When consumers think of IoT applications, connected cows or digitally monitored fields rarely come to mind—but they should with the rise of IoT in agriculture. According to a January 2016 Machina Research report, the number of connected agricultural devices is expected to grow from 13 million at the end of 2014 to 225 million by 2024.
A snowballing world population means the agricultural industry will need to produce approximately 70 percent more food in 2050 than it did in 2006, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. To maximize crop yields and use of resources, farmers are utilizing smart agriculture technology to track progress, predict outcomes and drive decision-making.
IoT in Agriculture: Precision Farming
Today’s farmers face a set of difficult challenges—an increasing worldwide demand for food, a changing climate, and a limited supply of water, fossil fuels and arable land. To surmount these hurdles, the agriculture industry is adopting an array of digital solutions including:
- GPS Technology
- Computer Imaging
IoT sensors report weather conditions and monitor soil moisture and acidity while animal farmers track the movement and behavior of livestock remotely via embedded devices. Industrial IoT applications are also useful for monitoring indoor agricultural facilities such as silos, dairies and stables. For example, an agricultural storage system can establish baseline performance norms and then set alert and alarm conditions related to temperature, vibration, humidity, and other conditions.
IoT in Agriculture: Low-Cost Sensors
According to Statista, the number of low-power wide area (LPWA) connections used in land agriculture worldwide will rise to more than 117 million by 2024—up from just 160,000 connections in 2015. In part, the exponential growth coincides with a sharp reduction in cost for individual sensors and network operating costs. Because they are not dependent on third-party WiFi or cellular connections, LPWA options such as Symphony Link enjoy greater network reliability and scalability even across a vast farming enterprise.
A Smart Future
The goal of precision farming is not simply to gather data via sensors, but to take it a step farther—analyzing the data to evaluate needed interventions or changes. Smart farming application areas include farm vehicle tracking, livestock monitoring, large and small field farming, and storage monitoring. For example, livestock sensors might notify a farmer that an animal is sick, allowing it to be pulled from the herd before the disease has time to spread. Soil sensors alert farm owners to high acidity or other impending problems, allowing time to avert poor yield before it happens. Self-driving tractors can be controlled remotely, providing significant savings in labor costs.
The next several years will bring increasing use of these and other smart farming technologies. According to BI Intelligence, IoT device installations in the agriculture world will experience a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent. U.S. farmers are already proving the efficiency of smart farming techniques by producing an average 7,340 kilograms of cereal per hectare (2.5 acres) of farmland versus the worldwide average of 3,851 kilograms per hectare.
As IoT applications in agriculture continue to develop, farms will become more connected, more streamlined, more efficient and—ultimately—more productive.
Beecham Research. (2014). Agriculture embracing the IoT vision. https://www.beechamresearch.com/files/BRL%20Smart%20Farming%20Executive%20Summary.pdf
Machina Research. (2016, January 12). Agricultural IoT will see a very rapid growth over the next 10 years. https://machinaresearch.com/news/agricultural-iot-will-see-a-very-rapid-growth-over-the-next-10-years/
Machina Research. (2016, May). Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networks play an important role in connectiong a range of devices. https://www.statista.com/statistics/626424/lpwa-connections-worldwide-by-use-case/
Meola, A. (2016, October 7). Why IoT, Big Data & Smart Farming is the Future of Agriculture. http://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-smart-agriculture-2016-10