The use of IoT in the agriculture sector has made farming more efficient than ever. This specific area of application is denoted by “smart agriculture”. Modern farmers are benefiting from smart agriculture, but how? This article deals with all such information including IoT applications, advantages, drawbacks, etc.
Although the IoT technology (different from general applications of technology) is still new in this sector, and the market will remain very dynamic in the near future, it offers readymade solutions that require potentially simple installation to get started.
How IoT Works In Smart Agriculture?
People who aren’t aware of the working process of IoT in agriculture often doubt its efficiency and ask how it might work on a farm. Here’s the answer.
- Basically, IoT works by making use of sensors, drones, and robots in the field.
- Placing sensors all over the field is mandatory to collect important data. This data helps in monitoring the status of things such as soil, water, etc. By monitoring soil status, you can analyze how much sprinkling is required in the field, etc.
- Drones are helpful for sprinkling pesticides in the right amount and much more (discussed later). These drones are of two types- ones that can fly (also known as aerial drones) and ones that run on the ground (also called bots). They’re equipped with sensors and GPS and are controllable through a wireless remote.
- IoT also aims at automating several manual processes (discussed later).
- Generally, IoT devices are controllable through a mobile app, which is offered by hardware manufacturing companies.
Should You Really Implement Smart Agriculture?
Once you’ve learned how IoT works, the next thing you’d probably like to know is whether or not you should really implement smart agriculture using IoT. The answer is yes, and here are a couple of good reasons:
- If you’re looking to expand your agriculture business, IoT can help. How? Since many tasks will be automated, you can increase the farm size, or increase the cattle count. Even if management becomes complex, automatic IOT in agriculture solutions can back you up.
- Even if you’re not technically advanced, most IoT solutions are easy to install. You don’t require coding knowledge or advanced IT skills. Basic technical knowledge is more than enough to get started with smart agriculture.
- You don’t need to be physically present on the farm, as you can manage it remotely.
- According to a research paper, IoT not only helps to improve yield, it also helps increase the sale. Farmers can connect to the global market, thus surpassing all the geographical restrictions legally.
However, smart farming may not always be adopted, and here are a couple of good reasons:
- Smart farming is capital-intensive, which means you’ll need a lot of money to adopt the technology. Small farmers may not be capable of switching to smart farming.
- IoT gadgets require an active internet connection 24×7 to stay online. Offline gadgets aren’t remotely controllable and won’t work properly. Sending reports to the cloud server isn’t possible with an offline gadget.
- If the farm is large, making a wireless internet connection available at all the spots (with high signal strength) is a hustle.
What Are The IoT Applications In Agriculture?
The first thing people ask is how is IoT helpful in agriculture and what are its applications in this domain? So this section explains some important and interesting applications that serve to facilitate IoT in agriculture.
The applications below are achievable with the help of IoT sensors. The video below goes elaborates on crop monitoring, including soil moisture monitoring, temperature, and humidity monitoring, etc. It shows how IoT sensors are used to sprinkle water using a mobile app backed by an IoT solution.
1. Greenhouse Automation
Greenhouse acts as an artificial manually-controlled environment, which offers favorable climatic conditions as per the crops’ needs. Automated greenhouses are far more efficient than manual control. Weather stations are capable of automatically adjusting greenhouses’ conditions based on the input parameters.
This service is offered by Farmapp, Growlink, GreenIQ, etc. GreenIQ makes use of smart agriculture sensors such as sprinkler controllers, which allows you to control irrigation and lighting remotely.
2. Crop Monitoring & Management
Crop monitoring and management are considered a branch of precision farming. In this, the sensors are placed all over the field to collect data. This data is related to leaf water potential and overall crop health.
How is this beneficial? These sensors are effective in identifying infested crops, curing them, and preventing diseases, which can greatly impact yield. Inspection through sensors is far more efficient than humans. In fact, manual inspection isn’t always possible.
3. Cattle Monitoring & Management
Just like crops, you can attach IoT smart sensors to animals, through which you can monitor their health status. What kind of data can you collect? These smart sensors can deliver animals’ temperature, health, activity, nutrition insights, etc. you can collect information for an individual animal or collectively as a herd.
Some people are confused about how these sensors will be installed on their animals. Will they be injected into the body as shown in movies? Basically, these sensors are attached to a neck collar, but it’ll be your duty to make your animals wear them.
4. Weather Monitoring
Sensors dedicated to weather monitoring collect data such as humidity, temperature, moisture, and dew detection. The data helps in analyzing the weather patterns, so as to cultivate the best-suited crops. This is similar to weather forecasting, but monitoring through sensors is more accurate since the sensors will focus solely on your farm.
5. Soil Monitoring
By monitoring soil, you can learn the current nutrient value, drier areas in the field, soil’s drainage capacity, acidity, etc. How’s this helpful? This data can let you determine the right amount of water required.
Knowing the nutrient value will help you know whether or not soil has enough nutrients for the desired crop cultivation.
