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IoT: The Future of Precision Farming and Smart Greenhouses

by Sunday Precious
IoT Applications: Harnessing IoT in Agritech

Farming has seen numerous technical advancements over the last decade or two, resulting in increased development and technological reliance. Farmers now have more control over the methods of planting seeds and developing crops thanks to the introduction of IoT applications in AgriTech.

Agritech, which is the application of technology in agriculture, involves solutions from different technology areas, such as AI, machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Currently, statistics indicate that the IoT market in agriculture will rise from $11.4 billion in 2021 to $18.1 billion in 2026. This demonstrates the significance of IoT in modern agriculture.

In this article, we’ll look at IoT applications in agriculture and their advantages. So, if you’re considering investing in smart farming or establishing an IoT agriculture strategy, go for it.

What is IoT 

The Internet of Things describes devices with sensors, processing capabilities, software, and other technologies that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the Internet or other communications networks. The Internet of Things encompasses electronics, communication, and computer science engineering.

In agriculture, the Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a network in which physical components, such as animals and plants, environmental elements, production tools, and various virtual “objects” in the agricultural system, are connected to the Internet via agricultural information perception equipment using specific protocols to exchange and communicate information.

IoT in agriculture uses robots, drones, remote sensors, and computer imaging in conjunction with constantly improving machine learning and analytical tools to monitor crops, survey and map fields, and provide farmers with data for rational farm management plans that save both time and money.

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Let’s consider 6 key applications of IoT in Agritech 

6 Key Applications of IoT in Agritech 

6 IoT Application in Agriculture
Source: BR Softech

1. Precision Farming

Precision farming, also known as precision agriculture, focuses on efficiency and making precise, data-driven decisions. It is one of the most widely adopted and effective uses of IoT in agriculture. 

Even though it’s not yet popularly adopted in Africa, precision farming is a vital solution to the food crisis plaguing African countries today. IoT can provide a comprehensive analysis of farming activities such as crop and animal management, weather conditions, soil quality, and employee performance. This comprehensive data gathering defines the farm’s progress and development, allowing for better decision-making. 

By adopting precision agriculture, farmers can increase yields, foresee problems and take necessary actions to mitigate them.

2. Smart Greenhouses

IoT technology has transformed greenhouses by automating climate control through weather stations. These stations adjust conditions according to set instructions, eliminating human intervention and increasing accuracy while reducing costs. For example, solar-powered IoT sensors create modern, affordable greenhouses that collect and transmit real-time data for precise monitoring. This data enables automatic and smart irrigation, and farmers can receive email or SMS alerts on water consumption and greenhouse conditions.

Traditionally, farmers rely on manual intervention to control the greenhouse environment. But now IoT sensors provide you with accurate, real-time information on conditions like lighting, temperature, soil condition, and humidity. Then weather stations collect the environmental data and automatically adjust the conditions of your greenhouse to match set parameters. 

Some examples of IoT agriculture products that can be used for smart greenhouses include Farmapp and Growlink. 

3. Livestock Production

According to GSMA research, livestock is agriculture’s fastest-growing subsector, accounting for 40% of worldwide value. It is also one of the segments most ripe for disruption through innovation due to the fact that almost 60% of the operating costs associated with livestock production are due to animal feeding and related labour.

IoT devices applied in livestock farming help farmers improve livestock productivity in various ways including:

  • Automating feeding schedules, water delivery, and other chores, thereby lowering labour expenses. 
  • They also assist with containment, theft prevention, and the monitoring of animal health and reproduction.
  • Livestock tracking and monitoring collect information about stock health, well-being, and whereabouts. 
  • Sensors detect unwell animals, allowing farmers to segregate and prevent contamination. 
  • Drones track cattle in real-time, cutting staffing costs. 

A good example of IoT in Livestock farming is SCR software by Allflex which employs smart sensors to offer information about individual cow and herd health, temperature, activity, and nutrition.

4. Monitoring Climatic Conditions

Climate plays a critical role in farming, and improper knowledge can significantly impact crop quality and quantity. The IoT ecosystem consists of sensors that detect real-time weather conditions like humidity, rainfall, and temperature accurately. These sensors monitor crop and weather conditions, sending alerts if disturbing weather is detected. This eliminates the need for physical presence during harsh weather, increasing productivity and agricultural benefits.

Weather stations, combining various smart farming sensors, collect environmental data and send it to the cloud. IoT networks collect data on environmental variables like humidity, light, and temperature to inform practical resource and crop management decisions. 

