Farming the Benefits of Agricultural IoT

October 28, 2019

Field, vineyard and greenhouse farmers are expected to increasingly invest in Industrial IoT, growing the smart farming market to $23.14 billion by 2022. IIoT has a variety of applications when it comes to agriculture.

IoT for Crop & Livestock Monitoring

IIoT devices equipped with sensors placed in fields monitor temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed, sunlight, soil moisture and more. These measurements can predict problems, such as in the case of drought, frost or pests. Monitoring plant health allows for fertilizers and pesticides to be applied only when needed, preventing overuse and providing cost-saving benefits. The same savings apply when monitoring soil moisture to judge when watering is necessary.

One avocado farmer used IIoT to cut his water usage by 75%. Orchard farmers are using sensors to determine low carbohydrate levels in apples which indicates the best time for thinning. IIoT can help farmers better protect peppers, which are very sensitive to heat and cold. For tomatoes, sensors can provide a chemistry profile to indicate ripeness which is traditionally guessed at by feel. And in crops of the animal variety, IIoT can help oyster farmers avoid unnecessary closures by monitoring for water pollutants and determining if it’s safe to harvest.

IIoT-connected sensors can be placed on livestock to track their health. This includes blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate, digestion, temperature and other metrics. Farmers are alerted to any strange conditions, which allows for illnesses to be diagnosed sooner and can decrease treatment costs.

For pregnant livestock, monitors can alert farmers when labor starts. This prevents the need for the farmer to manually and continually check themselves. It also reduces the worry of an animal going into labor when the farmer isn’t present.

Sensors can also provide an individual animal’s GPS location if it wanders from the herd or pen or in case of theft.

Autonomous Tractors

Plowing, sowing or harvesting a field takes extreme precision. Tractor drivers must be focused on staying in a perfectly straight line, which often means watching the plow behind them instead of keeping an eye out for obstacles or safety hazards ahead.

Directed by GPS, autonomous tractors take care of precision so a driver can focus on safety. It also allows for less experienced drivers to get behind the wheel.

Robots in Agriculture

Robots may one day replace tractors as one of their biggest advantages is their lightweight structure, which means they don’t compress the soil. They can also be fitted with a number of sensors for monitoring data. Robots can perform many tasks, including seeding, weeding, fertilizing, harvesting, spraying, soil sampling and more.

Robots can make more precise measurements than humans to gauge plant maturity. Asparagus, in particular, can be a tricky vegetable to harvest as it requires picking after it has released an enzyme that allows for more stalks to grow. This makes harvesting difficult to do reliably. But one robot has been developed to identify mature asparagus, resulting in a greater quality of picked produce and reduced waste.

When it comes to livestock, robots can benefit animals as well as their human counterparts. For dairy cows, automated milking is on the rise. Sensors identify the cow and locate the udders and robotics do the rest. Without the need for a farmhand, cows choose for themselves when they want to be milked. This often results in cows being milked more times a day than a farmer would be able to physically complete, resulting in an increased yield and less stress for the cows.

In Denmark, a straw sowing robot saves time and manual labor, improves dusty conditions, and relaxes the pigs by distributing even bedding. With poultry, robots can clean living areas, check birds for illnesses, collect eggs, dispense feed and complete other tasks. Robots roving the floor also encourage birds to move around and get exercise, which is beneficial to their health.

Drones as an Agricultural Advantage

Like robots, drones can serve a variety of functions. Their advantage over their grounded counterparts is not needing crop rows or plots to be rearranged to provide paths. Drones can help with planting by shooting seed pods into soil. Relying on drones for fertilization and pesticide spraying has large fuel and labor savings from traditional heavy machinery or airplanes. Drones can even be programed to spot treat – something difficult to do with larger machinery. Thus, drones save costs on the amount of spray used and in more accurate application.

In surveying, drones can also take near-infrared photos that show the overall crop health of an entire field through light absorption. Similar photos can identify irrigation issues – which parts of a field are getting too much water or too little. They can also collect info on soil quality and nutrition density. As with plants, drones can also survey livestock and take data on their health.

Relying on IoT in Farming

There is a shortage of labor in the farming industry. As the global demand for food grows and the availability of workers drop, farmers are expected to find ways to increase efficiency and decrease costs. The markets for agricultural IIoT, robotics and drones are expected to grow as farmers reach for precision.