May 14, 2019
Another area opened up by the large amount of computing power available today is analysis of data from sensors and other sources, and consequent actionable insights. The potential is being tested by UK organisation Agrimetrics, an agricultural data analysis company partnered by the UK Government, and academic and industrial organisations. One area of interest is meat production efficiency. With the rise of the middle class in countries such as China, India and Southeast Asia the demand for meat will create increased pressure to produce it in large quantities. Agrimetrics, with other AgriTech Centres, is developing a system to combine pig and cattle data from connected sensors to improve meat production. It will consider numerous factors such as temperature, humidity, wind and solar radiation and its effect on the quality and quantity of carcasses. This information can then be used by farmers to increase output.
Huawei’s Connected Cow solution that monitors cow fertility periods to ensure optimum mating time to continue producing milk and alerts the farmer through an NB-IoT network when the cow is in oestrus.
Simon Sherrington, MD
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In the arable and market garden sector, companies such as Cropio have developed holistic management software that presents collated and processed farm data on a dashboard, helping farmers see field history, current statuses, farm machinery real-time movement information, crop density, alerts, soil moisture and harvest forecasts, among other information.
IoT has also been used to track and monitor livestock helping to keep it healthy and reduce wastage. Examples include Huawei’s Connected Cow solution that monitors cow fertility periods to ensure optimum mating time to continue producing milk and alerts the farmer through an NB-IoT network when the cow is in oestrus. Telecom provider Telia connected flocks of sheep to an NB-IoT network during the summer of 2017. The monitor consisted of a transmitter that is worn on a collar round the animal’s neck to enable farmers to remotely watch over their flock’s movements and alert them to any aberrations that could indicate sickness or injury. Moocall, based in Ireland, sells a sensor that attaches to a pregnant cow’s tail and alerts the farmer when the cow goes into labour enabling him or her to assist with the birth and reduce potentially fatal complications. It has also recently released Moocall Heat, a collar-based tracker that monitors when cows are in heat so that farmers can take appropriate action.
Other uses of IoT involve monitoring food as it moves along the chain from farm to dinner plate to reduce food wastage – a figure that stands at 40% in the USA according to the National Resources Defense Council.
Other uses of IoT involve monitoring food as it moves along the chain from farm to dinner plate to reduce food wastage – a figure that stands at 40% in the USA according to the National Resources Defense Council. Fridge and container temperature and humidity monitors can help keep food fresher for longer as its transported around the world, driven to retailers, or stored in warehouses or restaurants. The use of blockchain technology – an unalterable distributed ledger – also offers chances to reduce wastage and identify problems in the supply chain. It allows customers and businesses to check where their food came from and where it went on its journey to them. This is done through a network of data sources that are effectively hack-proof ensuring the data presented is the truth.
Another area where IoT and big data analysis can have tangible effects is in the area of water usage. While water is a relatively cheap resource for farmers – compared to say labour – the agricultural industry uses 70% of the world’s freshwater, an issue that will come to fore in the near future as fresh water shortages lead to more widespread water shortages and possible political disputes. The effects of water shortages and the increasing cost of irrigation are currently being felt by farmers. In California – a traditionally productive area – farmers are switching crops from water intensive citrus fruits and avocado to less water-hungry crops such as dragon fruit and pomegranates that have lower yield and sell at a higher price in shops. This will not help the food problems – only 140 years ago California was the second largest producer of wheat in the USA. There are a number of systems which can optimise watering schedules and increase efficiency at the same time. The two main solutions are weather-based and soil moisture sensors. The former uses weather data to determine watering schedule. The system uses temperature, wind, solar radiation and humidity. The latter system uses soil moisture sensors to trigger watering when it senses low moisture levels. According to Hydropoint, a smart irrigation provider, using these systems can lead to water savings of between 30 to 50 percent.
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