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Friday, May 24, 2019

Agriculture's Digital Transformation Enabled by IoT Apps

The global agricultural sector is currently evolving, as applications for the Internet of Things (IoT) technology disrupts more traditional methods of farming. With use cases that target several different segments of the market already available, new solutions are being created to evolve more segments.

The fact that there is no single, specific problem experienced by all farmers and ranchers has led to the development of a variety of different solutions, notably including water usage concerns from the government and projected population growth over the next three decades.

Agriculture IoT Market Development

By 2024, over 2 million farms and 36 million cattle will be connected, according to the latest worldwide market study by ABI Research. There's a significant upside opportunity for IoT apps within the agricultural market -- specifically connected agriculture in field crops, tree crops, and livestock.

For field and tree crops, the primary driver for the introduction of connectivity and the IoT is not only to irrigate sufficiently but also to limit excess water application for usage efficiency and to align with government regulation.

For livestock, it is about collecting data relating to the health of the animals, including birthing activities, as well as knowledge of their whereabouts.

Across all agriculture sectors, the benefits are improved yields, a higher quality product, and greater insight for farmers to more efficiently manage their operations.

Hi-tech systems involving drones can help to enable future farming methods, but a drone’s primary function is to provide high-level aerial imagery, including strategic analysis of large areas of farmland. While this is useful, it is time-consuming and can lack granular information.

"Ground-based sensor-based systems are more insightful and cost-effective for focusing solely on monitoring soil under crops and animal behavior. This is exactly the information farmers need to map out their plan of action to secure the optimum yield," said Harriet Sumnall, research analyst at ABI Research.

The technologies that will power IoT in connected agriculture will heavily rely on gateways and low-power wide area products. LoRa is increasing finding preference in supplier solutions, particularly for sensor-to-node connections.

The cost of connected agriculture system depends upon the number of sensors, with vendor pricing strategies ranging from a single upfront fee and an inclusive subscription to a data management platform (as with Sensoterra), to a zero upfront cost but a data subscription-only model (as with CropX). The former may be preferable for large farms, and the latter better for smaller ones.

Outlook for Connected Agriculture Applications Growth

The reasons for adopting IoT in agriculture are universal – cost reduction, improved productivity, and better profit margins – but the specific prompts in terms of readiness to adopt new applications can be more pragmatic and localized.

For example, in North America, the political climate is proving challenging for the immigrant workforce required by the agricultural sector, and more automation could make up for this lack of manual labor. And, in Europe, farmers are notably younger than elsewhere in the world and are more naturally receptive to adopting new technologies.

"In general, however, there is a lack of education among farmers about the benefits of connected agriculture. This is a vital issue that IT vendors must continue to be active in remedying if Agricultural IoT is to succeed,” Sumnall concluded.