The development of IoT for agriculture is still in its early stages, but it looks promising as more and more farmers are implementing these technologies.
Australian agriculture has historically been defined by long droughts and erratic rainfall. For farmers, these harsh conditions leave small margins of error, which means that hard work on the paddock does not necessarily translate into a healthy stock or good harvest.
One of the ways that farmers have adapted to these conditions is through the use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors. But compared to other sectors, farmers have been slow to adopt these technologies due to concerns about the cost of implementation and continued service, especially when there is no immediate value received. for some IoT technologies, which can sometimes take years of data accumulation. before it shows its worth.
SEE: Glossary: Smart Agriculture
Still, Raja Jurdak, Senior Researcher at Data61, says farmers have a growing appetite for IoT devices and sensors as the value behind these technologies becomes clearer.
For example, through the use of IoT pest control technology such as Vertebrate Pest Detect-and-Deter (VPDaD) from Data61, farmers have been able to reduce the amount of pests that devour their crops. Pests cause Australian farmers $ 1 billion in losses each year, according to CSIRO.
VPDaD consists of two basic technologies: motion detection devices with deterrent lights and sounds, and thermal and color camera detection devices called Sentinels, which are used to identify different types of animals.
The Sentinel captures images of animals. It processes the information in real time and sends the information to VPDaD devices so that it can identify if an approaching animal is a pest, then uses the appropriate deterrent tool if necessary.
The agtech IoT has also become much cheaper than before. Data 61 researcher Brano Kusy explained how technology that tracks the movement of individual cattle can be purchased for around A $ 50 apiece in 2019. With the cost of breeders typically having four digits, the cost of agtech starts to rise. reach economic thresholds where possible. so that every animal has a sensor, Kusy said.
According to an AgThentic report, titled Emerging technologies in agriculture, it is predicted that IoT device installations in agriculture will grow to 75 million in 2022, up from 30 million in 2015 globally, which would represent an average annual growth rate of 20%.
Using IoT to help farmers beyond the paddock
The modern farmer must do more than cultivate healthy crops and livestock, which is just one of the many elements necessary for successful agriculture. Other considerations, such as demonstrating the quality of an agricultural product, are also important in enabling farmers to run an efficient and stable farm operation.
From having to juggle all of these responsibilities at the same time, a growing trend in Australian agriculture has been the deployment of IoT sensors in remote areas so that farmers can perform tasks such as herd tracking more efficiently, as well as switch over. more time to improve the quality and welfare of their livestock.
Living in the age of social media where consumers care more about where their food comes from, farmers have a greater responsibility than ever to demonstrate that their products are ethically made and of high quality.
To address these issues related to the quality of agricultural products, IoT technologies such as smart earrings for cows have been developed, Jurdak said. CSIRO and agtech startup Ceres Tag last year developed a smart ear tag that helps farmers track the location of their livestock, such as where they graze and if one has escaped. or has been stolen. The beacons are also equipped with accelerometers, so they can alert farmers when unusual activity is detected.
By collecting data on the living conditions of livestock, IoT can make background agricultural processes, such as demonstrating the quality of an agricultural product, much easier due to the traceable nature of this. data type.
While the primary use case for this type of technology is livestock health monitoring, there are many other use cases beyond the paddock as well. For example, geolocation provides health data for the entire lifespan of tagged cattle, which can then be traced via the blockchain. By residing in a blockchain, it makes it difficult to modify or tamper with the data because it is a ledger. This means, according to Jurdak, that consumers and retailers can rest assured that farmers are transparent when sharing information about their products.
“Knowing where items are coming from is especially important, some people call it farm-to-fork or farm-to-table, and more and more people want the ability to know where their food is. coming from, ”Jurdak said.
Particularly in an Australian context, where its agricultural products enjoy a strong reputation throughout the Asia-Pacific region, integrating the data collected into purchasing practices would also make it possible to fight against counterfeiting of Australian products, which costs to Australia’s agricultural sector nearly $ 2 billion annually. in lost profits, according to the AgThentic report.
Consumers increasingly want proof that what they are buying is the genuine good, so the benefits of these technologies become evident due to their ability to demonstrate that products are of superior quality and delivered in optimum condition. .
What is the future of agro-tech?
Despite the increase in the number of adoptions for IoT devices, Jurdak says there is still work to be done, especially in the area of developing energy-efficient and self-contained sensors.
Currently, most IoT devices require batteries to operate, but there are more and more projects, such as the product developed by CSIRO, eGrazor, which measures pasture consumption by livestock, which use solar panels to replenish energy so that they work longer.
“We’re hoping to have battery-less sensors that just pull energy from the environment to provide useful data – this device energy neutrality is a key goal for us,” Jurdak said.
SEE: The future of food (ZDNet / TechRepublic special feature)
Perhaps of more concern for the agricultural sector is that greenhouse gas emissions from livestock are one of the main contributors to global warming. In a recent widely published study, Poore and Nemecek (2018) noted that the consumption of meat and dairy products has a disproportionate impact on the environment compared to its real value.
“Meat, aquaculture, eggs and dairy use about 83% of the world’s agricultural land and contribute 56-58% of different food emissions, although they provide only 37% of our protein and 18 % of our calories, ”the study says.
As the standard of living continues to improve around the world, people also tend to eat more meat, especially in developing countries. The rate of meat consumption is expected to increase rapidly over the next 5 to 10 years, according to Kusy, which will have serious implications for the amount of greenhouse gas emissions created.
Faced with this environmental reality, farmers will have to put more effort into monitoring the amount of greenhouse emissions, in particular methane, generated by the production of livestock or crops. The eventual hope for IoT devices and sensors, according to Kusy, would be to use tracking data from IoT devices such as smart earrings alongside other IoT field sensors that collect data on the amount of methane generated. Farmers, as well as agrotech specialists, would then be able to build models that demonstrate which specific livestock genome or combinations of food products emit the most methane into the atmosphere, he said.
As the use of agtech becomes more prevalent on farms, Jurdak recommends that people in agriculture be open to engaging with agtech specialists to better understand the capabilities of the technology. and the benefits of its adoption.
“In our experience, this kind of discussion [between farmers and agtech specialists] in fact identify the greatest opportunities for using technology in agriculture. “