Even though farming is one of the world’s oldest professions, its importance has not declined. On the contrary, there are good reasons to say that global sustainable development will become only more dependent on farming in the next decades.
Just take a look at the dynamics of global population growth and think of the post-Covid economic normal — along with the undermining of international logistics. You’d be right to conclude that agricultural businesses and other industry stakeholders are challenged like never before.
The good news is that the current challenges can be tackled sustainably. The key is to use smart farming technologies. Let’s explore how and why agribusinesses should start implementing smart farming solutions right now.
What’s inside this article?
- What is smart farming?
- IoT is key to the smart farming system
- Precision agriculture as a means of intelligent farming
- Precision livestock farming
- Smart greenhouse automation
- The future of smart agriculture: finding the optimal technology blend
What is smart farming?
The big idea behind a smart farming system is to use advanced data and new technology to boost the effectiveness of an agricultural company. Simply put, it’s all about increasing the quantity and quality of agricultural products while reducing resources allocated at every stage of the business lifecycle.
Depending on a company’s specialization and particular needs, the optimal blend of farming tech tools might differ. Some common elements underlying a smart farming system include:
- IoT devices to track and manage soil condition, humidity, temperature, contamination levels, and other parameters
- Connectivity technologies such as cellular, LoRa, and Wi-Fi to transmit the data gathered in fields
- Software services developed in-house or provided by third-party vendors to integrate, process, and analyze data from IoT devices
- Location tracking systems to control and navigate vehicles via GPS-based tools
- Robotics innovations to operate autonomous devices or drones
- Data analytics services to store, structure, and analyze large volumes of data, providing decision-makers with analytical insights
Using a combination of new technology, farmers and agricultural industry stakeholders can both deal with the current economic, political, and environmental challenges and ensure the sustainability of their company development in the coming decade.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the crucial innovations behind smart agriculture.
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Smart farming system: IoT is the key
Almost any smart farming technology, from precision agriculture and livestock farming to smart greenhouse automation, is based on the use of IoT devices. Let’s look at the essential elements of an IoT-driven farming cycle.
To optimize the field management process, IoT devices are installed throughout the farm, vehicles, or other machinery so that data can be collected smoothly and continuously. The timely and complete transmission of data enables farmers to keep key parameters and metrics under control and react proactively once particular risks are identified.
The first stage of the IoT smart agriculture cycle is observation. At this point, data is collected from livestock, crops, soil, water, machinery, and other things.
Then, procession is done after data points are transmitted to a cloud-based integrated platform where the preset logic comes into play. For example, if farm parameters exceed certain values, a manager may receive a real-time “action required” notification.
In other cases, the IoT platform may act as a self-sufficient decision-maker, activating particular patterns if a certain event occurs and specific criteria are met. Afterward, the new observation-action cycle starts again.
Find out how Intellias developed GIS-based agricultural farm management software for effective field operations and planning
Precision agriculture as a means of intelligent farming
Precision agriculture, or precision farming, is a broad concept covering diverse IoT-driven approaches enabling farmers to manage agriculture and livestock with more control and accuracy. The basic idea behind precision agriculture is that the soil and plants are treated with ultimate precision and accurate means are defined with the help of smart farming technology.
While traditional farming approaches relied on a field as the major management unit, precision agriculture enables farmers to make decisions per square meter or even for a single plant or animal.
Due to the traditionally high cost of precise data collection, no more than 20% of global acreage is covered with advanced farming technology today.
But the benefits from optimizing resources associated with precision agriculture substantially outweigh the cost of the new technology. Particularly, it enables farmers to buy and use precisely needed quantities of pesticides and fertilizers.
Precision agriculture solutions also enable farmers to define and choose the scope and size of the smallest farm management unit on their own. This means that farmers can compare grain varieties or test new fertilizers in a safe environment without risking the sustainable development of the entire field.
Precision livestock farming
Similar to precision agriculture, precision livestock farming allows for optimizing resources and applying precise treatment for every animal. For example, farmers can find out how much nutrition is needed for every single animal.
Identification of health risks and diseases at early stages is another good example of how IoT-powered precision livestock farming is already being used by businesses. Integrated IoT devices track the food consumption and physical conditions of each animal and notify a farmer when critical levels are reached.
The more data is collected by IoT devices, the more accurate and timely are the actions taken. That’s how livestock intelligent farming enables farmers to make decisions on the level of each separate animal rather than managing the herd as a single unit.
Smart greenhouse automation
Traditional greenhouse management practices are based on manual control of key environmental parameters and the use of a generalized approach to greenhouse operations.
Here’s an example of how it works: Once a day, a farmer comes into the greenhouse, checks the humidity level shown by a hygrometer, and if the level is lower than it should be, performs additional spraying or irrigating.
You’re probably asking what’s wrong with such an approach?
First, the key environmental parameters may change multiple times throughout the day, and these changes may go unnoticed by the farmer. Second, the humidity level or other parameters might not be the same in different parts of the greenhouse. Third, changing a single parameter without tracking the response of other parameters undermines the integrity of the local environment.
In a nutshell, traditional greenhouse management means compromises on productivity, energy losses, undermined development, and vulnerability to human mistakes.
Learn how Intellias developed an automated greenhouse system to help growers collect data and get recommendations
Minimizing manual interventions is the key idea behind smart farming technology. It enables agribusinesses to switch from human-centric approaches to self-regulating systems that can automatically sustain the right balance of key environmental parameters by automating the management of key processes, including:
- crop spraying
Here’s a fact: with in-field soil sensors alone, farmers can manage their resources in ways that increase overall income by almost 20%. Smart greenhouse automation is powered by a system of integrated IoT sensors that cover the entire area of the greenhouse or vertical indoor farm and measure key environmental parameters in real time.
Once an issue is identified, the system can either react automatically or notify a farmer if approval is required. All data is stored in the cloud so it can be quickly and easily accessed when needed.
Explore how Intellias built a vertical farm lighting solution that uses artificial light to automatically illuminate plants and monitor their growth
Future of smart agriculture: find the optimal technology blend
That new technology is the future of farming is undeniable. The key to success is choosing the right combination of services and tools.
According to Insider Intelligence, almost 12 million agricultural sensors will be installed across the world by 2023, and the average farm enhanced with IoT devices is expected to generate more than 500,000 data points per day.
Add to this the mass adoption of drones used for irrigation, spraying, and field monitoring — then try to think of all these data points at once to get a sense of how smart farming looks in real life.
Read how Intellias developed platform-based crop management software to promote sustainable farming practices
Of course, used alone, IoT devices, smart sensors, or drones can bring significant value to a company. But to maximize efficiency, farming technology has to be integrated into a single comprehensive system. The right mix of integrated innovations becomes the key competitive advantage for an agribusiness.
To meet the global population’s projected nutritional needs in 2050, the global agricultural industry has to double the current level of food production. And that means agribusiness stakeholders are under pressure.
The good news is that the mission is possible. With advanced farming tech, the agricultural industry can reach an unprecedented level of productivity.
No doubt the future belongs to intelligent farming approaches driven by big data, IoT devices, smart sensors, drones, and automated greenhouse management systems. The question no longer is whether to innovate. What is crucial now is the ability to choose the optimal smart farming technology stack to meet the needs and challenges specific to your business.
Contact us to find out which innovations and services can be game-changers for your business and how to build the perfect smart farming solution.