Harnessing the Power of Sensors

Placing sensors around your farm, and using them to harvest data, is the new frontier in precision agriculture. Distributed real-time data collection holds the potential to revolutionize the way farms are operated. Whether that happens hinges on the success of several pilot projects.

By: Ben Potter, AgWeb.com Social Media and Innovation Editor

A current tech industry buzzword is the "Internet of Things." Basically, IoT imagines a world where everything is outfitted with sensors, which will modernize life in ways we are just beginning to understand today. Imagine, for example, that your refrigerator knows when you’re running low on milk and eggs, and sends a grocery list to your smartphone. That’s just one of many ways IoT is being imagined in the consumer world.

But the IoT has big potential in farming, too. Its success hinges on sensors, whether embedded into tractors, implements or other machinery, or even placed directly into the ground.iphone mobile technology

Brett Norman, CEO of AgSmarts, says the power of sensors will only grow over time. He and his colleagues are working on algorithms that allow AgSmarts' sensors to communicate with their controller installed on a center pivot. The network of sensors works collectively to report back environmental conditions in the field to the controller, which autonomously schedules irrigation events accordingly. This is just one example of how the IoT is making its way into agriculture, he says.

The coming decade should witness many new ways to tap into customized weather and environmental data, he adds.

Gigaom, which reports on new technologies, recently showcased how Kansas farmer Bob Dible is already using precision technology on his farm, and how that might evolve in the near future.

"One day, we will monitor and grow the corn on a stalk-by-stalk basis," he predicts.

Imagine a future where small autonomous robots could weave through each row of your field, sensing individual plant needs and communicating with each other through a mesh network (think of it as a "chat room for gadgets"). Don’t write it off as sci-fi farming, either – the future is already  closer than you think.

"Because the cost of sensors and wireless communications is dropping so fast, we’ll see a lot of new IoT ag applications coming, from water management to nutrient management to IP-enabled drones," Norman says.