The agriculture industry will undoubtedly become more important than ever in the near future. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, globally we will need to produce 70% more food in 2050 than currently, to feed the growing population. Factors such as climate change, limited arable land, water scarcity, labor demand, distress migration, crop failures due to outbreak of pests, diseases, and other variables will further aggravate this demand for global food production. To meet this demand, technology will play an important role as farmers and agricultural companies are turning to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Global farm equipment manufacturers are looking at improving manufacturing efficiencies for their businesses and end users. They are looking at capitalizing on the recent advances in IIoT by fitting their farming equipment with sensors and telematics solutions to help farmers implement precision agriculture practices with an objective to manage and track their fleet of machinery and gather real-time data on equipment status. The industry is not new to technological innovations. However, with the introduction of IIoT, farming is expected to be elevated to the next level. Some of the key areas where IIoT can make a difference in agriculture include:
- Livestock management – IIoT can be used to increase and improve productivity and efficiency in livestock management. Using IIoT, farmers will be able to effectively manage their livestock and be able to monitor them at all times to prevent loss by theft or stray grazing. They would also be able to regularly monitor and assess the health of livestock, sending out signals around eating behavior, impending illness, reproductive cycles, calving, and other issues. Furthermore, sensors attached to cows can help farmers identify ideal lactating intervals when the cows would like to be milked. This can further create a positive impact on the amount and quality of milk production and also help in maintaining the health of cows.
- Smart Irrigation – Traditional irrigation methods involved manual spraying and flood irrigation mechanisms. These manual mechanisms could at times, result in over-watering which can ruin the crops and result in wastage of water, which is a precious commodity for agriculture. However, now, using modern irrigation methods such as IIoT based remotely controlled spray irrigation mechanisms such as micro-sprinklers, drip lines, and central pivots, farmers can monitor and control several onsite variables such as soil type, sprinkler application rate, water schedule adjustments, etc.
- Precision Farming – To address the numerous challenges in the agricultural industry, farmers globally are adopting a combination of advanced technologies such as:
- Robotics – Agribots are a fleet of agricultural robots that can be used in automated ploughing, seeding, weed control, fertilizing, soil analysis, and harvesting.
- GPS Technology – This technology is being used for farm planning and mapping, soil sampling, farm vehicle guidance, crop scouting, variable rate applications, and yield mapping. GPS empowers farmers to work even during unfavorable field conditions such as low visibility during rain, dust, fog, and darkness.
- Automated Steering Systems – This technology helps farmers to focus on the field planter, sprayer, or other farm equipment by enabling hands-free driving. Smart guiding systems further deploy different vehicle steering patterns depending on the plot area and shape that can be used along with other field systems.
- Sensors and Remote Sensing – Sensors mounted on farm vehicles can help collect data from a remote location. This data can help in evaluating soil nutrient level and crop health. Sensors embedded in the soil can help report weather conditions and monitor soil moisture. These sensors have emerged as a major use case in assessing optimal times to water, fertilize, or spray pesticides over the crops. Using IIoT, the farmer could now have the data on the best time and area to spray fertilizer or pesticide.
- Agricultural Drones – Also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), agricultural drones are short range flying objects that can help monitor crop growth, thereby increasing crop productivity. These devices are fitted with sensors and digital imaging capabilities and can collect data that could then be analyzed and delivered as useful insights to the farmers on a hand-held device.
IIoT sensors would bestow the power of data to the farmers. Using this data, the farmers would be able to accurately ascertain and predict rainfall, soil nutrition levels, and crop yields and be able to avert pest infestations and crop failures. The main objective of smart farming is not just to gather data, but also to convert this data into meaningful insights that can help improve productivity and bring down manual efforts. With rapidly increasing advancements of IIoT in agriculture, farming practices will continue to develop and there will be improved connectivity, resulting in improved productivity. Several traditional farm equipment manufacturers are increasingly making a move towards connectivity and other advanced smart manufacturing techniques. As a recent example, John Deere, a major agricultural equipment manufacturer, acquired an AI startup, Blue River Technology. John Deere made this move primarily to optimize its traditional crop spraying methods and to automate and teach its tractors how to farm. These tractors would now be deploying cameras that come with deep learning capabilities; so when they see a plant, they can identify it as weed and hit it with pesticide. On the other hand, if the tractor sees a crop, the algorithm ensures the equipment fitted on the tractor sprays fertilizers over the crops. Given all the potential benefits of IIoT in farming, farmers and farm equipment manufacturers are increasingly turning their focus, time, and investments in smart manufacturing techniques that will define the future of agriculture in the years to come.
With such rapid advancements of IIoT in farming, soon millions of sensors will start collecting several zeta bytes of farm data. It will be exciting to explore and discover groundbreaking opportunities that all of this data could bring to the agriculture industry. As far as this industry is concerned, the concept of IIoT is not for distant future. Now is the right time to think and act.