Agriculture is undergoing a renaissance. IoT and artificial intelligence are enabling farmers to manage crops and livestock more reliably and efficiently. Autonomous farming equipment, livestock monitoring systems, and precision farming solutions are empowering farmers to feed our increasingly hungry and environmentally unstable world.
As we begin 2019, it’s exciting to reflect on all the Internet of Things—IoT—industry changes that occurred in 2018 and the trends that lay ahead in 2019. Many industries have been and will continue to be affected by the growth and maturation of IoT—school campuses will be safer, cars will be smarter, and homes will be sleeker and more intuitive, and businesses will deliver more value more efficiently.
However, as highlighted by President of IoT Solutions at AT&T Chris Penrose, the industry leading the real charge in practical IoT applications may surprise you: agriculture and farming.
IoT Agriculture Use Cases
Below, we explore four use cases highlighting promising IoT applications in agriculture.
“Tractors and farm equipment, heavy machinery for things like mining, drones, and robots will lead the first wave of automation. While self-driving cars may eventually be a staple on the roadways, that reality is still many years away. These other machines will provide an early proving ground and will pave the way for mass automation in the future.”
— Chris Penrose, President of IoT Solutions at AT&T
One reason why farms may be the first adopters of autonomous vehicles (AV) is that there are no pesky pedestrians or buildings with which the tractors can collide. The acres of open land provide a low-risk testing environment in which to work out the kinks of emerging AV technologies.
Autonomous tractors aren’t just mindless driving robots. They also operate with intelligence to maximize farming efficiency. For example, CNH Industrial and ASI Robotics collaborated to build tractors that use path-generating algorithms “[to] calculate the most efficient area coverage pattern for a field taking into account the type of task, vehicle, size of implements, number of vehicles in the field, implement turn radius, and more,” according to their website. And because these robotic tractors are driverless, they can run 24/7 in theory.
Commercial farmers aren’t just harvesting crops; many also manage hundreds or thousands of livestock. And when your commodity is a living, breathing, moving creature, being able to monitor everything from the health to the location of your livestock can prove critical to the enduring success of your business.
Companies like Telit are developing IoT-enabled livestock management solutions. They’re embedding connected sensors into livestock wearables in order to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature, and even digestion. These sensors can also track an animal’s location to help find sick animals while also identifying optimal grazing patterns. The sensors then send data to the cloud, allowing farmers to identify and address problems in their herds faster via user interfaces.
While many this year were planting wildflowers to help bolster declining bee populations, one Portuguese company took a more modern approach to monitor our honey makers. APiS’ B-App is a web-based platform with an interface that allows beekeepers to manage their hives remotely and collect data to assess the health of their bees. The app even serves as a project management tool by enabling beekeepers to schedule events and execute tasks to care for their colonies. Moreover, their Smart Hive package provides you with all of the hardware, e.g. a temperature-regulating cork for your hives and a hive gate that counts bees as they come and go.
All of this is captured with the Hive Monitor, which sits amongst the hives and transmits data to the cloud. APiS’ technology not only increases your bees’ chances of survival but also deters the new problem of hive theft—a threat that has been increasing as the vital insects’ numbers dwindle.
Ultimately, all of these use cases are enveloped by the larger practice of “precision farming” (a.k.a. “precision agriculture” or just “precision ag”).
Companies like Monnit are supporting precision ag with use cases in greenhouse monitoring, in which wireless sensors are deployed throughout a commercial grower’s industrial greenhouse. Sensors check and record the greenhouse temperature, allowing the grower to monitor this data on their sensor map, including custom notifications if temperature or humidity levels hit specified thresholds.
Precision farming enables farmers to operate more efficiently (and thus save money) by providing deeper operational insight and control. Moreover, it keeps the agricultural industry up to speed on emerging technologies that can have a big impact on the way farmers do business and provide for an increasingly hungry world.