressures of climate change and water scarcity, IoT enables farmers to do more with less, which is more important than ever.

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