Smart Farming: What is it?

The development of farming and agriculture almost 12000 years ago revamped the way humans lived.

Farming helped humans make the much-needed shift from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to living in permanent settlements.

They lived in small villages and still went foraging and hunting but they didn’t have to venture far for food.

For our ancestors, farming was a way of life that they chose because they did not want to live the nomad lifestyle.

However, for us, farming has become a necessity.

With the growing population, there is a dire need to improve the quality and quantity of agricultural products since the number of human beings on the planet will rise to approximately 9.6 billion by 2050.

However, the question is that with access to limited agricultural land, changing climatic conditions, and lack of freshwater, how is this possible?

This is where technology can help us.

This challenge can be overcome by making out agricultural products intelligent and connected with the use of sensors, telecommunications, and analytics.

This new method of farming is dubbed ‘Smart Farming’ or ‘Precision Farming’.

Smart Farming leverages advanced technology. The process involves using IoT and SaaS to gather data and provide insight to manage the pre and post-harvest operations.

What is Smart Farming?

Smart farming, also known as the fourth green revolution in agriculture, is basically a method of applying information and data technologies to farming systems.

This way, complex farming systems can be optimized such that the quality and quantity of the product are increased without having to hire more human labor and investing in more land.

In simple words, the focus of smart farming is to produce more food while keeping the investment to a bare minimum.

The technology employed in Smart farming includes drones, IoT,  robotics, and artificial intelligence.

They help the farmers monitor the field condition without having to go into the field.

This way, the farmers can collect data and manage the operations of the farm based on the actionable insights the algorithms provide.

In addition to this, the entire process is sensor monitored and is managed by software.

So, the overall cost of the product decreases, increasing the yield, quality, availability, and customer experience.

This automation of farming has led the industry towards efficiency and sustainability.

A recent survey has revealed that approximately 80% of farmers in the US and 24% of farmers in the UK have already made the much-needed shift towards smart farming.

The best part is that smart farming is not limited to large corporations, it can be used on family farms and for smaller farming operations as well.

Principles Behind Smart Farming

Like every other industry, the farming industry is moving in lockstep with technological advancement.

Smart farming, as mentioned, is all about using new technology in an attempt to eradicate hunger as the population of the planet soars.

But, how is this technology implemented? How does it help in making farming more convenient?

The answer to these questions lies in the principles of smart farming. The structure of this new method is divided into three layers. These are:

  • The perception Layer
  • The Network Layer
  • The Application Layer

Each layer plays a crucial role in making smart farming a success. Here is what each layer entails:

The Perception Layer

The perception layer, also known as the sensing layer, is where technologies like Near Field Communications (NFC), Wireless Sensor Node (WSN), and RFID are implemented.

These sensors offer object identification, climate control, tracking of livestock, quality control, and life cycle assessment.

They also help in the identification of infestations at an early stage.

The Network Layer

The concept of this layer is pretty much evident from the title. It includes the communication of sensors with each other and the main network for data transfer.

The data captured by sensors is sent to the mainframe for storage, analysis, and processing.

Based on the data provided by these sensors, the farmers make the necessary decisions including whether the crop needs to be fumigated or if the amount of fertilizer in the soil is less than the required level or not.

The Application Layer

This layer is where the magic happens. It is what facilitates all the data collection, storage, and manipulation.

In this layer, all the collected data is converted into a form that can be understood by the farmers.

Benefits of Smart Farming

After reading the points mentioned in this article, you would have already deduced that there are several benefits of smart farming and the rewards of this revolution will only increase as the technology progresses.

By making farming more connected, smart farming will help us improve the quality and quantity of agricultural production while reducing the overall cost.

Since it provides farmers with increased control over production, the ultimate goal of better cost management and waste reduction is automatically achieved.

Some other benefits of smart farming are:

Tracing Of Anomalies

Smart farming provides the farmers with the ability to trace any anomalies in the crop or livestock.

This helps in the timely deduction of any abnormality that can result in the loss of yields in the longer run.

Thanks to the automation of the process, farmers have better control over the production process, ultimately leading to better yields.

