The Internet of Things or IOT refers to the growing network of connected devices exchanging data with each other, consumers, and control centers be it in the factory or the power utility. The IOT is starting to reach the literal field, and we’re just starting to see how it can revolutionize agriculture.
Why the IOT Is Growing in the Field
The IOT promises to help us save electricity by micromanaging its usage and allowing us to track the power flowing in from diverse renewable sources. It also allows us to save water by detecting leaks quickly and identifying exactly where they are. Yet it is agriculture that consumes seventy percent of fresh water used globally. Making a dent in water consumption here therefore has a major impact on human requirements.
Chemicals used to control diseases and pests are expensive, and they have an impact on the environment. This is reason enough to find ways to identify infestations early and spot treat them instead of spraying entire fields. Determining which areas need fertilizer and which don’t, farmers can save money on these supplements for the soil. This also reduces how much fertilizer is carried away in run-off, contributing to algae overgrowth in the ocean that creates dead zones for fish and other sea life.
All of this is leading to the growth of an Internet of Things for Agriculture. Combined with machine vision and machine learning, it is creating what is colloquially known as “precision agriculture”. Robots roam the fields looking for pest or infectious diseases, spraying chemicals only where required. A vast network of sensors monitors soil temperature, humidity and other conditions. Water is only given when needed. We’re starting to see automated tractors and harvesters, though we haven’t yet completely automated the farm.
The Impact of the IOT on Farms
Precision agriculture allows farms to save on water, chemicals and labor. This explains why seventy to eighty percent of new farm equipment contains at least one of the technologies we listed. In 2014, Europe reported that it had more than four thousand manufacturers creating more than four hundred types of machines that fit into this new, high-tech farming model. These companies were producing twenty-six billion dollars’ worth of equipment and employed more than two hundred thousand people.
We can expect this technology to revolutionize farming in several ways. One obvious impact is forcing farmers to learn how to use it. Another will be a continuation of the trend toward fewer people working the land. After all, there’s no need for farmers to walk the fields inspecting the health of their plants. The drones
can do that. No one will want a crop duster flying over and dispensing chemicals over a massive area when a remotely controlled device could do it only where required. Nor is this technology limited to the traditional sprawling farm. It is being used in greenhouses, too.
Several companies are using precision agriculture methods to reduce the demand for water and fertilizers in
greenhouses by up to a third without adversely effecting yield. If proven, the business case for aquaculture and soil-free farming is strengthened. Combine this with increasingly advanced robots harvesting tomatoes and sorting produce, and factory farms will truly be as automated as every other factory.