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Application of the Internet of Things in Agriculture

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While some IT industry insiders believe the Internet of Things is just a marketing gimmick and has nothing to do with agriculture in particular, smart solutions can indeed revolutionize farming. First and foremost, agriculture has always been driven by innovation. Over the course of centuries, the sector has undergone three major stages:

  • Pre-industrial (before 1920). The productivity of farmland largely depended on its natural qualities and man labor. Two acres fed just one person;
  • Industrial (1920-2010). With the introduction of new equipment and chemical fertilizers, agriculture companies reached commercial-level efficiency. One acre of farmland fed five people;
  • Smart (since 2010). Thanks to satellite technologies, accurate weather forecasting, modern equipment and sensors, farmers begin to make data-based decisions and achieve maximum value with limited resources. US farm productivity has reached 2.75 tons of grain per acre.Before we identify potential use cases for smart gadgets in agriculture, it is necessary to understand what factors force farmers to embrace new technology.

Overpopulation. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow by 2.3 billion. In order to feed that many people, farmers will have to increase productivity up to 2.5 tons of grain per acre worldwide;

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Rising operating costs. Between 1990 and 2015, US fertilizer and seed prices have grown by 200% and 500%, respectively. The total cost of a 180-PTO horsepower diesel tractor (including ownership, maintenance, fuel and labor) is now close to $ 100 per hour.

Tough competition. Although large US farms comprise only 4% of all agricultural companies in the country, they generate 66% of farming product sales. Small farms often fail to cover revenue decreases and go out of business.

Environmental challenge. The US cattle industry produces 1 million tons of manure daily. The animal waste is stored in open-air lagoons and often contaminates water reservoirs. Only 40% of fertilizer applied by agricultural companies is actually absorbed by the soil (while the rest ends up in the ground waters). Due to urbanization and bad farming decisions, US loses 9.5 acres of arable land every minute.

The Internet of Things is not about learning thermostats, physical activity trackers and smart coffee machines that remember how much milk you put in your cappuccino. IoT is all about sensor data. Using this data, farmers can choose the best time to water their plants, figure out optimum fertilizer application rates, reduce fuel consumption and increase revenues.Here’s what the term “IoT agriculture solution” can refer to.

IoT in Agriculture: top 4 applications

Livestock monitoring. Last year EIOT, a promising tech startup from Spain, announced their Smart Horse and Smart Farm solutions for agriculture companies. Using the Libelium Waspmote prototyping kits, the startup developed a comprehensive system enabling farmers to monitor stables in real time, diagnose animal diseases at an early stage and improve horse training. Another example comes from Fujitsu. The Japanese company has built a SaaS platform for farmers who work in the dairy sector. The Fujitsu sensor system tracks cows’ walking activity and detects the best time for artificial insemination.

Plant and soil monitoring. Thanks to IoT solutions like Sensor Leaf and Save Crop, farmers can determine whether their plants need watering, analyze soil chemical properties and detect how much sunlight their crops get. IoT agriculture solutions often incorporate machine learning algorithms: instead of just displaying sensor data, smart apps make field-by-field planting, irrigation and harvest recommendations.

Predictive maintenance. Equipment manufacturers including Caterpillar, CNH Industrial and John Deer install sensors on agricultural machinery to detect abnormal activities and replace unstable parts before a failure occurs. That’s how the Equipment as a Service (EaaS) model came to life. The new approach enables small farms to purchase equipment leasing-style and receive quality service.

Workload automation. Self-driving agricultural equipment and drones allow farmers to harvest crops 24/7 and reduce replanting costs by almost 100%. It’s no wonder autonomous tractors will become a $ 45 billion market in the nearest future!

There will be 6.4 billion connected gadgets worldwide by the end of this year. IoT changes the way we take care of our health, travel, consume energy and work. 30% of current Fortune 500 companies will be outpaced by their tech-savvy rivals by 2018. The agriculture sector is no exception. Farmers can either embrace the new technology today or… quietly go out of business tomorrow.

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