How the Internet of Things could shape ag’s future
To say Jeff Dema is an optimist about the future of agriculture would be an understatement.
“We are in transformative times,” says Dema, who is president of grower services for FarmLink, a pioneer of farm data collection and benchmarking. “We could see more change in the next five years than in the past 50.”
What is driving Dema’s enthusiasm? To a large extent, he says, the so-called“Internet of Things” (IoT) could bring dramatic benefits to the industry.
At the heart of IoT are machines that can communicate with one another, whether that’s a tractor, pickup, center pivot, grain bin, soil moisture probe or a sensor attached to a barn door. IoT is already in the agriculture industry, and it’s getting more sophisticated as the cost of sensors goes down and computing power goes up.
IoT has been a darling of the consumer world for several years now and has already yielded some interesting results. Consider Nest, the thermometer that learns to program itself after you use it for a week. Or what about the new Wi-Fi enabled Crock-Pot you can control remotely?
“We’re still in the connecting phase,” says Eddie DeSalle, CEO of Net Irrigate. “People finally have confidence in the infrastructure. In another three to five years, we can get it all glued together.”
Right now, four factors are currently in IoT’s favor, DeSalle says:
- For the most part, rural America is better connected.
- Integration of technology is easier and cheaper.
- Data plans for connected devices are cheaper.
- Mobile consumption means data can be acted upon faster.
Moving forward, integration and transparency are needed to truly accelerate progress in agriculture. For example, Net Irrigate has data that would probably be useful to soil moisture sensor manufacturers, but for the time being, a lot of data still sits in separate silos, DeSalle says. When he talks to farmers, what they ultimately ask for is “systems talking.”
“They want dashboards to integrate their information,” he says. “They don’t want to switch between six apps to get to the knowledge they want. They’d also rather have an alert fired out to them when something goes wrong on a piece of equipment instead of opening an app every 10 minutes.”
John Osborne, chairman of the ZigBee Alliance, says agricultural IoT won’t stop at the farmgate, either. It has a place in every link of the supply chain from farm to table.
“It will give us the ability to track and ensure food quality from beginning to end,” he says.
In the not-so-distant future, Osborne suggests IoT could take the teeth out of foodborne illness outbreaks. Once complete traceability is possible, a grocery store or retailer could send out push notifications to the exact consumers who purchased a recalled product.
“I think it will be demanded by consumers and mandated by the government at some point,” he says.
Back on the farm, IoT has the same core benefits, Osborne says—especially when farmers could transform regularly scheduled maintenance of equipment to a preventive approach.
“It’s about making processes proactive, not reactive,” he says.
The time is right for solving problems in new and interesting ways using IoT technology, Osborne adds. It’s up to the industry to determine what innovations come next.
“There are all kinds of things that can be done—it’s a matter of what your imagination can come up with,” he says.