IOT for Smart Agriculture

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (FOA) predicts that the global population will reach 8 billion people by 2025 and 9.6 billion people by 2050. In order to keep pace, food production must increase by 70 percent by 2050.

To be able to fulfil this crucial need we need to first look into the various challenges of the agricultural sector. Some of the challenges being, limited amount of arable land, climate change, limited amount of fresh water, and the price and availability of energy.

In order to counter these challenges the Food and Agriculture Organization recommends that farming sectors should be equipped with tools and techniques and digital technology. Technological developments have led to the building of smart cities. IoT is one such technology which is already being used in the development of smart cities. This IoT technology can now be used to do smart farming or precision farming.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is gradually transforming the agriculture sector by providing new methods and enabling farmers to contend with the challenges they face. The IoT is based on technologies such as GPS services, sensors and big data, and ICT- based support systems backed by real time data. The IOT based system gathers data, analyses it and provides appropriate responses to the information received.

This can provide  information concerning various aspects of farming which was not possible previously. Such information enables the farmer and gives him a better understanding which would help to him to take smarter decisions resulting in, less wastage and maximum efficiency/productivity in farming.

The Internet of Things helps in increasing crop productivity by way of managing and controlling farming activities such as the following:

Water Management: Water is the basic requirement for farming and its adequate supply is crucial for crops. If water is in excess, or scarce, it could have adverse effects or practically destroy crops. Water management systems provide a solution to manage and control water supply for crop irrigation. The system is able to analyze the water requirement of the crop and controls the supply of water thus providing just the right amount and saving the precious supply of water. The irrigation system is connected with sensors and valves which operate timely without human intervention.

Weather forecast systems/Climate monitoring and forecasting: Accurate and timely communication of real time data through weather forecast systems can help farmers to plan agricultural processes such as plantation, harvesting, availability and cost of labour,  well in advance.

Pest management/control: Very often crops are destroyed by pests due to which farmers suffer huge monetary losses. To prevent or control pests to a large extent, the agriculture IoT has systems that monitor, scan, identify and track the environment and plant growth. There are pest control sensors that use the scanned data to predict pest behaviour. Farmers can use this information to stop/control or reduce damage done by pests to a large extent by taking timely preventive measures.

Produce Safety/Smart logistics and warehousing: IoT systems do not only help in crop production but also aims at providing security for the produce at different levels such as transportation, storage at proper temperatures and providing records of the produce in a cloud based system. This is a very important aspect in the agriculture sector because without proper transportation and storage facilities the produce could get spoilt leading to financial losses for the producer/farmer. IoT systems can be used to enable a safe chain of logistics.

Farm animals: Most farmers also breed cattle which require proper and constant care. The IoT enabled tools such as ear tags, are capable of detecting respiratory diseases in animals and alerting the concerned authority or the farmer, so that the affected animal can be separated from the herd to prevent spreading of the disease. The  sick animal can then be isolated and treated well in time. IoT can also help track the location of livestock thus making it convenient for the farmer and reducing labour costs.

Soil sampling/Nutrition: Soil tests measure the relative nutrient status of soils, salinity of the soil and are used as a basis for crop plantation and fertilizer application. Sensors are used to measure moisture, heat, chemicals, and other conditions. The information captured  by a sensor or a number of sensors is vital for the farmer. Based on this information, water, fertilizers, and pesticides can be used in precise quantities at precise locations to yield higher output of crops.

Energy consumption: Like water energy is also an important factor/input/criteria in agriculture and its cost can make or break an agricultural business. A lot of energy is used in running pumps, lights and other equipment. An IoT network can remotely determine the status of all electric consumption and therefore allow for more efficient use of energy. It would provide information about a faulty irrigation system or machine, that requires maintenance or change. Timely intervention in such cases would lead to considerable energy cost savings.

As technology continues to improve and grow it also has certain limitations or constraints as in every new venture. The same holds true for the use of IoT in the agriculture sector.

IoT and its value for stakeholders:

IoT has proved its value in different industries and now it can be used in the agriculture ecosystem which comprises of the farmers, manufacturers, retailers, technology companies and consumers. However the  commercialization and deployment of the technology would require partnerships between the farmers, governments, technology companies and other stakeholders for it to be a viable proposition considering the costs involved in setting up of such IoT systems. The key step for the producers/farmers using technology is to find the right IoT applications that provide the most value.

Summary:

The IoT can be a very useful tool for the farmer. Deployment of an IoT network can make efficient energy use, and thus cut done on considerable energy costs. The different sensors and monitoring systems provide accurate data makes farming easier and profitable for the farmer. Crops can now be monitored precisely and continuously than in the past. It can help to determine the supply of water to crops in all weather conditions. It can assist in smart livestock farming. The data collected by these technologies can enable farmers make more effective decisions that increase productivity with reduced impact on the environment. Thus the use of IOT technology can bring about positive changes in farming.

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