Posted by Dr. Denis Pasero on 21st June 2016
Large scale agriculture can present perhaps one of the best business cases for IoT devices. IoT enables remote locations to be monitored and controlled from a centralised point. By providing a more efficient way of monitoring these dispersed locations brings improved data to a farmer, as well as making their working day more effective. A centralised access to a wealth of data can enable them to monitor and optimise the supply chain for their production. Improving the supply chain from farmer to the plate.
Many aspects of farming can benefit no matter if it is livestock, crops, farming equipment or buildings maintenance. The IoT needs range from ones similar to wearables market, with the need to tag livestock, through to IoT solutions with similar needs to industry such as monitoring moisture, temperature, light levels, vibration within storage areas and farming equipment.
These hybrid needs however have some points of consistency. A wide range of sensor types are needed; minimal cost to install and maintain; simple alarming system to flag to a farmer when a particular activity needs attention and self-sufficient power supply making use of a range of energy harvesters.
We will look at a few examples of when stand alone, self-sufficient beacons can improve a farmer’s life. First example is tracking livestock – being able to monitor the location of the livestock, in particularly useful to farmers farming large or desolate locations where livestock can be hard to locate. With the available data they can then establish their grazing pattern which can help them to maximise their yields and potentially minimise their additional feed requirements. These beacons need to be able to harvest energy either from the heat from the livestock, or movement of the animal to charge the battery. Since this beacon will be out the all weathers it will need to be robust enough to withstand a range of temperatures and moisture. Ilika’s Stereax solid state batteries can support a wider range of temperatures and are more moisture tolerant than other battery solutions making them more suitable to a small beacon attached to the livestock and, potentially in the future, internal to the livestock. The British company eCow, for example, collects pH and temperature data every minute from a “bolus” ingested by their cattle.
Next we look at a crop focused example - arable farmers make large asset investments into equipment such as irrigation systems as well as crop collection machinery. So they want both sets of equipment to be used to their maximum to increase the return on their investments. So by being able to monitor soil, weather and air quality can help to guide the usage for both planting and harvesting their crops. By being able to sync up the harvesting needs with the availability of the crop harvesters ensures a more seamless process by using the data from the soil sensors throughout the harvesting process. Particularly useful to farmers farming over a large area – this information can improve the scheduling of the fields for harvesting. To collect data from sensors located remotely from power sources requires them to be powered by energy harvesting technologies, predominantly solar. To enable a full 24 hour data collection requires also a battery source to power the sensor during the dark hours. Stereax enables a moisture resistant battery solution that can be trickle charged during the day so that it can power the sensor during the night maintaining the full data collection.
Farming offers the opportunity to holistically bring together many of the key IoT technologies to improve the output of farming. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts that, to enable us to feed the additional 2.3 Billion people expected by 2050, we need to increase food production by 70%. Every avenue needs to be explored to be able to support this large increase in food requirements. IoT technology has a key role to play in this.