Recent pandemic along with climate change and environmental issues caused even more pressure on the agricultural industry. Agricultural companies and farmers across the globe are exploring sustainable methods of increasing productivity to deal with the growing demands and unforeseen events, like pandemic situations.
Advancement in the development of machinery enabled improved performance of farming equipment to cultivate the farmland more efficiently.
Today, agriculture is entering the ‘data and connectivity’ revolution. Data standards, software solutions, smart irrigation, drones, Internet of Things (IoT) etc. are all the technologies that made their way into the agriculture industry.
What is AgriTech?
AgriTech means applying technology in agriculture, horticulture etc. for improving crops and efficiency. The IoT in Agriculture (IoTAg) represents a specific use of technology where agricultural operations become linked.
Nowadays, there are technologies like AI, advanced analytics, sensors and other emerging technologies that can help to improve efficiency of precision irrigation, increase crop yields and build sustainability for crop cultivation.
However, if you do not have a strong connectivity infrastructure, this cannot be possible. If connectivity is implemented successfully in agriculture, the precision farming market could grow at around 15% CAGR from 2019 to 2025 as compared to 2018.
Despite this, agriculture still remains less digitized when compared to many other industries worldwide.
To address such challenges, agriculture must adopt a digital transformation which should be supported by connectivity. Digital tools as they can assist farmers to use all of their resources more efficiently while allowing better optimization of yields.
The pandemic crisis has further aggravated other challenges agriculture faces such as digitization and sustainability.
Current Digitization in Agriculture
In recent years, many farmers have started to consult data about essential variables like soil or crops/livestock condition and weather but only a few had access to advanced analytics tools that would help them turn such data into actionable insights. In less-developed regions, the majority of farmwork is still manual, with almost no connectivity.
Current IoT technologies are able to support simpler cases, such as monitoring of crops/livestock, but in order to achieve full connectivity for agriculture, the industry must fully utilize digital applications. Digital applications include high bandwidth, high resiliency, low latency and support for a number of devices offered by frontier connectivity technologies like 5G, LPWAN or LEO satellites.
However, connectivity coverage is expanding almost everywhere and the solution is to develop more effective digital tools for the industry and to support broad adoption of them.
Future of Network
Crops and Livestock Monitoring
Being connected provides many ways for farming companies to improve their crops or livestock monitoring.
If farming companies integrate weather data, including irrigation details, nutrients analysis etc. it can boost yields enabling them to predict and identify deficiencies more accurately. For example, if sensors monitoring soil conditions can communicate via LPWAN, they can guid sprinklers and adjust watering or nutrients dosing.
IoT sensors can provide images from remote land areas helping farmers with early warnings on potential diseases or pests. Farmers can improve crop revenue if monitoring crops for quality characteristics like fruit color or size etc. thus optimizing the entire harvesting process.
It is similar for livestock – preventing disease outbreaks and spotting early warnings are crucial in livestock management. Chips, body sensors and already popular ear-tag technology allow farmers to monitor livestock’s heat and pulse among other indicators, detecting early signs of illnesses and preventing herd infection. Ear-tag can also trace location allowing farming companies to trace their livestock in a real time.
Ecological responsibility is important for every industry and implementing environmental sensors can automate adjustments in ventilation or heating in barns thus improving living conditions of livestock.
IoT networks are still being developed as they cannot support bandwidth and connection issues, however 5G and Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) are good candidates to resolve the problems.
Up to recently, most farms used visual signs for monitoring pests.
Although it was a common practice, it was inefficient and expensive and in such conditions, farmers lacked the ability to identify the early warnings and react to an outbreak in a timely manner.
Pest management can include the following: collecting and accurately interpreting data on pests’ activity for more efficient treatment; integrating biosecurity tracking for rapid response across infected areas; the ability to share data with the relevant institutions to enable faster risk mitigation and connection of devices to report specific pest levels etc.
All these actions automate monitoring and data collection for farming companies to take more precise countermeasures.
The ability to automate and remotely monitor pests helps farmers to maintain good health of their farms.
Imaging, Drones and UAVs
Satellite imaging, smart drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) assist farmers to collect images and recognize changes to soil/crops, assess irrigation or spray crops.
Agriculture has already been using drones with crop spraying but the new generation of drones can survey crops/herds over vast areas and send real-time data to other connected devices. With addition of computer vision, drones are able to analyze field conditions and notify on any necessary interventions like fertilizing, spraying pesticides etc. where crops need them the most. Drones can also plant seeds in remote or inaccessible areas, thus reducing the costs of equipment and manpower.
With inputs from imaging, farmers can conduct crop forecasting and improve their production management. Integrated mapping can help identify issues and improve yields and time spent on certain agricultural processes.
For livestock, it can be a valuable tool to deliver information on stock conditions preventing disease outbreaks.
Autonomous Farming Machinery
Implementation of smart autonomous machinery allows farmers to operate different equipment simultaneously, without human assistance. Such automation reduces time and costs where more precise GPS controls (paired with sensors) could advance the usage of smart machinery.
Autonomous machines are more efficient and precise than human-operated ones and using them can help generate fuel savings and higher crop yields.
Modern farming companies complete most processes with the help of a computer or a mobile app. It allows them to access the data on-the-go, communicate with other key people in the supply chain and provide them with a chance to place an order at any time.
Such an approach leads to higher customer satisfaction as consumers can access information and conduct transactions directly online while ensuring that the products will arrive fresh from the farm.
These faster solutions give farming companies a competitive edge in the world of revenue and business.
The management of water usage on farms is now in the center of attention. Approximately 70% of total volume of water usage is used in agriculture irrigation.
A certain percentage of those is lost whether due to land runoff or inefficient usage methods.
Smart irrigation solutions offer a solution – IoT management platform that closely monitors and adjusts water utilisation on the farms. Dashboard integrates irrigation information giving access to farmers to improve decision making. Factors like timing, minimising wastage and analyzing soil moisture empowers farmers to fine tune their irrigation requirements.
Implementing smart irrigation lowers the chances of human errors with the automated systems such as smart valves for example.
Smart irrigation can reduce water wastage and improve the quality of crop growth in the fields through precision agriculture practices.
Building and Equipment Management
The advancement in IoT technologies along with chips and sensors to monitor and measure certain levels of silos or warehouses can automate ordering, reduce inventory costs and more.
These solutions can improve ‘shelf life’ of products and reduce losses by monitoring and automatically optimizing storage conditions. Such monitoring conditions and usage of equipment can also reduce energy consumption.
Predictive maintenance systems paired with computer vision or sensors can curb repair costs while extending machinery/equipment life at the same time.
Weather & Climate Monitoring
Climate changes and extreme weather conditions create further uncertainty for farmers.
That is where technology comes to help with weather predictions to help farmers manage their crops and farm more securely.
For example, if the farmers know that the storm is coming, they can pick a crop a day early to prevent any losses.
The ability to manipulate inputs enables the farmers to better control their crops. For example, if rainfall increases, they can adjust their irrigation systems to input less water to offset wet conditions.
Although agriculture found itself on the brink of a technological revolution, the industry will have to overcome challenges of deploying advanced connectivity.
Being able to connect and share information in agriculture (soil sensors, weather forecast etc.) across different devices will enable farmers and suppliers to boost efficiency and productivity.
The sustainability of agriculture depends on technological transformation and if you embrace it, you can position your business to thrive in an agritech-driven future.
All these technologies helping agriculture can assist in increasing sustainability that the industry needs to thrive in the future.