How the IoT and AI Are Impacting Agriculture

April 20, 2021
Updated: September 1, 2022

Agriculture is a massive industry composed of a wide variety of moving parts. The coordination of everything from food production to supply chains makes for efficiency challenges across the sector. Meanwhile, agricultural sensors and supply chain management innovations are expected to account for 67% of sector growth by 2025, according to new research.  

These sensors are Internet of Things (IoT) devices. These, alongside artificial intelligence-powered supply chain management systems, offer revolutionary insights and control of agricultural processes. In turn, as many as 436 million of the monitoring devices will automate data collection by 2025, according to the same research.

With the agricultural tech revolution already underway, IoT and AI are impacting agriculture and trade in major ways. Here, we explore how.

How Tech is Changing Agriculture

The power of agricultural technology, or agtech, is all in its ability to collect and communicate data through smart sensors and devices. Data is the underlying tool that makes great things possible, leading to a future of farming practices that can do more with less. 

With the world’s population on course to grow to 11.2 billion by 2100, we need all the help we can get in maximizing the efficiency of space and precious resources. The agriculture industry already consumes as much as 70% of the world’s fresh water. As the demand for food and water grows with the population, we need technology to intervene in reducing waste and making the most agricultural square footage. 

That’s where tech like IoT and AI come in. 

San Francisco-based Plenty, Inc. is leveraging these tools to monitor and automate vertical farming in cleanrooms. Their combination of 7,500 infrared cameras and 35,000 sensors maintain levels of CO2, humidity, and temperature to provide the perfect circumstances for growing industrial amounts of food product with minimal resources. Additionally, their cleanroom irrigation and dehumidifier system allow them to use 1% of the water with 350 times the yield. 

This is one example of the changing future of agriculture through a marriage of tech and growth practices that maximize the use of space. Vertical farming alone can make massive crop yield possible even in an urban environment, while IoT sensors and AI software keep plant conditions at their best. Traditional farming and the ways we think about agriculture will change fundamentally with the widespread application of these tools and techniques. 

Already, farms like Plenty produce millions of pounds of produce for consumers all over the world. This would be impossible without the Internet of Things.

The Role of IoT in Farming

IoT is being adopted at high rates across the agricultural industry, growing by 20% annually.  These devices give farmers the power to automate and control their work with unprecedented insights, all generated from data-collecting sensors. The implications of this control can seep into every step of the farm-to-table process, streamlining food growth and supply chains.

Some of these instrumental IoT applications in agriculture include:

  • Livestock tracking — wearable connected devices can even track health data for cattle.
  • Geofencing — with networked devices, farmers can better manage the locations of livestock, staff, and delivery vehicles.
  • Smart greenhouses and cleanrooms — enclosed environments can be perfectly controlled with the help of IoT sensors.
  • Predictive analytics — connected farm equipment and crop conditions can be repaired or altered with useful predictive data generated through IoT.

These innovations in data collections and communication are powering better farming. As a result, farmers are even increasing the yield of pesticide-free crops grown in IoT-assisted conditions. This makes for cleaner food products produced with more eco-friendly and sustainable practices. 

With the rise of 5G wireless connectivity, the potential of these devices is greater than ever. Now, communication speeds are faster and bandwidths are larger to accommodate more connected sensors. This means enhanced visibility for farmers — but it also comes with a cybersecurity risk.

IoT devices without certified encryption standards and frequent updates run the risk of getting hacked. Agriculture, especially in terms of international trade and data collection, requires cybersecurity protections as well as expert staff capable of integrating those protections. 

Artificial intelligence, fortunately, can also help in this regard. 

New AI Applications

Because of the rise of data in agricultural processes, AI can operate with the information it needs to inform better decision-making practices across the board. This is possible through processes unique to AI, such as machine learning. With machine learning, a system can adapt its processes without even being explicitly programmed to do so simply by learning from new data sets.

Methods like these make AI a powerful source of useful automation and efficiency-boosting practices, from the farm to the fork and back again. As global trade grows and becomes increasingly complex, these solutions are more needed than ever before. 

Here are few examples of new AI applications in agriculture:

  • Food recall software — smart supply chain records can expertly track every stop for food products in the event a recall occurs.
  • Crop visualization and improvement tools — all kinds of platforms are flooding the marketplace that offer field and crop imagery and metrics complete with smart recommendations for improvement.
  • Blockchain and analytics — innovative companies are even making use of blockchain to store and track supply chain data to automate scores for everything from sustainability to spoilage.
  • Genomics — with the help of machine learning, biological data from soil can be analyzed for improvements.

AI enables the automation and tracking of all kinds of variables too large and diverse for a human to be expected to track. As a result, food producers are capable of generating yield-boosting insights and performance enhancements that are carrying us forward into a new era of food efficiency. In turn, we will be able to reduce waste and maintain the safety of our food products.

Software tools that make use of AI algorithms are all over these days. While every agricultural business has different needs, finding a software-as-a-service platform can allow you to employ the power of AI through a safe, multi-tenant architecture. IoT and AI are becoming democratized as they expand across industries, meaning any professional can now use these tools for greater data-driven solutions.

However, maximizing the power of agriculture tech will require some expertise.

The Power of Tech in Agriculture

For any executive in the agriculture business or hoping to venture into the agriculture sector, the benefits of new tools like IoT and AI are clear. Applying these technologies towards greater insights and innovations can mean lucrative and even philanthropic opportunities in working to end world hunger. But getting started is the hard part. 

First, there’s the problem of what to outsource. Depending on whether or not you decide to design and implement your own apps and software platforms, you’ll need to consider hiring a software developer to address all the associated concerns. 

Additionally, you can supplement tech integration by exploring higher education through a Masters of Business Administration. Such a degree can offer all kinds of opportunities to grow your professional network, acquire an international perspective, and even give you transferable skills like analytical reasoning and network security that can apply splendidly when building new tech into an agricultural venture. The future of farming means a growing need for business and tech professionals, so grow these skill sets now. 

With amazing tools like IoT and AI changing the way we farm, shop, and eat, agriculture is being transformed. Astute business executives will recognize the benefits of this technology in solving world needs and learn where they can apply it in their own endeavors. 

Tags: IoT

Written by
Indiana Lee lives in the Northwest and has a passion for the environment and wellness. She draws her inspiration from nature and makes sure to explore the outdoors regularly with her two dogs. Indiana has experience in owning and operating her own business. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @indianalee3.

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