Farming is one of the oldest occupations in the history of mankind, and perhaps among those changing the most in today’s world. Modern farmers face challenges like never before. With rising global population rates, changing dietary demands, resource constraints, climate change and enterprise competition, there is immense pressure on the agricultural industry to produce more food.
In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global food production will need to rise by 70% to meet the projected population demands by 2050. Fortunately, innovations in technology offer new ways for the agricultural industry to meet this global challenge. Systems such as IoT sensors and big data analytics are offering avenues to reinvent antiquated farming practices, creating more cost-efficient processes that produce higher quantities of food with less strain on resources.
IoT impacts every level of the agricultural lifecycle by simplifying and streamlining the collection, inspection and overall distribution of resources. For example, using sensors on farming equipment and in the field provides the opportunity to harvest huge amounts of information, which ultimately offers insights farmers can use to make better-informed decisions. Businesses across the globe have recognized this technology’s potential, and are using innovative solutions to generate safer, better food production and create environmentally smarter practices.
Leveling the field with IoT
Large farms have historically had a market advantage over their smaller competitors. With more room for trial and error, big farms have had the capacity to use large amounts of historical data to yield the best results from their crops and livestock. Additionally, larger farms have the capital necessary to invest in leading technologies. These conditions have left smaller farms at a disadvantage, struggling to complete with less information and resources at their disposal.
Fortunately, recent advances in IoT technologies have leveled the playing field in agricultural production. IoT sensors offer a cost-efficient, low-power system with the capacity to aggregate sensor data on everything from soil and water quality to temperature, humidity and livestock vitals.
Using analytics from this information, farmers can generate predictive insights to optimize their operations regardless of farm size. For example, farmers will know the most opportune planting and harvesting times to yield the highest crop production due to environmental and nutritional factors, no matter the size of their farm.
Putting data to work: NB-IoT and precision farming
Progress in low-power wide area (LPWA) technologies is creating powerful opportunities for the agricultural industry. Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), a unique LPWA option, has proven particularly suitable for smarter farming practices.
NB-IoT is a low-cost technology that provides ubiquitous, battery-efficient connectivity, offering massive value with the capacity to aggregate data for tens to hundreds of billions of devices.
Today, farmers are using NB-IoT in smarter farming practices such as precision farming. Precision farming uses data insights to guide both immediate and future decisions on everything from where in the field and what quantities to apply chemicals and fertilizers to when it’s best to plant seeds. Smarter farming practices like this offer many benefits, including efficient and sustainable crop production. Additionally, insights from IoT sensor data can enable a more precise use of pesticides and fertilizers. This can save money, deliver better results and lower the impact of chemicals on the environment as well.
IoT and livestock management
IoT plays another important role on the farm beyond crop production — the technology is also used to monitor livestock health.
Despite many advances that have improved livestock health and fertility practices, bovine mortality rates today remain comparable to mortality rates of unassisted human child births from several centuries ago. Fortunately, progressive companies like MooCall are turning to IoT to improve modern calving practices.
MooCall, which specializes in calving and herd management technology, engineered a sensor that uses the Vodafone Managed IoT Global Connectivity Platform to monitor the health and labor of expectant cows. The tail-mounted sensor gathers over 600 pieces of data per second to accurately predict when a cow will give birth, measuring tail movement patterns triggered by contractions. Alerts are sent via cell or app about one hour before birthing. To date, approximately 250,000 calves have been born safely with their owners on site ready to help if needed.
Advances in IoT across the agricultural industry will have an immense impact on the way we’re able to meet the rising demands of our global population. Mass amounts of data gathered through IoT systems allow farmers to act with the more information than ever, enabling them to yield higher crop production and create safer livestock birthing practices. The benefits will only continue to grow as this technology evolves.
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