Cost-Effectiveness

The automation of processes such as the sowing of seeds, dealing with infestations, and harvesting has helped in a major reduction of costs.

In addition to this, thanks to smart farming, farmers can now measure the soil moisture, which means the fields are only watered when the soil is dehydrated.

Careful Management

Demand forecast and the delivery of goods are two important aspects of farming.

Smart farming helps in the careful management of the two. It also helps in reducing waste.

This new way of farming helps manage the supply of land such that the growing parameters are optimized to promote the optimal production of the right crop.

However, the success of smart farming and its management greatly depends on the implementation of software, control systems, and sensors.

Automation

A huge part of smart farming relies on the control system which is responsible for managing the inputs from the sensors,  delivery of the data, and decision support.

This system helps in the automation of the farming process which in return helps in production support as well as designing timely responses for emerging issues.

Precision Farming

When we talk about smart farming, a term that constantly comes up is precision farming.

Those who are not familiar with the topic usually use the terms Smart Farming and Precision Farming interchangeably.

They do go hand-in-hand but are not the same thing.

Smart Farming is the implementation of technology to optimize complex farming systems.

Precision farming, on the other hand, focuses on getting precise measurements to optimize farming such that the process is more accurate and controlled.

An important aspect of precision farming is making use of information collected via Smart Farming tech. Some of the tech items that are commonly used in precision farming are:

  • Automated hardware
  • Drones
  • GPS
  • Sensors
  • Robotics
  • Automated software
  • Telematics
  • Soil sampling

Optimization is one of the most critical concepts of precision farming.

Traditionally, an equal amount of fertilizer is applied over a field. However, with precision farming, that is not the case.

The soil quality is measured using soil sampling technology and based on the readings that are achieved, a fertilization strategy is developed.

This not only prevents over and under-fertilization, but also helps in money management and is more environmentally friendly.

The ultimate goal of precision farming is the automation of the process, reduction of human and machine errors and ultimately increasing the crop yield by not wasting the seeds.

Precision Livestock Farming

As the name suggests, precision livestock farming is designed to help farmers in livestock management by providing the means for efficient monitoring of animal health and productivity.

This method of farming allows farmers to optimize and control the welfare and health parameters of livestock in an automated and real-time manner.

Similar to precision agriculture, precision livestock farming depends on technologies like sensors, GPS, cameras, microphones, and more.

Using these connected devices, farmers are able to timely detect any anomalies and gather information on livestock activity, tissue resistivity, pulse, and location.

In addition to improving the yield and quality of livestock, precision livestock farming has also helped in dealing with the rising concerns about animal welfare and the environment.

Incorporating Automation into Farming via Smart Greenhouses

Although greenhouses have evolved, their main purpose, i.e., supporting the year-round growing of crops, remains the same.

Over the past few decades, these nurseries for crops have undergone significant changes, the most notable of them is automation.

Modern greenhouses can control and optimize factors that affect the growth of crops. These include temperature, ventilation, light exposure, etc.

This helps in optimal growth of the crops as well as efficient use of energy.

In addition to this, the automation of greenhouses has enabled farmers to greatly reduce the amount of labor required to manage and monitor the crops.

Farmers can now step away from their greenhouses and keep an eye on their crops while managing the climate.

The technology used for the automation of smart greenhouses is pretty much similar to the IoT used in the common American household.

The only difference is that the smart devices are used to do much more than dim the lights and turning the music on.

Greenhouses use the machine learning method to remember information and process it such that they come up with the ideal climate to grow a certain crop.

Based on the findings, the systems make recommendations to help farmers and crop growers keep the plants healthy and achieve a better yield in the end.

This technology is not limited to commercial-level agriculture. If you have a small at-home greenhouse, you can use smart technology to optimize that as well.

Use of Drones in Smart Farming

When it comes to commercial-level or large-scale smart farming, drones play a very important role.

They help in simplification of the supervision process.

The farmer can cover hundreds of acres of land and look for anomalies while sitting in the office.

IR or multi-spectral cameras can also be installed on drones to help gather information on crop health and nutrients in the soil.

This data helps in determining the irrigation and fertilizer needs of the crops. It also helps in monitoring the growth of plants and the condition of the land.

