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Farming has traditionally been a high-touch, though not necessarily high-tech, industry for generations. Despite its heritage, the agriculture sector is rapidly emerging as one of the early leaders in adopting IoT technology to gather intelligence that can be used to eliminate waste, drive operational efficiencies and improve crop quality and yield.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is projecting the world will need 70% more food to feed an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050. To meet the surging demand, traditional farmers and the nascent smart agriculture sector are turning to new technologies, including IoT. As they step up their efforts, a January 2016 report by Machina Research is projecting the number of connected agricultural devices to balloon from 13 million at the end of 2014 to 225 million by 2024. Other projections call for smart farming technologies in the agriculture market to grow at a compound annual growth rate of over 16% from 2016 to 2022.
Sowing the seeds of smart farming technologies
Agnov8, an Australian technology solutions provider focused on the agriculture market, sees IoT as a way to deliver operational awareness to farm managers and growers. The company's smart farming technologies allow its customers to gain intelligence on increasing crop yields and initiating sustainable water and soil management efforts, or to gain access to environmental insights that will allow them to stay a step ahead of the very volatile Mother Nature, explained Luuk Honings, CTO for the firm. In addition to an array of IoT sensors, Agnov8 also delivers smart farming technologies including nursery management software, ruggedized hardware, and Wi-Fi and other communications capabilities. The goal is to create products that will empower farmers and nurseries to transform operations without actually having to be hands-on with technology that might be outside their comfort zone.
"We want to make technology accessible to growers who know about technology, but don't know where to start," Honings explained. "It's such a wide field -- we ensure that our clients get the right technology and solution for what they actually need to improve their production and bolster crop yield."
Smart farming technologies for water management
Luuk HoningsCTO, Agnov8
One such Agnov8 client is Cameron's Nursery, based in Arcadia, Australia, which has won several awards for sustainable water management thanks to its closed-loop system, which reuses water captured from local rainfall events and irrigation cycles. A critical component to Cameron's sustainable water effort involves monitoring water quality to ensure what is captured is adequately filtered. However, the existing process was highly manual, thus, time-consuming and expensive, Honings explained.
With the Waspmote Plug & Sense sensor platform from Libelium, Agnov8 was able to replace the manual processes with a real-time monitoring system that tracks soil, water quality, water storage and other environmental parameters, including wind speed and weather, from three locations. All the sensor nodes are connected through a meshed Wi-Fi network, which uses Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 authentication for security, and data is sent to the cloud in five- to 15-minute intervals, making for a steady stream of real-time information. Agnov8 has created dashboards that allow users to review sensor measurement data in real time, instead of physically having to travel around to the various locations to take manual readings, and the raw data can also be downloaded for further analysis, Honings explained. The team is working to add an alerting capability that will raise alarms if there's a water-quality problem.
"They used to go around with a pH meter once a week on Fridays and get a single reading, and they would draw their conclusions on water quality from that," he said, adding that the IoT-enabled process also reduces human error. "Now, they are getting a live reading of what's happening in these three Waspmote locations, so they can get a reading straight away on quality and go about their business. It allows them solve issues faster and not risk ruining crops."
The team opted for the Libelium Waspmote sensor platform because of its versatility in the number of sensors offered as well as its open code base, which allowed for easy customization. Simplicity of operation and ease of integration with cloud-based solutions was another plus, Honings added. "We want to be able to offer clients technology that will grow with them instead of blindly throwing technology at them," he said.
While the IoT-sensor platform was not without its fair share of challenges -- connectivity in the relatively remote areas of Australia was a key concern, as was security -- Honings sees a fertile future for Agnov8 delivering IoT and smart farming technologies to the agriculture sector, along with the possibility of other industries.
"IoT is opening up new opportunities for us," Honings said. "There's a lot of interest and a lot of potential other industries that have fairly similar needs."
Read more about the benefits of smart farming