Intelligent, connected devices are on the rise in every sector, so there’s no reason for agriculture to stay behind. Especially considering the challenges a farming industry is facing, its only imperative for them to welcome newer technologies to their aid. Agriculture has already started to feel the impact of IoT, especially in terms of improvement in manufacturing and energy efficiency. The end of 2018 saw the global connected agricultural market to stand at USD 1.8 billion, and with the current pace, the prediction expects it to grow to USD 4.3 billion by 2023.
Before delving into how IoT is changing the face of agriculture, let’s explore how agricultural technology has evolved with time.
Evolution of Agricultural Technology
The first humans to turn to farming used bare hands with aids from sticks and stones. Later, with the development of knives, scythes and plows, dependencies on these tools remained for thousands of years. The giant leap in agriculture was brought about by the Industrial Revolution with the production of some powerful machines. Machines with wheels attached to them reduced the effort required for harvesting grain by hand. During the same period, threshing machines also reduced the task of beating the grain with sticks.
The use of machines in the Industrial Revolution age demanded greater power, which was usually supplied by domesticated animals like horses. Then, with the invention of steam power, originated the steam-powered tractor. Thus, the steam engines took the heavy pulling work of the horses. Tractors that followed were powered by gasoline engines, which were later replaced by diesel engines.
Combines, which made the harvesting easier, Tillage implements, which made the soil ready for planting by loosening it and killing weeds, seeder, etc. are some of the widely used tools of that time.
Gradually, machines have found wide use in irrigation. The use of engines, pumps, and specialized gear to provide a huge volume of water rapidly became quite common. Similar equipment has been adapted to deliver fertilizers and pesticides. Apart from tractors, several other vehicles like trucks, airplanes, and helicopters are being widely used in various aspects of farming.
How Internet of Things Stepped into Agriculture
Use of sensors in agricultural operations isn’t a recent phenomenon. The farmers faced one issue with the use of sensors traditionally, which was that they were unable to generate live data. The sensors would capture data in the memory attached to them, which would only be accessed later. But, the advent of Internet of Things in agriculture made smart sensors to be used instead, which could communicate with the cloud through cellular/satellite networks. This enabled the gathering of data in real-time possible, and thus, helping in effective decision making.
The possibility of acquiring real-time data has helped farmers to make the irrigation process efficient by real-time monitoring of the water levels in the tanks. The introduction of various categories of smart sensors and sensing technologies, and connectivity technologies alongside the advancement of several other IoT technologies have enabled the use of sensors in nearly every step of the farming process. Introducing IoT in agriculture has helped farmers with optimizing their resources, helping them make better decisions by utilizing accurate, real-time data and simultaneously decreasing their overall costs.
Here are a few of the challenges that can be overcome by efficient use of IoT in agriculture:
- 1.‘Recent statistics have revealed that the global population is about to reach 9.6 billion by 2050.’ Thus, the steady growth for the demand of food has put pressure on the farmers to produce more food with the use of optimized resources in the midst of climate changes, extreme weather conditions, etc.
- 2.Depleting groundwater levels has necessitated the need to use water judiciously only when needed. IoT sensors can check on the need for water and accordingly notify the farmers.
- 3.The heavy use of electricity can also be optimized with the use of sensors.
In the following section, we shall talk about the applications in agriculture where IoT has a huge role to play.
Applications of IoT in Agriculture
Precision Farming or Precision Agriculture is the process of bringing accuracy and control into the farming practice, with the primary aim of raising livestock and growing crops. Deploying sensors, using autonomous vehicles and robotics are the key enablers of precision farming. Some of the popular IoT applications in this category are – Soil moisture probe, Variable Rate Irrigation (VRI) Optimizer, Virtual Optimizer PRO, etc.
The popularity of drones has now reached agriculture too. Both aerial-based and ground-based drones are finding their roles in enhancing agricultural practices. Monitoring and assessing of crop health, supplying water to crop fields, planting, crop spraying, soil quality check and a lot more functionalities are carried out by drones. Data (or real-time data) collected from drones can be fed to smart algorithms which can help in drawing insights about yield prediction, water or fertilizer requirement, plant health indices, etc. Drones integrated with high-resolution cameras can help with easy identification of Chlorosis, Canker in diseased plants and also recognition of plants infested with pests.
It’s imperative for farm owners to have knowledge of the location, well-being and health of their cattle. Manual monitoring of the above parameters isn’t a feasible option in case of large farms. Smart, real-time monitoring of livestock enables early detection of illness in any cattle and, accordingly, precautionary measurements can be taken to prevent the spread of the illness. Accurate location and activity of livestock can be monitored by using technologies like RTLS, Radar, High-Resolution Cameras, etc.
The prime function of a greenhouse is to keep control over the environmental parameters with the aid of manual intervention or some other control mechanism. IoT applications can eliminate the need for manual intervention by the use of smart sensors and control mechanisms. Different sensors can be used to collect data regarding the environmental parameters, and can send the same to the cloud where processing can be done and subsequent action can be decided. The smart sensors can be made to automatically create the desired environment for the plants to thrive by having direct control over the actuators.
Agriculture sure has a huge scope for IoT applications. As IoT technologies are becoming robust and cost-effective, its wide spread adaptation in agricultural sector is inevitable. IoT in Agriculture can prove to be an important step in providing a better living condition to the growing population.
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