As far as cattle is concerned, farmers can monitor their weight, growth, mating patterns, and anomalies with the help of drones.

Real-Life Instances of IoT Benefitting Traditional Farming

The introduction of IoT in farming has opened new arenas in the industry by promising new levels of control.

It is a powerful driver that will change the way humans have been harvesting and growing crops and cattle for centuries.

Here are some of the real-world examples of how IoT has revamped farming:

Calving Alert Sensor

Livestock farming greatly depends on the health of the newborns which is why farmers strive to keep cow mothers healthy.

The birth process also affects the health of the calf and the mother.

Moocall is a wireless calving alert sensor that helps farmers optimize the birthing process of a calf.

It monitors and records the movement patterns and alerts the farmer before the cow is ready to give birth.

This way, the farmer has almost an hour to prepare for the necessities.

Asparagus Sensors

Asparagus is a famous vegetable used all-around America due to its high nutrition content.

However, it is a rather tricky plant to grow and its health greatly depends on the temperature of the ground.

This is where Bosch’s IoT system comes into play.

It constantly monitors the temperature of the ground and stores the data on the cloud to help farmers make informed decisions.

Crop Disease Sensors

The IT giant TCS has designed a pilot to run across crops monitoring their health and checking for anomalies referring to certain diseases.

This especially helps in detecting the Late Blight Disease.

Contemporary Smart Farming Companies

Thanks to the advantages of smart farming, many companies are working on developing cutting-edge technology that will change the face of farming around the world.

Some of these companies are:

RoboticsPlus

This startup, funded by Yamaha motors, is designing bruise-free robot packers that will help in packing fruits and vegetables.

The robot can carefully handle up to 120 pieces of fruit in a minute.

Ecorobotix

This Swiss startup has designed an autonomous robot weeder that uses solar energy and removes weeds from the crops after detecting them.

WaterBit

This California-based startup has built an Irrigation Solution (AIS) to assist farmers with watering the fields.

Trace Genomics

Lastly, Trace Genomics is an artificial intelligence company that has designed scalable software and analytics to identify and profile the soil microbiome.

Emerging Technologies in Smart Farming

Venture capitalists are investing more than ever in agriculture technology.

This trend is expected to rise in the upcoming years since the demand for innovative farm technology is sky-high.

This is mainly because the awareness regarding the benefits of smart farming is constantly increasing.

Some of the emerging smart farming technology includes:

  • Soil and water sensors to detect moisture level, nitrogen level, and other nutrients in the soil.
  • Weather tracking sensors to help farmers plan ahead.
  • Satellite imaging technology to provide real-time crop imagery.
  • Pervasive automation to reduce the operator workload.
  • Minichromosomal technology allows agricultural geneticists to modify the traits of crops.
  • Vertical farming surpasses the restriction posed by limited land.

How Can One Get Started with Smart Farming

There are several different technologies involved in smart farming.

These are employed according to the type of farming and the requirements of the crops.

For smart farming to make growing crops more cost-effective and to increase the yields, here are a few things that have to be installed:

  • Tractor guidance GPS tags
  • Perimeter protection
  • CCTV cameras
  • Soil sensors
  • Drones
  • Monitoring and recovery sensors

For livestock farming, in addition to the above sensors, you should also introduce GPS tags for each cattle.

Conclusion

IoT is rapidly changing and developing which has a huge impact on smart farming as well.

Although this technology has helped us move towards more sustainable agriculture, there are still many challenges that engineers have to deal with.

One of the main challenges in smart farming that still needs to be catered to is interoperability and standardization. There is still a risk of incompatibility with other systems and vendor lock-ins.

In addition to this, promoting connectivity at food farms that are located in urban areas is another issue. Smart farming is dependent on a stable internet connection and the connectivity of the hardware, this is slightly difficult to implement in rural areas.

Nevertheless, smart farming technology is still developing and there is a long way to go.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is smart farming sustainable?

Yes, smart farming is helping humans move towards sustainability,

When was smart farming invented?

The concept of smart farming was introduced in 2009.

What countries use precision agriculture?

The US and UK are currently the companies employing precision farming on a large scale.