IoT in Agriculture: From Precision Farming to Drone Monitoring

By Swamini Kulkarni

The Internet of Things offers unprecedented control to farmers.

The Internet of Things (IoT) holds the potential to transform the way we live and to disrupt every industry by offering real-time monitoring and the ability to control devices remotely. We live in a world in which shoes are smart and grocery shopping can be accomplished by merely talking, so it is no surprise that IoT devices entered the agricultural world and offered a smarter way to manage livestock and monitor crop growth.

The world's population is growing and shows no sign of slowing down. As the number of mouths to feed is ever-increasing, the adoption of the IoT in agriculture is the most logical solution to meet the demand. For years, agriculture has been associated with hard labor and utter dependability on weather and other uncontrollable parameters. Throughout the past few years, the sector has become smarter and more technology-driven. The advent of drones in farming and the growing popularity of smart farming are a few examples. According to Allied Market Research, the global IoT in agriculture market is anticipated to reach $48.71 billion by 2025, registering a CAGR of 14.7 percent from 2018 to 2025.

Application of the IoT in Agriculture
Precision farming: IoT-enabled precision farming quickly gained popularity, offering several tools to farmers to optimize every farming task. These processes are focused on raising livestock and growing crop yields while improving profitability by reducing traditional inputs, such as water, fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides.

Precision farming employs state-of-the-art technologies such as smart sensors, automated vehicles, robotics and control systems in order to use less and grow more. For instance, GPS devices installed on tractors aid farmers in planting crops in a more beneficial pattern, and in using every space between their fields, which saves time and fuel. In addition, smart sensors installed across fields gather valuable data regarding soil, weather, pest and hydration conditions, and this information can be analyzed at a centralized platform to make smart and informed farming decisions.

What's more, precision farming involves IoT-controlled lasers to turn water on and off, in order to minimize water wastage. This method is truly a boon for farming, as it enables companies to use resources wisely and make farming more sustainable and profitable.

Drone monitoring: An agricultural drone is a widely used example of the IoT in agriculture. Drones are no longer limited to military and last-mile delivery; these days, agriculture is a major customer for advanced drone technologies. Ground- and aerial-based drones are rapidly being incorporated in agriculture for the assessment of crop health and the analysis of planting and irrigation.

Drones have gained popularity due to their ease of use. They save time and, if incorporated with GIS mapping, can aid in increasing yields. In short, drones are the most sought-after way to conduct a high-tech makeover of farming with real-time data collection and processing. For instance, farmers can choose altitude and ground resolution to decide from which part of the field they want data to be collected. Accordingly, they can improve planting and gain insights, such as yield prediction and plant height.

Livestock monitoring: IoT devices help farmers gather information about their livestock, including their location, health and well-being. In this way, farmers can separate sick animals from a herd and prevent the spread of diseases. With the use of IoT devices, farmers can locate their cattle and reduce labor costs. What's more, there are sensors that determine if a pregnant cow is about to give birth, since the sensor will inform personnel when its water breaks. The smart collar tags are now widely used to monitor the animals' health and gather insights regarding the nutrition of each cow. This collected data can be analyzed, and the herd's location can be continuously monitored.

Smart greenhouse: The IoT offers an elegant way for weather stations installed within a greenhouse to automatically adjust climate conditions per a given set of instructions. With the adoption of IoT technology in greenhouses, farmers can eliminate human intervention and make the process more cost-effective and accurate. For instance, solar-powered IoT sensors can gather and transmit real-time data to monitor greenhouses at all times. With IoT devices, smart irrigation can be carried out so that farmers can monitor and control water consumption using a smartphone. In addition, farmers can monitor other parameters, such as humidity, pressure, temperature and lighting condition for crops.

Advantages and Drawbacks of the IoT in Agriculture
Connectivity and internet security: If a system is connected to the internet, there is always the risk of hacking and cyber-theft. Thus, IoT systems and monitoring devices such as drones must have a two-way authentication process and employee login records for protection. Moreover, connectivity poses a challenge to using IoT technology, and a developing region in which a strong internet connection is unavailable cannot reap all of the technology's benefits. As the majority of farmlands are in remote locations, this connectivity factor plays a major role in the IoT's seamless integration in agriculture.

Cost reduction and automation: One of the major reasons why the IoT is quickly being adopted in agriculture is the significant reduction in labor costs it enables. As the IoT brings automation every step of the way, farmers no longer require hundreds of laborers. Instead, they can make a one-time investment in autonomous devices and a centralized platform with which all IoT devices can be monitored.

In the IoT world, multiple sensors, gauges and autonomous machines can be interconnected across a farm using a cellular network or Bluetooth. Thus, farmers need to establish a strong infrastructure to offer the seamless connectivity that these devices require. Once the infrastructure is established, a farm can add as many IoT devices as it needs for optimizing resources and utilizing the IoT with maximum efficiency.

Quality improvement: The demand for quality food has increased across the globe. People expect more from farmers and reject a product if it is not up to their standards. To deliver quality products, the IoT could prove quite promising in agriculture. Researchers across the world have been working to develop a growing number of IoT products for improving the quality of a farm's yield. What's more, market players have been investing a huge pile of money and are in a race to launch smarter and more efficient IoT farming solutions.

For instance, Arable, a leading market player in IoT technology, has been offering new ways for farmers to take advantage of advanced sensors, machine learning and wireless networks to enhance crop growth. The company has launched its novel Mark 2 sensor, a sensor-integrating bridge device and a new mobile app, as well as Arable Open, a customizable application programming interface that its partners can use.

The adoption of such IoT tools as soil monitors and weather stations has offered farmers a way to control the overall processes of a plantation, which include growing crops, raising livestock and monitoring their health. The IoT has made farming more predictable, profitable and efficient. The use of such technology in agriculture is changing the way farmers utilize their resources. IoT devices have offered more than just continuous monitoring of crops and livestock—they have reduced costs, increased business efficiencies and offered complete transparency in the food chain.

More and more, people are being influenced by the IoT's benefits in the agricultural sector, and the technology will soon be considered a necessity for anyone who wishes to remain in the competition and offer quality goods for their customers. Embracing the IoT in agriculture could be the best thing a farmer can do to gain an unprecedented level of control across all the parameters in the farmland.

Swamini Kulkarni holds a bachelor's degree in instrumentation and control engineering from Pune University and works as a content writer at Allied Market Research. She is deeply fascinated by the impact of technology on human life and loves to talk about science and mythology. When Swamini is not glued to the computer, she loves to read, travel and daydream about her areas of interest.