How green is my valley? Ask the drone!
When you think of the IoT, what is the mental image that comes to mind?
Fancy gadgets that have sensors and cameras and some form of alerting and connectivity? Internet connected homes that allow us to turn appliances and lights on or off? Autonomous vehicles with onboard smarts reporting back a myriad of data to keep the occupants and other road users safe? Or maybe, a smart city where energy consumption and security is managed and maintained by AI and machine learning networks that never sleep?
But did you think about an ear of wheat? No? What about a loaf of bread, or a zucchini, a potato, or a glass of beer? Well, they all now fit within the definition. Here’s how.
Precision agriculture (PA) is an approach to farm management that uses information technology (IT) to ensure that the crops and soil receive exactly what they need for optimum health and productivity. The goal of PA is to ensure farm profitability, farming sustainability and protection of the environment. PA is also known as satellite agriculture, as-needed farming and site-specific crop management (SSCM).
Precision agriculture combines specialised equipment, software and IT services alongside commodity and consumer grade electronics. The approach includes accessing real-time data about the conditions of the crops, soil and ambient air, along with other relevant information such as hyper-local weather predictions, labour costs and equipment availability. Predictive analytics software uses the data to provide farmers with guidance about crop rotation, optimal planting times, harvesting times and soil management.
Sensors in fields measure the moisture content and temperature of the soil and surrounding air. Satellites and robotic drones provide farmers with real-time images of individual plants. (Think about that for a second – an individual ear of wheat in a paddock of 200 hectares!!) Information from those images can be processed and integrated with sensor and other data to yield guidance for immediate and future decisions, such as precisely what fields to water and when or where to plant a particular crop.
Agricultural control centres integrate sensor data and imaging input with other data, providing farmers with the ability to identify fields that require treatment and determine the optimum amount of water, fertilisers and pesticides to apply. This helps the farmer avoid wasting resources and prevent run-off, ensuring that the soil has just the right amount of additives for optimum health, while also reducing costs and controlling the farm’s environmental impact.
Identification and management of crop specific diseases and seasonal events can be greatly assisted by the application of PA techniques. In the past, precision agriculture was limited to larger operations which could support the IT infrastructure and other technology resources required to fully implement and benefit from the benefits of precision agriculture. Today, however, mobile apps, smart sensors, drones and cloud computing makes precision agriculture possible for farming cooperatives and even small family farms.
So IoT may be something that is for the use of all, no matter the size and scale of the operation. There are many, many things happening in this space just across the ditch in New Zealand and the number of farming communities that have begun to adopt IoT mechanisms to bring real time insight into the decision making process is phenomenal.
How long until it becomes “everyday” in Australia?