I’ve written about some of the changes coming to the workplace, workforce and overall economy because of the continued proliferation of IoT devices. One area I’ve found especially interesting as of late is how IoT is helping something near and dear to my heart: food. Well, food production technically. My father-in-law is a farmer in rural Indiana and, through conversations with him, I’ve learned about all the pressures being placed on today’s farmers. They include:
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- Availability of water: One of our customers, a large seed company, is investing heavily in agriculture that needs less and less water to grow because farmers must rely on increasingly unpredictable weather and battle urban demand for underground aquifers.
- Land: As Mark Twain quipped, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” As urban sprawl continues, the price of land continues to rise. Sadly, many farmers are being pressured to sell their land as subdivisions and businesses move in around them. If they don’t sell now, who will want to buy their property when it’s land-locked between a neighborhood and a shopping center?
- Government/environmental regulations: The federal government (and often other foreign governments), are putting more and more restrictions on how food can be produced. This can impact things like pesticides, genetically modified organisms, land management, workforces or animal welfare. Even customers are demanding their own standards from farms these days.
- Managing pests: Controlling insects and disease is something that has plagued (pun intended) humans since the first days of farming. It takes time and money to ensure that whatever measures are used to drive away or exterminate pests are safe for the crops and those who consume them.
- Maintaining a profit: Like every business, farmers struggle with maintaining a profit in a market where prices are almost always stable or falling and expenses continue to rise.
- Increasing yields: Improving the yield (amount of output per acre) is important because it not only offsets increasing costs, but also helps accommodate an increasing population on less and less land.
While the average farmer may not be held in high regard by a layperson, the truth of the matter is these are individuals who often run multimillion dollar businesses and can handle all the complexities and challenges that come with it.
Increasingly, both the agriculture industry and individual farmers must rely on technology to overcome business challenges. IoT is a key part of these plans — connected devices are being implemented by millions of farmers across America.
Looking at the list of challenges listed above, IoT and smart farming can help farmers in all these areas:
- Availability of water: Deployed field sensors can create data points that monitor things like rainfall in specific areas or water requirements for crops to help drive irrigation strategies and reduce water consumption.
- Land availability: While IoT isn’t able to control land prices, it can help make farms better neighbors. IoT technologies can look for things like disease outbreak in livestock, allowing sickened animals to be separated from the herd and treated.
- Government/environmental regulations: Increased regulation means farmers must now provide data points from farm to fork and every step in between. By doing so, farmers ensure that various government import requirements are followed by local producers, making products available to a wider market overall.
- Managing pests: Sensors can monitor and scan the environment for infestations to pinpoint pest hotspots, allowing for more targeted applications of insecticides and other pest controls. This not only controls costs, but also minimizes potential negative environmental impacts.
- Maintaining a profit: Most people have read about the Silicon Valley’s self-driving vehicle obsession by now. Companies like Google, Uber and Tesla are all working on this technology, but people may not realize that self-driving technology and IoT sensors are already being applied to tractors and other farm implements. The ability to reduce the need for labor is creating direct cost savings for farmers, allowing them to spend resources on other aspects of their business instead.
- Increasing yields: As mentioned above, having access to real-time data that aids crop and animal monitoring allows a farmer to quickly identify and resolve problems, improving their overall yield. Data points that can be drilled down to a very specific location help immensely. Even tractors are helping by monitoring real-time yields as they plow, fertilize and harvest.
As we demand more and more from our farmers, harnessing IoT technology for smart farming appears to be the only conceivable way they’ll be able to succeed. With a world population projected by the United Nations to be 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, IoT in agriculture is an absolute necessity.
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