When thinking of agriculture, the first thought that comes to mind is tractors, farms, horses, and cows. It seems to be so far removed from contemporary technology, that the notion of putting it in the same sentence as the Internet of Things (IoT) seems absurd. However, when looking a little deeper into the industry called AGTech, it does, indeed, present an opportunity for IoT to play a big role in the industry’s future success.
A big dependency of the AGTech industry is irrigation. According to the USDA (https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-practices-management/irrigation-water-use/), agriculture is a major user of ground and surface water in the United States, accounting for approximately 80% of the country’s consumptive water use, and over 90% in many of the western states. What this means is that we’re not drinking this water. As the world’s population increases, and with the possibility of climate change decreasing the available water supply, it is vital that farmers employ methods of efficient irrigation in order to conserve water for our growing nonagricultural demands. Besides helping the world at large, conservation and efficient irrigation will help farmers maintain, and possibly even increase, their profitability, by reducing their consumption of costly water supplies.
One of the challenges with irrigation is water that’s wasted by runoff and evaporation. An efficient irrigation method called drip irrigation solves this problem. According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drip_irrigation), Drip Irrigation is a type of micro-irrigation that has the potential to save water and nutrients by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface. The goal is to place water directly into the root zone and minimize evaporation.
A challenge with drip irrigation is that it waters all crops equally. However, all crops are not equal. Different plants have different needs. Furthermore, even with plants of the same variety, there may be pockets of drier areas in your field that need more watering, and some pockets that have an overabundance of water and can require less watering. What happens when it rains on just part of your field? With drip irrigation, your entire field is watered equally, no matter what’s happening in local segments of the field. It’s a waste to consume such a scarce resource like water when in many locations, it’s flowing abundantly from the sky!
Here are a few more challenges with drip irrigation:
- Irrigation hoses can get clogged by debris and salt build-up. With a large field, it’s very difficult to inspect every plant to ensure it’s getting watered properly. If the hose is buried, you will never know there is a problem until it is too late.
- If hoses are exposed, they can get damaged by animals and equipment. Entire sections of your field may become compromised, and the damage may not be discovered until it’s too late.
- Black irrigation hoses that are exposed to direct sunlight can heat up and deliver boiling water directly to the roots of delicate plants, potentially killing them in the process.
A technological combination of IoT and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be extremely helpful with these challenges. For example, sensors can be installed all over your field in order to measure things like water saturation, soil temperature, nutrients, and other data points. The data that’s received by the IoT sensors will get processed by an AI engine that will make real-time decisions on how much water to flow through each individual plant’s nozzle. If one plant out of a thousand needs additional watering, the AI-based solution will ensure that it gets the care it needs. Conversely, if one section of the field is receiving hydration in the form of rainfall, the IoT-based sensors will measure how much rainwater is being received, and send that data up to the AI control center. The AI engine will make a calculation whether or not to deliver any more water via irrigation, and if so, how much water to deliver. It will then signal the individual nozzles to constrict water flow to that area. If sensors detect no water flow through an individual nozzle, it can use UIB’s UnficationEngine® to alert a Field Manager via instant messaging and include the GPS coordinates of the affected nozzle, so that it can be repaired easily and quickly.
The same goes for damaged irrigation infrastructure. The sensors will report the problem along with the exact GPS coordinates so that the problem can be quickly located and repaired. With regards to the challenge of exposed pipes heating up in the sun, temperature sensors will block irrigation in the event of unsafe water temperatures, and alert a manager so that the problem can be corrected.
In conclusion, by leveraging the benefits that the latest in technology has to offer, farmers can increase their revenues by increasing their yield, while decreasing their consumption of costly water supplies. Ironically, employing IoT and AI as methods of water conservation, adds a layer of humanity to your solution, as it will help the world at large gain access to some of the precious 80% of the global water supply it so desperately needs for clean drinking water.
My question for you is, how will IoT technology improve your business?
About the Author
Avrohom is the founder of #AskTheCEO, an online technology thought leadership community, whose mission is to create an online platform where people can go to learn about the latest in technology, without a sales pitch, jargon, or call to action.
Avrohom comes from a 20+ year career in Telecom, where he helped businesses around the world install and maintain their communication systems and contact centers. He is a top-ranked global IoT expert by Postscapes.com, followed worldwide on Twitter, and a frequent speaker on using technology to accelerate revenue growth.
Listen to him share the latest technology trends, tools, and best practices, on #AskTheCEO — broadcasted on YouTube, with all shows available on iTunes and SoundCloud.