The agriculture industry will undoubtedly become more important than ever before in the near future. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the world will need to produce 70% more food in 2050 than currently, in order to feed the growing population. Factors such as climate change, limited arable land, water scarcity, labour demand, distress migration, crop failures dues to outbreak in pests and diseases, and other variables will further aggravate this demand for global food production. To meet this demand, technology will play an important role, as farmers and agricultural companies are turning to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Global farm equipment manufacturers are looking at improving manufacturing efficiencies for their businesses and end users. They are looking at capitalising on the recent advances in IIoT by fitting their farming equipment with sensors and telematics solutions to help farmers implement precision agriculture practices with an objective to manage and track their fleet of machinery and gather real-time data on equipment status. The industry is not new to technological innovations. However, with the introduction of IIoT, farming is expected to be elevated to the next level.
IIoT sensors would bestow the power of data to farmers. Using this data, the farmers can accurately ascertain and predict rainfall, soil nutrition levels, and crop yields and be able to avert pest infestations and crop failures. The main objective of smart farming is not just to gather data, but also to convert this data into meaningful insights that can help improve productivity and bring down manual efforts. With rapidly increasing advancements of IIoT in agriculture, farming practices will continue to develop, there will be improved connectivity resulting in improved productivity. Several traditional farm equipment manufacturers are increasingly making a move towards connectivity and other advanced smart manufacturing techniques. As a recent example, John Deere, a major agricultural equipment manufacturer, acquired an Artificial Intelligence (AI) start up by the name Blue River Technology. John Deere made this move primarily to optimise its traditional crop spraying methods and to automate and teach its tractors how to farm. These tractors would now be deploying cameras that come with deep-learning capabilities; so, when they see a plant, they can identify it as weed and hit it with pesticide. If, on the other hand, the tractor sees a crop, the algorithm ensures that the equipment fitted on the tractor sprays fertilisers over the crops. Given all the potential benefits of IIoT in farming, farmers and farm equipment manufacturers are increasingly turning their focus, time, and investments to smart manufacturing techniques that will define the future of agriculture in the years to come. With such rapid advancements of IIoT in farming, soon millions of sensors will start collecting several zeta bytes of farm data. It will be exciting to explore and discover ground-breaking opportunities that all of this data could bring to the agriculture industry. As far as this industry is concerned, the concept of IIoT is not for the distant future. Now is the right time to think and act.
1. Livestock management—IIoT can be used to increase and improve productivity and efficiency in livestock management. Using IIoT, farmers will be able to effectively manage their livestock and be able to monitor them at all times to prevent loss by theft or stray grazing. They would also be able to regularly monitor and assess the health of livestock, sending out signals around eating behaviour, impending illness, reproductive cycles, calving, and other issues. Moreover, sensors attached to cows can help farmers identify ideal lactating intervals when the cows would like to be milked. This can further create a positive impact on the amount and quality of milk production and also help in maintaining the health of cows.
2. Smart Irrigation—Traditional irrigation methods involved manual spraying and flood irrigation mechanisms. These manual mechanisms could, at times, result in over-watering, which can ruin crops and result in wastage of water, which is a precious commodity for agriculture. However, now, using modern irrigation methods like IIoT-based, remotely controlled spray irrigation mechanisms such as micro-sprinklers, drip lines, and central pivots, farmers can monitor and control several on-site variables such as soil type, sprinkler application rate, water schedule adjustments and so on.
3. Precision Farming—In order to address the numerous challenges in the agricultural industry, farmers globally are adopting a combination of advanced technologies such as:
a. Robotics—Agribots are a fleet of agricultural robots that can be used in automated ploughing,
seeding, weed control, fertilizing, soil analysis and harvesting.
b. Global Positioning System (GPS) Technology—This technology is being used for farm planning
and mapping, soil sampling, farm vehicle guidance, crop scouting, variable rate applications, and
yield mapping. GPS empowers farmers to work even during unfavourable field conditions such as
low visibility during rain, dust, fog, and darkness.
c. Automated Steering Systems—This technology helps farmers to focus on field planter, sprayer, or
other farm equipment by enabling hands-free driving. Smart guiding systems further deploy
different vehicle steering patterns depending on the plot areas and shape that can be used along
with other field systems.
d. Sensors and Remote Sensing—Sensors mounted on farm vehicles can help collect data from a
remote location. This data can help in evaluating soil nutrient levels and crop health. Sensors
embedded in the soil can help report weather conditions and monitor soil moisture. These
sensors have emerged as a major use case in assessing optimal times to water, fertilise, or spray
pesticides over crops. Using IIoT, the farmer can now have data on the best time to spray fertiliser
or pesticide and where.
e. Agricultural Drones—Also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), agricultural drones are
short-range flying objects that can help monitor crop growth, thereby, increasing crop productivity.
These devices are fitted with sensors and digital imaging capabilities and can collect data that can
then be analysed and delivered as useful insights to farmers on a hand-held device.