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Utilizing the IoT for Smart Agriculture

Farmers and grocers need to take advantage of the Internet of Things and digital transformation to provide people around the world with healthy perishable food.
By Joe Brooker and Alan Griffiths
Oct 20, 2019

We currently produce enough food to feed 10 billion people, so why were more than 800 million undernourished in 2017? The simple answer is waste. Despite mankind producing 1.5 times the amount of food required to feed the planet, a staggering amount of that food is wasted or lost. Roughly one third of the four billion tons of food produced globally every year is wasted. There is room for improvement across the entire value chain, from farm to fork, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will play an important role in minimizing this wastage.

If the agriculture industry is going to sustainably maintain pace with ever-changing world demographics, then integrating digital technologies into production will be key. The IoT has made once-rare technologies accessible, but while the cost of these technologies has decreased, the challenge of integrating them remains a big hurdle. One of the main advantages that the IoT has had on industry is the availability and accessibility of closed-loop systems. If implemented correctly, closed-loop systems will play a major role in reducing the roughly 325 million tons of food waste that occurs in agricultural production.

Despite the wide popularization of digital transformation and the IoT in recent years, a survey conducted by Alpha Brown discovered that only a tiny number of farmers, just 5 percent, admitted to having knowledge of the IoT solutions available to them. This is a worrying figure considering about 25 percent of food waste occurs during agricultural production. Given the constraints facing famers in expanding their factors of production—mainly land, improving efficiency and yield—a more sustainable way of meeting the food needs of an ever-increasing population is required.

Some exciting applications of the IoT in agriculture involve integrating sensors, control systems and autonomous vehicles into production. The cost of IoT sensors has more than halved in the last 10 years and is still on a downward trend. Sensors can be used for a multitude of reasons, such as monitoring weather conditions, soil quality or livestock, or for practically any other important factor that influences production.

For example, an IoT sensor could monitor weather conditions. That same sensor could be connected to a fleet of moisture sensors dispersed throughout a farm, which would also be connected to the sprinkler system. This system could take periodic weather forecast updates, compare them with the current moisture levels of the soil, analyze these two readings and make an informed decision about when, where and for how long to turn on the sprinklers.

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