You know, farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”
America’s 34th president, Dwight Eisenhower, spoke these words 63 years ago, in 1956.
Today the president’s words continue to ring true. The farming industry is still not easy.
It’s tough for farm workers and agricultural engineers to predict when diseases will damage crops, when the rain will come and go, how long to keep sprinkler systems running, what pesticides and fertilizers to use and how often, and when tractor equipment will need to be repaired. How can agricultural engineers overcome these challenges?
Improve Access to Reliable Data
Complicating these problems, it can be difficult on farms to gather information from different locations in a timely manner. Quick and reliable access to data is crucial for making more informed decisions that improve productivity while minimizing costs.
But that data often remains unavailable, intractable, unreliable, or too slow to arrive.
All these challenges can be effectively addressed, however, when farmers, agricultural operations managers, and process engineers have faster and more accurate access to reliable data and network connectivity.
The good news is this valuable data and robust network connectivity is becoming more widely available and used on farms. Called Internet of Things (IoT) smart farming, this capability will continue to deliver many key agricultural benefits in 2020.
What is smart farming?
Smart farming accesses and collects data from farm operations, including machines, and uses that data to make better-informed decisions based on data rather than intuition.
With smart farming capabilities, agricultural engineers can use IoT sensors, smartphones and PCs to access real-time data about conditions of soil, plants, terrain, climate, weather, manpower, and resource usage.
For example, smart farming uses IoT information and data technologies, such as sensors connected to a field of crops, to deliver data quickly to the agricultural engineers and farm workers to generate insights and make better productivity decisions.
An IoT sensor can be connected to measure different environmental factors to reduce agricultural waste. Examples of these different environmental factors are temperature, humidity, pH level, soil conductivity, and solar radiation. Measuring the pH level of the soil for example, can reduce the cost of spoiled crops and increase the amount and quality of products delivered to market.
Reduce Crop Damage
IoT smart farming helps accelerate access to more accurate and relevant data, so agricultural workers and engineers can accelerate and improve crop production and soil quality, as well as identify crop diseases and pest invasions faster.
An example of this an IoT sensor measuring temperature and humidity on flowers to identify diseases such as powdery mildew or mould. Having these analytics in real time allows agricultural engineers to take preventive action, ultimately decreasing the risk of the flowers becoming contaminated.
Smart farming can also help minimize equipment failures, reduce crop waste, monitor irrigation systems to avoid overuse of water, more efficiently dispense fertilizer amounts, and select which areas to spray pesticides.
Growing Agriculture in IoT
Use of IoT technology in agriculture is growing. It is predicted that IoT device installations in the agriculture world will increase from 30 million in 2015 to 75 million in 2020 for a compound annual growth rate of 20%1. But what does this growth look like?
1.Key Smart Farming Technologies
One of the smart farming technologies that will help deliver better business outcomes is predictive analytics. Early in the process this technology can alert a process engineer, for example, that the farm sprinkler system is not turning off when it needs to.
With this information the engineer could turn off the water and reduce costs and environmental waste.
Similarly, alarms could be used to alert a farm operations manager that a piece of machinery will stop functioning in an hour if not repaired. The manager could take action to fix the equipment, minimizing downtime of the machine and reducing costs.
IoT sensors to measure environmental variables
IoT smart farm sensors that measure crop temperatures, plant pesticide levels, and soil moisture levels will be important next year in helping agricultural and process engineers receive reliable data faster.
With this data these workers will be able to make faster and better decisions to help improve productivity, avoid damage to crops, and take spoiled crops out of the field so they don’t contaminate other crops.
2.Key Smart Farming Investment Opportunities:
Predictive analytics for investment
Agriculture operations managers, product managers, and process engineers should consider taking actions in 2020 that capitalize on the capabilities of IoT smart farming technologies.
One step to take is investing in predictive data analytics. As noted above, this technology gives farm workers and agricultural engineers advanced notice about key activities and conditions taking place on the farm. With a customizable IoT sensor, predictive analytics monitors and alerts on different variables, like soil conductivity measured in real time.
This can include altering on upcoming problems to a crop before they occur, such as a coffee farm on the verge of becoming diseased from poor soil pH level. Informed in advance, the farm worker could take the crop off the farm to prevent it from damaging other crops, thereby minimizing losses.
Alarms and sensors
Farm workers should also consider using alarms and mix and match IoT sensors. These can provide early notification to an operations manager, for example, that too much water is being sprayed on a corn crop. The worker could then respond to the alarm by dialing back on the water flow, which would reduce water costs and prevent over-saturation of the corn.
3.IoT smart farm connectivity
IoT connectivity on smart farms will also be a major focus area in 2020. Many of the IoT devices and sensors used in these agricultural facilities — both inside and outside — will need to be able to send and receive data from each other, to and from farm equipment, and to and from WiFi networks.
Sensors, software, network equipment and wireless networks all need to be in sync and seamlessly able to transmit and receive data from each other. The faster and more reliable the IoT smart farming connectivity, the more productive and cost efficient farms will be.
Future of farming
The future of farming will be different next year and beyond fueled by smarter technology and more valuable data. There will always be challenges in this crucial industry. But IoT smart farming — capitalizing in particular on faster access to more useful data –will take this industry to higher levels of efficiency in operations and faster and more accurate decision-making.
Gain More IoT Insights: What 4 IoT Technologies Will Change Manufacturing the Most in 2020?
- Business Insider: “Why IoT, Big Data, and Smart Farming are Future of Agriculture