Supporting and Improving Crop Production with IoT

Create: 02/23/2017 - 18:56
drones in agriculture

“It will not be doubted that with reference either to individual or national welfare, agriculture is of primary importance,” said George Washington. Much has changed since Washington’s day, but that statement still holds true. The problem is, we’re depending on fewer farmers than ever before to satisfy the needs of an increasing—and increasingly urban—population. Today’s farmers and ranchers make up just two percent of the American population. People need food to live, which means people need farmers—innovative, smart farmers.

Though the business of farming is one of the oldest in the world, the demands put upon it by today’s continually increasing population is light-years away the agrarian societies of old. Unfortunately, while improvements in farming have boosted harvest yields to levels far beyond those of the old family farms, production is still failing to keep up with the growth rate of the global populace. In fact, to keep up with expected demand, food production will need to increase by 70% by the year 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

IoT to the Rescue

Fortunately, those in the agriculture industry now have more technological resources at their disposal than ever before, and farmers are starting to embrace the IoT in particular as an invaluable tool in the effort to better meet increasing demands for their crops.

According to BI Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service, IoT device installations in the agriculture world is expected to increase from 30 million in 2015 to 75 million in 2020, for a compound annual growth rate of 20%. And Accenture's Digital Agriculture: Improving Profitability report projects the total market size for digital precision agriculture services to reach $4.55 billion by the same year.

Greater use of IoT-powered precision agriculture technologies hold the promise of both improving farms’ financial performance and assisting in increasing production to better meet the food needs of an expanding population.

Boosting Production the Smart Way

Leveraging IoT to increase the accuracy of weather forecasts significantly affects crop productivity and is one of the ways IoT is positively impacting yield. The higher the level of accuracy it can produce, the lower the chances are the crops will be damaged by unexpected conditions, resulting in a higher level of productivity for the farmer. OnFarm, which makes a connected farm IoT platform, ran several studies and discovered that for the average farm using IoT-powered technologies, yield rose by 1.75%, energy costs dropped $7 to $13 per acre, and water use for irrigation fell by 8%.

Turning to Sensors for Savings

Studies indicate that 80% of food producers overwater their crops, which can decrease both growth and yield, and increase the chances of the soil developing fungal diseases. When the farmer has access to this data, water can be conserved and problems associated with overwatering can be prevented. Conversely, it can also show when irrigation is insufficient and needs to be increased in order to maximize crop growth.

John Deere is using an application called Field Connect to leverage satellite data for farming applications. Through the use of sensors, the system monitors moisture levels and sends the data to a user-friendly connected interface, enabling farmers to make vital irrigation decisions in a timely way. These insights are allowing farmers to save money on water charges while ensuring their crops are getting just what they need to flourish.

Droning On—Leveraging AI

Drones are providing significant benefits when applied to farming, and farmers are taking note. RnR Market Research puts the 2016 worldwide market for agricultural drones at $494 million, and expects it to reach $3.69 billion by the year 2022. With the great diversity of possible uses for IoT-connected remote flying devices in farming, and the analytics that can turn the images into valuable business insight, drivers for implementation run the gamut from assessing growing progress and pest control to even more proactive strategies, like protecting crops from potentially devastating viruses.

Identifying destructive crop viruses with the assistance of drones is another way IoT is helping farmers better protect their yield. University of Idaho’s Dr. Donna Delparte is conducting an ongoing project to assess sickness in potato crops, and she’s using drones rather than unwieldy, inexact and expensive satellite imagery to do it. Preventing disease and crop loss is one of the most effective ways to protect, and even boost, output. “It’ll save growers a lot of money if they catch this virus early,” said Delparte.

With satellite imagery, the resolution available still can’t get finer than 50×50 centimeters, or four to five potato plants per pixel. Drones are enabling Delparte and her team to take a much closer look with the ability to survey crops at a 3×3 centimeter resolution. When you’re looking at anomalies on a plant-by-plant level, this improvement can make all the difference.

Right now, Delparte and her team use Steadidrone quadX drones modified with cameras and GPS technology, and have begun looking for industry partners that can assist them in commercializing their technique so potato growers everywhere can save their crops and protect and grow their profits.

The benefits of implementing IoT technologies in the agricultural market are bountiful. Learn more about how Intel can help farming clients feed the world with IoT.

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