From enabling commercial farmers to increase production to feed an ever-growing population to supporting small, mobile farming in upcycled shipping containers, IoT is planting creative solutions in the farming industry.
Farming—one of the world’s oldest vocations—has long embraced innovation and the orientation toward continual improvement. From the evolution of the plow to breakthroughs in nutrition, pest control, informatics and more, the relationship between farming, science and technology is strong and time tested.
Advances in farming have increased crop yields to levels beyond what farmers of old would ever dream of, but they still lag behind the growth rate of the global population. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, to keep up with demand, food production will need to increase by 70 percent by the year 2050. And to compound this challenge, the reality of the expanding western lifestyle coincides with a growing shortage of water, land and energy resources.
Today’s farmers are turning to the Internet of Things (IoT) as a valuable tool to help address the evolving challenges they face. In fact, Smart Agriculture was identified as the top ranked opportunity by the 2016 Global Opportunity Report. IoT is enabling both large- and small-scale food producers to increase food production, reduce water consumption and waste, create more flexible farming solutions and more.
Increasing Efficiency in Big Farming
To increase production while still controlling costs, larger farming operations are leveraging IoT in myriad ways. A large percentage of crop loss is due to weather variation. Integrating IoT and meteorological data gives farming operations the ability to build predictive weather modeling that can allow them to make strategic decisions—whether it’s when to plant or where to take action to prevent potential damage from unusual weather conditions.
IoT is also getting down in the dirt. Farmers are minimizing water usage and optimizing and automating many of the central farming processes with IoT-connected sensors. John Deere is connecting its tractors to the IoT with the goal of improving per-acre crop yields by boosting the efficiency of field prepping, planting, fertilizing and harvesting. These connected technologies include wireless communication, cloud apps and IoT sensors, all aimed at helping farmers do more with less. The company is also pioneering self-driving tractors, which would further increase efficiency by freeing farmers up to perform other tasks.
Another way IoT is helping big farms is by reducing waste through improvements in the supply chain. Around $165 billion dollars worth of food is wasted every year, and approximately 50 percent of that food waste happens during distribution. From trucks with IoT-connected refrigeration sensors ensuring food is kept at safe temperatures—and automatically sending alerts if it’s not—to mapping the optimal delivery routes with the help of real-time weather and environmental conditions, connected “things” are helping large-scale food producers reduce distribution-related food waste.
Facilitating Flexible, Small-scale Farming
IoT is also doing its part to make farming more accessible—and controllable. As more people move to urban environments, there’s an increasing demand for locally grown, sustainably produced food.
Freight Farms, a Boston-based agriculture technology company was founded to actively tackle these new challenges. The company is addressing the needs of the world’s changing food landscape by providing physical and digital solutions for creating local produce ecosystems on a global scale.
The Leafy Green Machine (LGM), Freight Farms’ flagship product, is a complete hydroponic growing facility built entirely inside an upcycled shipping container. Boasting indoor growing technology and environmental controls, its IoT-connected tools and services enable fresh food production in any environment, perfect for the limitations found in urban setting. The LGM can grow a variety of crops regardless of location or weather conditions. In 2017 the company expects to release a more compact LGC offering, small enough fit in a driveway, backyard or garage.
The company’s app, Farmhand Connect, gives users access to real-time data from the sensors inside the unit, enabling them to remotely monitor all the vital growing components. The app allows them to check air humidity and CO2 levels, temperature, nutrient/pH levels of the water, and elect to automatically receive notifications of any changes to the environment parameters set by the user. Thanks to innovative IoT-connected growing equipment and climate technology, every fully contained mini farm is able to achieve the perfect environment, 365 days a year, no matter where it’s located.
These examples illustrate a handful of the ways IoT technologies are transforming farming and providing farmers big and small with valuable tools to fight food shortage and address changing geographic and environmental challenges.
With even more innovative solutions on the horizon, food producers have a lot to gain by embracing IoT.