With a quick look around, it’s clear that new technology is enhancing all aspects of modern life. We can skip traffic, make video calls anywhere on the planet, and immediately translate a paper between languages on a device that has become an extension of our bodies. These new advancements expand beyond our individual consumer electronics as well. Assistive-driving cars are protecting humans with enhanced safety features and automation is changing roles in the workforce. Agriculture is no different. From 2002 to 2014, more than twenty percent of full-time agricultural workers left the industry, and this trend is continuing. With a possible workforce disaster on the horizon, farmers are turning to new forms of technology to pick up the slack. One new model of connectivity is the Internet of Things (IoT), a thesis of building connected components that all collect and share data to enhance human decision making. These new devices bring connectivity to physical objects such as sensors and irrigation systems, interconnecting them and providing farmers better information and control over their crops. With these, farmers can automate labor-intensive tasks to lower costs and adapt to the changing labor force.
Sensors can be integrated throughout agriculture to provide farmers with information like crop health, soil moisture, and humidity, and other IoT devices can connect and react accordingly. Internet of Things hardware can also be enhanced with artificially intelligent (AI) systems for further automation and predictive capabilities. For example, if a sensor finds that the soil is too dry, an IOT device with AI capabilities can be programmed to automatically initiate irrigation. This creates an easy-to-use system that enables farmers to conduct work at the touch of a button; the same work once required of several laborers. The result is a more efficient, sustainable, and lucrative industry.
“The Internet of Things (IoT) is turning the ancient practice of farming into precision agriculture. Sensors implanted in the soil can tell you when and where to irrigate. Cameras attached to a drone flying over a field of soy beans can spot a mite on a leaf from 400 feet. IoT devices for cattle can tell you when heifers are about to calve or when cows are in heat.” - The Atlantic
In the coming years, IoT systems and artificial intelligence will be not merely a luxury, but a necessity within the agricultural world. By 2050, our planet must produce 70 percent more food than current levels to satisfy the world’s population. This sobering statistic – in tandem with the decreasing agricultural workforce — highlights these technologies’ importance. Luckily, it seems to be a rapidly growing industry. The global agricultural IoT market was recorded at $14.79 billion in 2018, and it is expected to reach $28.64 billion by 2023 with the expansion of conventional and controlled environment (CEA) agriculture.
IoT devices are also used to target new indoor farming needs. Tasks like maintaining the correct nutrient solutions, monitoring environmental controls (such as temperature and humidity), calibrating plant growth, and automatically adjusting light intensity can all be facilitated with upcoming IoT technology. By growing in a controlled environment, the ability to track and control environmental variables allows for precise environmental changes to optimize crop taste, nutrient content, and overall output.
The OneGrow team had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Nelson, OneGrow’s Co-founder and CEO of Grow Computer, a startup focused on providing bundles of sensors and smart software to monitor, control, alert, track, and lightly automate indoor farms. Nelson shared with us that “growers around the world are using new technologies to take control of the different variables and parameters of their entire growing systems.” The power to monitor and control indoor grows without being physically present is an incredible tool to give farmers their lives back and help keep up with increased food demand. Additionally, Daniel recognizes that tracking data effectively gives farmers the ability to share information more easily outside of the farm, and can build relationships between the greater agricultural community. It is through this sharing of data that the overall productivity of the industry increases. This means less waste, increased viability of indoor agriculture, and cheaper produce for all.
With continued adoption of IOT technology, we can expect to see a cultural shift within the agriculture industry from analog to smart growing systems. Rapidly changing weather patterns and workforce issues create a much slimmer margin for error than ever before. Adoption of Internet of Things devices with artificial intelligence capabilities will provide more farmers with immediate and accurate information to successfully deal with increased demand. Applying IoT systems in school classroom grows enables visualization of plant growth and the ability of information to be shared between school districts. Precise monitoring with smart sensor networks will increase the viability of growing food outside of Earth's atmosphere. The surface has barely been scratched with the application of these technologies; all of which are necessary to sustain the growing, hungry world.
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Kavya Uppalapati is a student at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, journalist, and Director of Content Development here at OneGrow.