Agriculture

The Internet of Things and Living-Things: Why are they important to Agricultural Development?

Alfred Gilbert
Thu, 11 May 2017
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The Internet of Things (IOT) and the Internet of Living things (IOLT) are two similar but unique concepts. Each will likely play critical roles in shaping the future sustainability and productivity of the agricultural sector. In the face of growing global pressures from population growth and climactic changes, what can the IOT and the IOLT bring to farming?

Virtually all modern technology is in-built with the ability to connect to the internet. Communicative and connected objects are capable of relaying large amounts of performance data back to their users through digital networks. This inter-connectivity between users, physical devices, buildings, and other communicative technologies, has become known as ‘the Internet of Things’ (IOT).

As mentioned, the IOT is about connecting devices over the internet, and allowing them to talk to us and each other (1). The sharing capability of these technologies has created a vast network of conversational and data sharing pathways, allowing users to gain feedback and digitally control both industrial and domestic products. Examples of this range from industrial scale soil sensors that relay information on land degradation, to fridges capable of notifying owners as to when their milk is about to turn.

For many commentators, the IOT can have a wide range of beneficial applications within the agricultural sector, helping improve working practices and management strategies throughout the entire sectoral value chain. And this is by no means just a prediction.

Farms across the globe have been employing ‘smart-technologies’ and the IOT to their benefit for a number of years.

Modern sensors can alert farmers as to when soil conditions are best suited for growing specific crops. They can monitor resource stores, giving stakeholders breakdowns on how much of certain products they are using on a daily basis. Drones are able to communicate aerial images of crops over set time periods, giving farmers greater insight into the growth and damage of their produce. The opportunities are so great in fact, a recent study conducted BI Intelligence predicted that IOT device installation in the global sector will increase from 30 million in 2015 to 75 million by 2020, a compound annual growth rate of 20%.

This huge growth is not only being driven by greater numbers of agricultural stakeholders understanding the benefits of engaging with the IOT, but also by the fact that compatible technologies and sensors are becoming more affordable and powerful year on year. The increased sensitivity, reliability and detail of the IOT and smart tech, is helping farmers make better and faster decisions in their day-to-day work. This is not only helping farms be more efficient in their practices, but also more profitable, and crucially when looking forward, sustainable.

Although network-connected industrial and physical devices are well engrained within agriculture, the Internet of Living Things (IOLT) is relatively underdeveloped.

As can probably be understood from the two titles of the concepts, the key difference between the IOT and IOLT, is the focus on living things. By communicating data on living organisms and produce, farmers are given further insight into the workings of their farm, and how differing management decisions can directly affect crop or livestock growth, health, movement, etc. The biological state of animals and crops can be quantified and communicated through the internet, producing new found intelligence for stakeholders on their produce. Herds of animals can be tracked to learn about movement patterns and exercise, whilst crops can be monitored by individual plants to examine how differing inputs and variables affect health and growth.

For many commentators, the IOT can have a wide range of beneficial applications within the agricultural sector, helping improve working practices and management strategies throughout the entire sectoral value chain

Combining IOT and IOLT

By combining insight from the IOT and the IOLT, farms are currently able to access an unprecedented level of data, insight and control of their farms. It is vital for the stability of the global agricultural sector therefore that all farms and stakeholders can have access to these technologies and related information. This presents a number of interesting and important question in relation to finance, infrastructure, legislation, governance, and other important variables, that will impact global abilities to engage with the IOT and IOLT.

The IOT and new technologies are key points of discussion at this year’s Sustainable Intensification summit, to be held in Sao Paolo, Brazil. 2017’s event is designed to tackle the most pressing issues facing the Brazilian Agricultural sector, bringing about positive changes throughout the entire value chain on the national and international scale.

This event is part of a 5 year series developed in collaboration with the Brazilian government, and key stakeholders that includes: Embrapa, MAPA and ABIA.

To find out more about the event, explore further topics of discussion at this year’s event, and register your interest, please click on the link below, or email agilbert@challenge.org.

Click here for Sustainable Intensification 2017