6. Precision Farming
Generally, a farm is considered as a single unit. When precision farming comes into the equation, the farm is broken down into several imaginary parts. Each part is monitored (through sensors and drones) to inspect the soil moisture level, temperature, humidity, etc. and the action is taken only in the concerned parts.
For instance, if the North-West zone of the farm is lacking pesticides, it’ll be sprinkled only in that area. Precision farming is hence not just gathering data and monitoring, but also taking the required actions automatically.
Monitoring and managing crops, cattle, and soil are hence considered a part of precision farming. However, efficiency in farming is completely dependent on the accuracy of your decision. In short, even if the sensors give you the correct data, taking wrong decisions can result in inefficient outcomes.
Drone-based Applications in farming and agriculture
The following applications are achievable with the help of IoT drones. You can automate these activities through a mobile app. The use of drones in smart agriculture is divided into two parts- i) tracking and ii) distribution.
1. Farm Surveying (Tracking)
Drones are equipped with sensors and cameras, which roam around the field. They’re used for imaging, mapping, and surveying the field. This helps in collecting data regarding crop health, irrigation, spraying of pesticides and fertilizers, plantation, soil analysis, and the list goes on.
2. Spraying/ Sprinkling (Distribution)
Once you’ve analyzed the farm’s situation, the next step would be sprinkling the required resources. Drones can take care of this, and you just need to control them remotely.
According to arrow good quality drones (Agras T16, etc.) are capable of covering 25 acres of farmland per hour. Good quality drones can sprinkle the materials with high accuracy and efficiency. While spraying, the drone’s flight height plays a vital role. If the drone is kept too high, the crops won’t receive enough required chemicals (meaning underdose of the chemicals). On the other hand, if kept too low, the crops will receive more than the required chemicals (meaning overdose of the chemicals).
Pros & Cons Of IoT In Agriculture
Smart agriculture using IoT holds its own advantages and disadvantages. According to a post on Quora, here’s a condensed list of them.
Benefits Of Smart Agriculture
- Reduces manual work with the help of automation. Hectares of land can be taken care of more effectively than ever without the need for human efforts.
- Expenditure on resources such as water, pesticides, fertilizers, seeds, etc. will be optimised, as the sensors can tell the right amount of required resources.
- You can view the status of soil, water, crops, cattle, etc. at a glance. All the latest and up to date data will be in front of you in no time.
- Improves yield in the same amount of land by inspecting crops right in the field. No need to collect samples, take them to the lab, wait for several days, and pay for lab tests.
- If your cattle are sick, the attached sensors will issue a warning. This way, livestock casualties can be minimized since they will be cured at the earliest possible time. The data collected from the cattle also helps to improve animal husbandry.
- The sensors also act as a tracking device for your animals. If lost or stolen, the livestock can be recovered with ease.
- Recently, Purdue University and Spensa Industries have developed a Z-Trap system, which uses a lure to attract insects in bulk. The trap can be set up remotely and digitally. This way, you can save your crops from those insects, which could have otherwise harmed them.
- The data collected from the IoT sensors help in learning whether or not productivity is hindered. You can know if the farm is yielding at its highest possible capacity.
Drawbacks Of Smart Agriculture
- This technology is cutting edge, and while simple to use, it requires an extensive knowledge of the range of applications, something that most non-specialists lack.
- Owing to the investment cost, many people still aren’t interested in adopting smart agriculture using IoT.
- Even if some farmers adopted the newer technology, there’s a fairly high chance that they will use it incorrectly. Incorrect usage won’t give the desired results. Unfortunately, they may consider the technology completely useless.
- 100% correct prediction of weather conditions is still near to impossible. Even with the help of this modified technology, there’s a possibility of incorrect weather prediction and analysis, which could put all the farmers’ efforts into vain.
- This technology has longevity but the gadgets don’t, so they will need to be updated in the future. That’ll be an added cost. Furthermore, their maintenance will be another major issue.
- You’ll have to take the necessary measures to secure your IoT gadgets from theft.
- Drones (aerial and ground-based) require regular charging. If they run out of power in the middle of the farm, it could be troublesome as recovery can be a hustle.
- When spraying the chemicals across the farm, drones will have a weight load capacity. If the farm size is considerably large, you’ll have to use several drones. Alternatively, you’ll have to call the drones back to you multiple times to refill the chemicals, which can be time-consuming. Additionally, they’ll consume more power.
- Neck collar sensors worn by the animals are vulnerable to being physically destroyed if the animals get into a fight, resulting in a broken sensor.
Ideally, IoT is intended to monitor your farming activities and assets (such as crops and livestock). It helps farmers achieve automation with the adoption of new and modified technology, designed especially for the agriculture sector.
While the use of these gadgets can be a complex task, learning to handle and becoming familiar with them will be beneficial in the long-run. According to market research, countries like China and Japan have deployed this technology and adopted precision farming. Furthermore, several countries have now learned the need and advantages of IoT in agriculture and are taking initiatives to bring it to their farms.