Internet of things in agriculture: A solution to world hunger?

Engineering
Gurzu Engineer

Did you know that early economists like Malthus predicted the rate of population growth would outpace food production - leaving us all starving?

Today, there are 8 billion people on Earth, and we still have not undergone a significant food crisis like Malthus predicted, thanks to technological advances and industrialized farming.

But the question is, will we be fortunate enough to keep up with the exponential population growth, say, 50 years from now? How powerful does our technology need to be to produce enough food for the entirety of the human population from the available resources?

And can the Internet of things be the answer to this challenge?

How is IoT Shaping agriculture

In the past few years, we have seen several developments in the world of IoT. Technology has improved our lives in many ways, from helping us monitor health and wellness to tracking our movements and activities. Similarly, the agricultural sector is seeing some significant changes as well. 

New technologies and the Internet of things can drastically transform the world of agriculture by allowing farmers to monitor, control, and improve their farming practices. Wondering how? Let’s find out:

Growing a crop is a repetitive task: you plant a seed, water it, weed it, save it from pests, add fertilizers, harvest it, and repeat the same process from time to time based on the nature of your harvest. Imagine if you could automate some or all of these processes and let sensors and machines oversee the growth of plants and take care of maintenance too. Now imagine the same thing being done in a vast farming area where tons and tons of crops are grown; it can mean more yields at the right time, so it reaches the market in time. 

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The Internet of things is an excellent way to automate farming so farmers can get more in less time. Through automation, an efficient IoT solution enables you to maintain higher standards of crop quality and development potential while gaining better control over the production process.

But it doesn’t have to be only limited to farming. Animals, poultry, indoor plants, dairy farms, and various agricultural practices can benefit from automation and technology. The ultimate goal of smart agriculture is to get a high yield from agriculture and enrich human nutrition.

Sensors and equipment used in agricultural IoT

IoT sensors in agriculture allow farmers to collect data about their crops and livestock that would have been impossible otherwise. Farmers can make educated decisions and improve almost every part of their job by implementing IoT sensors to manage and collect environmental and machine parameters.

Smart cameras also allow farmers to monitor their crops from anywhere at any time - enabling them to identify problems before they become too serious.

With innovative irrigation systems, farmers can monitor when water levels are low and take steps to prevent crop loss. The same goes for innovative irrigation systems that detect when plants are getting too dry or too wet and adjust accordingly.

For vast and vast areas of farming land, drones are used as the solution for collecting data. Drones are cheaper than traditional GPS-based systems, but they have some drawbacks. Drones might not work at night or in harsh weather; they don’t have enough battery power to last all day long, and they can get caught up in trees or other objects—which means that you keep robust control over them once they start moving around.

The solution can be drones specifically designed for agricultural use: these drones have built-in cameras that can record images from above without disturbing the plant itself; they also fly slowly enough so as not to scare off any animals or birds within range.

Similarly, many sensors can measure numerous pieces of information which farmers can use to study weather patterns, soil quality, indoor environment, crop yield, map the fields, and more. Machine learning can then convert this raw information into valuable data or statistics, which can be used to make rational decisions.

Eventually, it increases the quantity and quality of products while optimizing the human labor required for production. 

The most common types of sensors used in smart agriculture are:

  • GPS/location tracking devices
  • Water sensors/rainfall sensors
  • Air quality sensors/pollution sensors
  • Temperature sensors/thermal imaging cameras
  •  agricultural drone, 
  •  cattle monitoring,
  •  climate change monitoring,
  •  Precision farming
  • Robots (for harvesting)

So let us look at some of the most commonly used terms in Smart agriculture:

Precision Farming

Precision Farming is a concept based on observing, measuring, and responding to inter- and intra-field variability in crops. It focuses on improving crop yield and using high-tech sensors and analytical tools to aid business decision-making.

Data-Driven Agriculture

The concept of data-driven agriculture is to utilize data insights to maximize your investment return. Agricultural activities involve a high number of variables making it a complex process. There are diverse types of data being collected from various endpoints. Data-driven agriculture encourages farmers to extract intelligence from this data to optimize their practices.

IoT in Food technology

IoT systems can help food manufacturers control different parameters related to food safety, for example, detecting unwanted food elements, temperature, humidity, storage conditions, shipping times, etc. Keeping the edibles in their best form for the longest time will reduce food waste, so there will be a better food supply. This will make food more accessible and affordable for us.

Real-life example: Smart agriculture companies

Many companies today are doing groundbreaking work in utilizing the power of ubiquitous computing to make our agriculture process more and more efficient.

ETwater is an intelligent irrigation solution that provides a predictive irrigation schedule based on crop type, soil and slope condition, weather conditions, etc. It uses AI and predictive analytics to provide intelligent solutions.

CropX Technologies’ integrated hardware and software system provides farmers and businesses with detailed information about soil, crop, and water conditions.

Cainthus is developing a system that uses computer vision and artificial intelligence to identify health, reproduction, and environmental changes in dairy cattle to ensure maximum dairy production and the well-being of animals.

Flox is a company from England with a mission to use technology to increase productivity and profitability for chicken farmers. Their system uses off-the-shelf hardware (cameras & sensors), AI, machine vision, and machine learning to generate alerts and analytics of the flock, resulting in the chickens’ welfare and increased farm performance.

Challenge

To make agriculture actually smart, we need to give the agricultural sector the infrastructure it needs to use cutting-edge technology, including (but not limited to) big data, cloud computing, and IoT.

Smart agriculture might be a challenging solution in many third-world countries, where basic things like water for irrigation, fertilizer, or electricity are a privilege. We might have to invest time in building the basic infrastructure before going down the road of IoT.

Designing complex IoT systems need a lot of consideration, and for extensive farming lands, there can be even more challenges. There is also the connectivity issue for sensors all over the farms, functional design, and durability. The interconnected system should withstand harsh weather conditions and run the same in even the hottest of summer and coldest of winter.

However, with the pace at which technology is growing, we can expect our agricultural prowess to be aligned with advancements in ubiquitous computing systems.

So to sum it up, let’s see what the concrete benefits of IoT in agriculture are:

Benefits of IoT in agriculture

  • Farming productivity is being increased via better data collection.
  • optimum use of resources 
  • Complete production control
  • cost control and less waste 
  • automating procedures 
  • emphasized product quality
  • increase production, 
  • reduce labor hours 
  • ensure effective management of fertilizer and irrigation processes.

Final Words

With the right techniques for using hardware, software, and data analysis, farmers can overturn the results they are getting from agricultural practices. The Internet of things is not one single technology, with the number of sensors and software available today, what you can do with IoT is limitless. On a large scale, it can be something that can multiply our current agricultural power by 10, and ultimately be the solution to feeding the ever-growing human population.

Gurzu is a software company passionate about building powerful software that solve real-world problems. Explore some of our excellent products here! Have a tech problem you need to solve? Book a free consultation call with us.

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