The agriculture sector has for long been cautious and hesitant to adopt technology fearing its side effects in eroding nature’s quality. However, over the years this sector has transformed tremendously with incremental technology additions, supported by growing biotechnological inventions and discoveries.
Going by facts and forecasts, the global population is estimated to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 and FAO predicts that food production must increase by 70% to feed the forecast population. All this must be done despite dwindling arable lands, unpredictable climate change, and depleting fresh water resources. These global changes have heavily affected the lifecycle of crops and livestock in the farming ecosystem. In addition, climate change has resulted in erratic changes in wind and rain patterns, affecting seasonal crop cultivation. The growing consumer awareness of the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in forcing farmers to look out for equal alternatives in organic fertilization and pest control techniques. This imbalance between supply and demand is pushing the limits of agriculture, leading to innovative approaches inspired from Industry 4.0.
The Ideal Scenario
The ideal scenario is the one in which farmers produce maximum yield of crop with minimum arable land, least use of water, minimum or no use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in a short time. This necessity is driving agriculture sector to look for and adopt technology to make informed decisions about farming and interlinked sectors such as dairy and poultry. This interdependence makes it significant to be well informed very much in advance to prevent crop/diary/meat losses. The aim of the agriculture sector is to optimize processes and use of resources for efficient and sustainable use of existing arable land.
The Internet of Things can enable all that. It can increase production, but more importantly it can also increase the level of quality of agriculture.
This Frost & Sullivan perspective aims to analyze this shift toward smart agriculture in the emerging and developed economies of the world. It also captures the latest adoption trends and technology that can be leveraged to reach the ideal scenario.
The low margin nature of agriculture is one of the major restraints of technology adoption in the sector. However, slowly but steadily, farmers around the globe have embraced technology in the form of tractors and drip irrigation method to reduce labor needs and optimize water supply. Nevertheless, the advent of IoT has penetrated agriculture into creating new farming techniques leading to the concept of intelligent farms.
Beginning from Deep Down Inside
Sensors: Advanced sensors are being deployed to measure and communicate various data points in the agricultural fields such as soil nutrient quality, nitrogen level, seed quality, water level in soil to plant monitoring features such as plant hydration level, luminosity level, pesticide level, weather conditions and so on. Development of wireless sensors with long battery life has been a crucial enabler for this implementation.
Communication Technology: As rural areas do not have network infrastructure on par with urban cities, utilizing low bandwidth cellular connections for Internet access has been the only reliable mode of communication. However, the rise of satellite based communication systems is expected to make rural communications on par with the speed of urban services. These serve as two-way communication devices allowing the farmers to track sensor data and also remotely control field equipment.
Autonomous Farming: Self navigation vehicles and automatic robotic equipment have been used in large farms for ploughing, seeding, weeding, and harvesting applications. These automated vehicles reduce driver stress and address labor unavailability issues. The path of these vehicles can be tracked, monitored, and controlled via GPS tracking systems and mobile apps in smart phones through cellular network. These systems also allow users to track multiple vehicles in afar locations and track vehicle status such as fuel level and scan for possible failure signals.
Another interesting application of autonomous vehicles is the use of drones for aerial field survey, chemical and pesticide immunization applications. This technology is extremely nascent and is being minimally adopted only in developed economies, because of high cost investment. Many vital features such as battery life, power management, long range navigation and communication for uninterrupted streaming need to be devised in order to promote acceptance amongst all economic levels.
The development of advanced sensing methodology has led to abundant increase in amount of generated data that need to be tracked and utilized by the farming community leading to the evolution of precision agriculture.
Precision agriculture aims to produce maximum yield by micro controlling resources and farming method to achieve maximum output specific to each segmented land portion. This involves initially screening and dividing the field into small cross sections that would be farmed as individual patches each with unique style of farming practice. This technique extensively uses sensors, GPS systems, real-time communication, cloud capabilities and analytics, largely similar to industrial application of IoT. Another subset of precision agriculture is precision livestock farming, associated with monitoring health conditions, feed rate and nutrient value, ambient temperature, medicine ingestion, and disease tracking of livestock and poultry in the farm.
With leading agriculture companies such as Dupont, John Deere, and Monsanto investing heavily into this technology, another serious question arises as to who will be the owner of the generated farmland data.
This data could also lead to pay-as-you–use models for farming vehicle manufacturers and plant fertilizer companies. Access to real time information about planting, harvesting, and yields can help bio technology giants customize packages and price according to the data. Moreover, this data could give unparalleled insight into the commodities market, helping corporates predict the property value of farms leading to a future where precision agriculture may even become a mandatory practice.
Agricultural IoT in Emerging Economies
E-agriculture in emerging economies is the use of communication technologies to broadcast relevant information to agricultural community to help boost agriculture sector. It can drive rural development by improving farmers’ access to vital information such as weather data, crop conservation techniques, climate smart solutions, water management practices, and financial aid support.
IoT will bridge the gap between agriculture researchers, extension agents, and farmers thereby enhancing agricultural production. Actionable information on disaster management is provided to communities and government along with risk mitigation techniques to equip farmers during events of natural calamities. Affordable insurance tools to manage risks and secure savings are also made available to rural communities through better access to financial services. This leads to a wide community with a practice of sharing farming methods, enhancing collaboration amongst government and farmers ultimately leading to better regulatory policies and framework aimed at wholesome progress.
Though smart agriculture is in its nascent form in emerging economies, concepts such as vertical gardening, indoor farming, and use of automatic decision support systems for agriculture are rapidly gaining popularity amongst corporates as well. With rapid innovation in technology and automation, man and machine intelligence is set to work together toward feeding the future.