The farming industry faces a number of challenges, from climate change to crop diseases to labour costs. When it comes to food security, in spite of these hurdles, the world will need to produce 70 per cent more food in 2050 than it did in 2006, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. But, in a perverse example of irony, climate change not only affects yield, but the agriculture industry itself contributes to climate change. The industry is, therefore, under pressure to not only increase yields but to do so with changing weather conditions and requirements to reduce greenhouse gasses.
The European Commission states that farming can adapt to the changes in climate through the use of technological solutions, adjustments in farm management or structures, and political changes, such as adaptation plans. To that end, the Commission has set up a project to strengthen research on precision farming and to develop a common agenda concerning information communications technology and robotics for a sustainable agriculture.
The Commission states that precision farming, which involves a number of digital technologies, including the internet of things (IoT) and automated agricultural machinery, is recognized as having significant potential for the sustainable intensification of primary food production.
IoT technology can help improve farming productivity and efficiency in a variety of different ways. For example, farmers can ensure they use their supplies, such as water and animal feed, more efficiently by leveraging IoT. Smart irrigation technologies help people schedule precisely when fields of crops need to be watered and how much water is required.
Through IoT applications, growers are able to monitor soil moisture levels around plants, as well as weather conditions, so they can use water more efficiently and effectively. IoT solutions also can monitor the amount of animal feed distributed on a daily basis, thereby ensuring that the right amount is being used, without waste. The monitoring of feed distribution is particularly important, as USDA, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, found that the largest farm production expenditure is on feed.
Today, we use sensors to monitor cattle, which means that a farmer can make informed decisions on how to manage his livestock based on real-time data, and he can do that remotely without having to be physically in the field. Therefore, the time saved by avoiding manual monitoring can be used elsewhere to make the farm more efficient. By collecting more data on livestock, crops, and growing conditions, yields can be better controlled, predicted, and expanded.
IoT technology also can be applied to agricultural machinery, allowing for preventative maintenance and more accurate reports in the case of a malfunction, thereby saving time and money. For example, for preventative maintenance, IoT applications can be used to monitor machinery on a constant basis, flagging potential problems in advance, and enabling farmers to avoid potentially costly repairs.
The UK's National Farmers' Union (NFU) has stated the need for farmers to continue to embrace technology and boost productivity in the UK and the rest of the world, saying that "targeted investment, supporting research and development, and incentivizing adoption of technical advances would strengthen resilience within the farming industry." The NFU adds that farmers can raise yields, create increased revenue, cut costs, increase productivity, and minimize inputs and maximize outputs through precision farming.
At a time when demand for food is set to soar, and the availability of arable land continues to dwindle, the need for IoT technologies has never been more vital.