IoT helps farmers become eco-conscious while working to meet an ever-growing food demand

By Angira Agrawal | Chief Operating Officer | Skylo Technologies

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Greater emphasis on expanding scope of tech integration in agriculture, including farming-as-a-service and IoT-based farm equipment mechanization technologies are showing the way forward

In sci-fi movies, do you remember seeing a world where food demand has outstripped supply, and people are surviving on tablets (maybe flavored to our favorite foods) to provide us with the necessary nutrients?

As the global population grows, and more so in India, producing enough food and reducing wastage becomes key. More food can only be grown by increasing the yield per acre while ensuring sustainability. In addition, there is an economic impact: agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India’s population. The country’s gross value added (GVA) by agriculture, forestry and fishing was estimated at Rs 19.48 lakh crore (US$ 276.37billion) in FY20 (PE). 

For Indian policymakers and companies alike, especially those in the agriculture sector, the focus has been on creating an environment that fosters sustainable agriculture in India, while also taking steps to modernise the sector. Indeed, this has emerged as a key priority, one where the rapid deployment of modern technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) would also be crucial to modernising and accelerating growth in the sector with a minimal impact on the environment.

This is important since, apart from population growth, shrinking agricultural lands and depleting natural resources, India must also enhance its farm yield. The other worry is India’s dwindling availability of farm labourers scattered across hundreds of thousands of farms dotting rural India as a result of the flight of labour from rural to urban areas in search of better incomes and lifestyles. According to the UN, and several other reports, the urbanisation of India is taking place at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world.

The Government of India has been trying to solve some of the root problems, including enhancing the income of Indian farmers. There has been increased emphasis on the modernization of farming techniques, including mechanization. And, there has been more emphasis on the need to introduce smart farming technologies to assist farmers to produce more by lowering their dependence on the increasingly inconsistent supply of manual labour.

With the help of sensors and interconnectivity, the era of the IoT in agriculture is already demonstrating a significant difference. It saves time, reduces the extravagant use of resources such as water and electricity, helps understand the impact of weather conditions, anticipates the effect of ambient temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, rainfall, wind speed and dew point on crops, among a host of other benefits. Implementing digital, smart agriculture is also helping manage water output so it meets budget requirements while aligning with local government regulations and allocations, and conserves resources.

On the other side of the spectrum, smart farming has also led to faster farm mechanisation, which is set to play a key role in sustaining the growth of India’s agricultural sector, especially with an eye on increasing India’s per capita food productivity and longer-term food security. The demand for agricultural equipment, enabled by digital technologies, is expected to rise as there is recognition today for smarter machinery equipped with better technology, machinery that can catalyse an increase in agricultural yield. This is a key priority for India.

With greater emphasis on expanding the scope of technology integration in the farming equipment sector, four specific categories of ‘Agri Tech’ applicable to the farm sector have been identified and, together, these new technology solutions are being called, ‘Mechanisation 2.0’. They include:

‘Farming-as-a-Service’ (FaaS)

FaaS offers farm management solutions and allows stakeholders to make data-driven decisions to boost productivity and efficiency. Data is collected directly using drones, satellites, farmers, market agents, and government agencies. The information is processed and analysed to find what works well in the sector, which is leveraged by farmers to adopt precision farming practices to boost productivity, by government to empower field officers to provide timely support, and by corporates to optimise input application and real-time monitoring of crop output.

Big Data-based mechanisation technologies

Big data provides farmers with granular data on rainfall patterns, water cycles, fertilizer requirements, and more, enabling them to make smart decisions, such as what crops to plant for better profitability and when to harvest.

IoT-based mechanisation technologies

Direct agricultural sensors are a proven method to increase farmers’ crop yield and decrease their resource usage. IoT sensors help farmers optimize water and fertilizer usage to reduce costs and increase crop yields. Remote management can ensure that equipment can be turned on and off remotely as needed. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based mechanisation technologies

AI in farming enables farmers to overcome the challenges of traditional farming and be future-ready. If the agriculture industry incorporates AI into their practice they will be able to drastically change the outcome of their efforts. Through the data AI collects and analyses, it forms a knowledge repository for the farmers that will boost their productivity, educate them on better agricultural practices and provide quick aid and advisories on taking timely actions against unforeseen situations.

Using IoT solutions, farmers can now monitor the location of their farming equipment at any given time, know fuel levels at all times, check on the equipment to understand how it’s being used and if it’s in good shape, increase equipment life through predictive maintenance. They can also get alerts when something needs to be fixed or adjusted to ensure minimal downtime, and keep an eye on assets and ensure renters are taking good care of equipment.

When it comes to yields, it is about quantity and quality. Smart farming ensures both by capitalising on automation, real-time visibility, and remote diagnostics to produce more at a lower cost. Farming equipment touches every aspect of operations, every single day, and gaining more insights about operations would not only help streamline the processes, but also help make this valuable equipment cost-effective. These powerful machines are untapped data goldmines with the potential to churn out insights, every second. Smart farming is about having access to precise information, at the farmer’s fingertips, be it environmental or machine metrics to make informed decisions. Solutions equipped with IoT will enable insights about crop health, irrigation, spraying, planting, soil and field, plant counting, maintaining right levels of nutrients and microorganisms, optimizing irrigation rates, preventing fertilizer and pesticide runoff, ensuring the soil delivers requisites for crops to thrive. With end-to-end IoT becoming a key component of Mechanisation 2.0—including the integration of sensors, cloud platforms and analytics in farms and smart farm systems—India’s agriculture sector is set for its next big transition.