5. Smart Irrigation Systems

IoT-enabled irrigation systems can alter the quantity of water used based on soil moisture levels and weather predictions. It conserves water and ensures that crops receive the appropriate quantity for growth. Smart irrigation systems can use various sensors including: 

  • Soil sensors that measure moisture, salinity, electrical conductivity, and other characteristics to predict irrigation demands. 
  • Weather sensors (or evapotranspiration sensors) that assess local environmental factors such as soil water evaporation and plant transpiration. 
  • Plant sensors fitted to plants help to detect changes like swelling or shrinking, indicating water content and health status. 

These sensors transmit real-time data to a central system, which automatically controls water pumps based on detected moisture or temperature levels. Farmers control these systems using cloud-based platforms or smartphone apps, making real-time modifications and monitoring. There is also an advanced software that incorporates satellite data, weather forecasts, and AI algorithms that can improve irrigation systems and enable more precise water management.

6. Agricultural Product Quality Safety and Traceability

Agricultural IoT enhances product quality, safety, and traceability in warehousing, logistics, and distribution. Technologies like electronic data exchange, barcodes, RFID tags, and WSNs enable automatic identification, real-time monitoring, and traceability of agricultural products.

Developed countries have implemented mature traceability systems, such as the American agricultural product traceability system and the European beef traceability system. Researchers have also developed various platforms and tools to improve traceability, including:

– Pinto et al.’s TIC manageable tools for food industry traceability.

– Jiang et al.’s agricultural product safety traceability platform for real-time data collection and display.

– Cui et al.’s uniform coding system for dairy products, sea cucumbers, and pork.

– Sun et al.’s citrus traceability system using RFID, QR codes, and asp.net components.

– Vegetable quality and safety supervision systems based on RFID technology.

– Diao et al.’s web and GIS-based vegetable quality and safety early warning and traceability platform.

– Gu et al.’s RFID-based electronic tags for individual pigs, carcasses, and segmentation parts.

These innovations have significantly improved agricultural product quality, safety, and traceability.

Opportunities and Challenges Of Adopting IoT Applications in Agritech 

The opportunities and challenges of IoT applications in Agritech.

Here are five opportunities and challenges of the application of IoT in Agritech:

Opportunities:

  • Precision Farming: IoT devices can collect and analyze data on climate conditions, soil quality, and crop growth, enabling farmers to make informed decisions and optimize their farming practices. This leads to higher crop yields, reduced waste, and improved resource allocation.
  • Improved Resource Management: IoT technology can automate processes like irrigation, fertilization, and pest control, reducing the need for manual intervention and minimizing resource waste. This results in cost savings and increased efficiency.
  • Enhanced Supply Chain Transparency: IoT when integrated with blockchain technology provides end-to-end traceability of agricultural products, ensuring transparency and accountability throughout the supply chain.
  • Increased Efficiency with Automation: Autonomous tractors and drones can automate key processes like planting, monitoring, and harvesting, introducing a level of precision and efficiency previously unattainable in traditional farming practices.
  • Predictive Analytics: The integration of AI and machine learning with IoT can analyze vast amounts of data to predict and prevent crop failures, optimize resource usage, and improve overall farming operations.

Challenges:

  • High Initial Costs: The cost of implementing IoT solutions can be prohibitively high, especially for small-scale farmers. This includes the cost of hardware, software, and infrastructure.
  • Data Management and Security: IoT devices generate a large amount of data, which must be effectively managed and secured to prevent cyberattacks and data breaches. This is a significant concern in agriculture, where many devices lack sufficient security protection.
  • Technical Expertise Gap: There is a lack of skilled professionals in many agricultural regions, especially in developing countries, who can manage and maintain IoT systems. This hinders the adoption of IoT in agriculture.
  • Rural Connectivity Barriers: IoT devices often require reliable internet connectivity, which can be a challenge in rural areas where connectivity is limited or non-existent.
  • Cybersecurity Risks: IoT devices in agriculture are susceptible to cyberattacks, which can compromise data security and disrupt farming operations. Ensuring the security of these devices is critical.

Conclusion 

IoT applications can vastly improve farming practices and contribute to more sustainable agriculture, which is critical in the face of the global climate crisis. However, it comes with unique challenges, such as high initial costs and complexity. Overcoming these challenges and adopting IoT in modern agriculture will produce invaluable opportunities for optimizing processes and saving resources, ultimately benefiting everyone since higher sustainability in farming is essential for the planet’s welfare.

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