The information and communication technology (ICT) revolution has enabled the concept of smart farming in recent years. Smart farming aims at adapting communication infrastructure for use in agricultural processes to increase yields by enabling information-based decision making. This communication infrastructure can include a range of sensors, drones, cameras and other such devices that detect stimuli and help observe areas of interest: in this case, agricultural fields, farms, greenhouses, etc.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the next step in the ICT revolution, which allows for all communication infrastructure to be integrated. This integration includes monitoring and control of the said communication infrastructure from a single platform and interface. Thus, IoT in agriculture essentially allows the new-age farmer to manage his or her produce remotely through a slew of networked devices. Smart farming stands to gain massively from these interconnected IoT agriculture devices in several ways. However, at its core, IoT in agriculture is aimed at hastening and easing agricultural processes. Some ways in which IoT is transforming the future of agriculture include:
Reducing uncertainty associated with farm labour
Historically, manpower has been an essential requirement for agriculture. However, over the years the availability of farm labourers has consistently declined as other avenues for employment have become more lucrative. This presents a challenge for the labour-intensive agriculture sector and IoT based smart agriculture can help navigate this challenge. This is since IoT agriculture devices are increasingly becoming capable of performing human tasks. This includes IoT based agriculture monitoring system such as sensors as well as IoT based machines, such as drones and automated vehicles that can perform essential tasks such as sowing of seeds and spraying of pesticides. As a result, the agriculture IOT market’s growth has become imminent and is essential for societies that aim to maintain farm productivity even when labour is being diverted towards other occupations.
The impact of IoT in agriculture and smart farming will be felt the strongest in terms of integration of sensory, analytical and hand-on functions with a centralised interface; most other benefits of IoT in agriculture are consequently derived from this basic premise. Integration of technology will allow agriculture automation using IoT for the new age farmer. Sensory systems will receive commands from the central processing unit and in turn provide data, which will then be analysed to chart the best course of action to be taken. Smart farming has already adopted several sensory systems of various types, but these are likely to expand in scope and quality in the years to come.
Similarly, robotics and machine learning are likely to be key enablers for execution of hand-on functions and the use of drones, unmanned vehicles, automated threshing machines, etc. is slated to grow manifold in the near future. However; the incorporation of robotics in agriculture is at a much more nascent stage than in other sectors. But more importantly, the future of IoT in agriculture will be determined by successful integration of analytical systems that can detect various patterns and effectively execute predictive models. This becomes especially significant in the age where climate change is drastically affecting cropping patterns. Agriculture automation using IoT has already made inroads into smaller farm management sectors, such as greenhouses. However, the future of IoT in agriculture envisages using sensory, analytical and automated tools for farms than run into thousands of hectares.
Effective water management
The concept of water conservation has gained traction in most developed and developing countries across the world as the availability of fresh and potable water is becoming a challenge. The agriculture sector is one of the largest consumers of fresh water and several water guzzling crops find themselves in the crosshairs of water conservationists. At the same time, it is impossible to not use fresh water for agricultural processes. However, IoT in agriculture can help in effective water management and eliminate water wastages. IoT agriculture sensors and IoT based agriculture monitoring systems can detect the precise moisture content in crops, soil and atmosphere, which can then be used to calculate the exact amount of water that needs to be fed to crops. Furthermore, such use of IoT in agriculture helps not only in effective water management but also in ensuring correct water content in crops, which in turn enhances their market value.
Agricultural crop monitoring using IOT
Besides ensuring correct water content, agricultural crop monitoring using IoT can provide a host of other benefits as well to increase produce quality and farm profitability. Some ways in which IoT based agriculture monitoring systems can do this include by detecting slight variations in weather patterns, sensing soil parameters such as pH levels, monitoring crop health, etc. This data can then be analysed to compute exact crop requirements viz-a-viz water, sunlight, fertiliser and pesticides. By effective data gathering and analysis, farmers can know exactly what their crops need to provide peak output in terms of quality and quantity. Thus, agricultural crop monitoring using IoT can help farmers reap the maximum possible rewards.
Cattle management and pest management
Aside from agricultural crop monitoring using IoT, significant contributions from the agriculture IoT market are expected in the realms of cattle management and pest management. Cattle management has already seen a significant impact of smart farming technologies in terms of sensors that can detect movement and health of cattle. Moving forward, IoT based smart agriculture practices with regard to cattle management are expected to incorporate these sensory systems with systems that delivery medical aid and enhance cattle output. Meanwhile, pests have been increasingly becoming a menace due to changing climate patters affecting increasing movements of pests ranging from flies that carry Congo fever to locust swarms. In this regard, the agriculture IoT market is expected to be able to detect these changing patterns and predict events, which will in turn help in damage control and loss mitigation.
The impact of IoT in agriculture is expected to be felt across the various verticals stated above. This impact ranges from agricultural crop monitoring using IoT to effective water, labour, cattle and pest management. Those charting the future of IoT in agriculture have adopted a two-pronged approach, which focusses on enhanced productivity on the one hand and effective damage mitigation on the other. In summary, IoT agriculture devices are expected to increase farmer profitability and keep the profession a relevant career option from the view of farmer livelihood. Maintaining this option is essential for the world today, especially given the rapidly increasing demand for food and other agricultural products in an era when yields and returns are on the decline.