IoT in Agriculture Makes Heartland Tech Really Sexy
We tend to think of the tech revolution in sexy terms – the sleek new gadget, the impossibly cool Silicon Valley, the enigmatic tech leader dreaming of the moon. Too often, we forget about the quieter tech revolutions taking place in less glamorous industries.
Take agriculture, for example. It’s nothing new for ag leaders to incorporate tech into their operations. But when it comes to staying current with the latest measurement and monitoring tools, ag has the same problem as industrial manufacturers: It’s simply too costly to replace legacy equipment, especially when that equipment still has a decade or more left in its lifespan.
This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) can enter in. My company, Atomation, for instance, specializes in connecting legacy equipment to the cloud via circuits that collect data from small sensors that can be attached to a piece of machinery, embedded in the soil or even attached to livestock. The sensors can record any number of metrics, from vibrations and temperature, to moisture and location.
An IoT system can effortlessly measure many of the metrics that growers often still check by hand. For example, we worked with an international agriculture firm to place sensors in some of its greenhouses. The sensors track moisture level; when a predetermined moisture threshold is reached, the system notifies greenhouse operators.
Previously the company had analog sensors that required humans to physically go extract the data. With Atomation’s IoT platform in place, that manual work is no longer needed. The business has seen yields within those greenhouses increase by 20 percent and operating costs decrease by 20 percent.
IoT monitoring can also be implemented in outdoor fields. Atomation is beginning a project to help with ‘precision farming,’ a management concept based on tracking and responding to variability in crops within a field. IoT monitoring will enable a customer to understand how water and various nutrients flow through the soil. The sensors can provide a detailed snapshot of soil performance so growers can know precisely what their land needs for crops to thrive.
For ranchers, IoT can track data and provide valuable metrics that prevent unnecessary disease and loss of revenue.
Among other capabilities, a simple IoT-enabled tag can track livestock’s body temperature, weight and water intake to make sure each animal is eating and drinking properly, and location to ensure no animal wanders off property and that it’s visiting the food and water pens enough. Anytime something outside of the “normal” threshold occurs, the sensors send an alert to the rancher so the issue can be investigated and corrected.
Currently, field hands are sent out to check on animals – as many as thousands of head of cattle – to visually take stock of the health and integrity of the herd. If a sick animal isn’t noticed right away, the loss can be massive, from high medical bills to the cost of having to be destroyed. And if the disease is easily transmitted , the loss of assets could be potentially catastrophic.
No industry is immune from the benefits of accurate monitoring and analysis that IoT can deliver. In the case of agriculture, tech is helping growers and ranchers manage the uncontrollable factors that have been putting their bottom lines at risk since humans first put till to soil.