In recent times, there has been a continuous debate on whether big data analytics is the next best thing in technology or just a technological bubble that will burst as the world explores it and begins to use it in real life and work. However, the fact that big data analytics thrives on the diversity of its application areas proves that this technology is here to stay for long. Moreover, data has been an unused reserve for years. This technology allows the use of this reserve in the most augmented manner possible.
Agriculture has been a neglected field as far as technological use and applicability are concerned, which is more so in developing countries like India where funds for technological adoption are limited and technical expertise for using the available technologies is inadequate. The improving accessibility of low-cost IoT sensors and affordable solutions for smart agriculture has mitigated the challenges associated with adoption of IoT-based big data analytics in agriculture, to a large extent.
It would not be wrong to state that IoT in agriculture is simply the coming together of information technology, telecommunications and sensor technologies. Some of the best examples of how IoT can be used in agriculture include development of smart irrigation facilities, facilitating check on soil vitals and performing a real time monitoring on crop health. In simple words, the vision is to empower farmers of different educational and cultural backgrounds and help them enhance their crop production with the help of state-of-the-art technologies. This movement can prove to be quite a revolution particularly for agro-based economies like India.
Benefits and Challenges
IoT has the capability to modernize agriculture and initiate exponential growth in the sector. It is all set to change the way cultivation and warehousing is done. Moreover, it is expected to reduce wastage and improve profit margins remarkably. In view of the fact that agro-based economies like India heavily depend on agriculture for growth, IoT-based initiatives can contribute to national growth in a massive way.
The benefits of using IoT in agriculture include –
- The effective use of inputs helps in reducing wastage and thus, decreases costs incurred.
- Losses due to diseases and infections can be reduced, by continuous and real-time crop monitoring.
- The use of water can be optimized, which in turn shall reduce water wastage.
- The use of IoT-based devices allows better management of farm activities.
With that said, adoption and implementation of IoT-based smart agriculture solutions in countries like India has its own set of unique challenges and limitations. Firstly, there is a lack of awareness in farmers as far as technology-based farming solutions and their applicability are concerned. This, also, stems from the lack of knowledge and fear of upgrading to a technology of higher level. In order to develop commercially viable solutions, it is critical to keep these factors in mind. The solution must function in local languages and have interfaces that are easy to understand for laymen.
In addition to the above-mentioned, some technological challenges also act as roadblocks in the widespread usage of IoT. Most of the products available in the market suffer from vendor lock-in; therefore, the customer is completely dependent on the vendor for products as well as services. Any changes desired by the customer require him or her to switch between vendors, which can prove to be costly.
Besides this, developers recommend the use of high quality sensors in view of their better life and durability. Such sensors are expensive and may or may not fit into the budget requirements of farmers. Moreover, solutions offered to the Indian market must be scalable considering the variable size of farms in India. Therefore, organizations must be able to offer solutions that are scalable and cost-effective, both at the same time.
Use Cases for Smart Agriculture
Smart agriculture encompasses a number of applications. Some of the best -known use cases of this concept are as follows –
- Precision Farming
A practice or process followed for improving the accuracy and control over farming and livestock management is commonly referred to as precision farming. Typically, this practice makes use of automated hardware, sensors, robotics and control systems, in addition to other technologies, to achieve its purpose. Precision farming continues to be the most popular application of smart agriculture.
Weather station is another popular smart agriculture gadget. Data collected from farming sensors can be mapped onto weather conditions to determine the best crops for the area. Moreover, this approach can also be used to make interventions for improving the capacity of cultivation and profits generated. Some IoT devices being used in this area include Pycno and Smart Elements.
- Smart Greenhouses
Smart greenhouse is a step ahead of the regular greenhouses. In these setups, the microclimate is controlled and monitored to ensure optimal plant growth. Some of the smart agriculture solutions that support this capability include Growlink, Farmapp and GreenIQ.
- Livestock Management
There are specialized sensors for livestock management that can be attached to every livestock animal on the farm. These sensors collect data about animal health and maintain a log of the performance. Solutions like Cowlar and SCR by Allflex place collar tags on the animal and record data like health, activity, nutritional data and temperature. Insights on the herd can also be provided on the basis of collective data assessment.
- Agriculture Drones
Drones can be put to excellent use in the agricultural industry. Typically, there are two types of drones namely, ground-based and aerial drones. These drones can be incorporated in agricultural systems for applications like soil analysis, field evaluation, planting, irrigation and assessment of crop health.
Some of the characteristic benefits of using drones for this sector comprise –
- Saves time
- Easy to use
- Includes GIS mapping
- Allows imaging of crop health
- Increases yield
The use of drones provides immense control to the farmer in terms of the field, altitude and resolution of ground,the farmer wants to survey. Therefore, drones basically collect data, which can later be used for yield prediction, plant counting, measurement of plant height and health indices, drainage mapping and canopy cover mapping, in addition to many others.
- Farm Management Systems
A number of IoT devices can be installed on the premises for measuring different farm parameters for collecting data. Analytics are performed on this data and reported via a dashboard. These systems are also referred to as farm productivity management systems. Logistics, storage management and vehicle tracking are some of the best examples of this use case. Commercially available solutions belonging to this category include Cropio and FarmLogs.
Figure – IoT for Agriculture Use Cases
The Indian Scenario
Agro-based economies like India are a perfect working ground for smart agriculture and its applicability. A recent study by Statista has shown that smart agriculture is expected to take up $26.76 billion of global market size by 2020 and Asia is expected to hold 40% of the global market share. According to NASSCOM report, India has around 40 startups dealing in smart agriculture. With that said, most of these firms are research and development organizations and only a nominal number of solutions have been actually implemented in the farms.
The use of IoT for digitization of farms has caught the attention of the Government of India and the same has been included in the government’s draft policy releasedin 2015. The focus areas for smart agriculture have been identified as precision farming, data analytics for farmers, alert systems for variance in pest control requirements and storage, and drones for unmanned pest control.Recently, some commercial smart agriculture solutions have been introduced to the market. Besides this, the continuous research in this field by research as well as industrial organizations has steered a staggering growth in product development for this arena.
OpenCube, a Bengaluru based organization, has been actively involved in the development of an open-source IoT-based agricultural products. They are focused towards development of a handheld, farmer friendly device, based on Raspberry Pi and Arduino, which shall be able to perform livestock management, irrigation management and assess crop and soil health, on real-time basis. A valuation of crop and soil health will allow farmers to make informed decisions about the type and quantity of fertilizers required.
Precision farming is cited as the top agendas of smart agriculture. AgNext Technologies is a Punjab-based organization that has recently launched satellite combinations and drones for smart agriculture. One of the their recent solutions uses satellite imagery, IoT, weather forecasting and artificial intelligence – based image processing for evaluating the presence of diseases and pests in large areas. Moreover, predictive analytics related to the same are also provided. However, these failed to address specific farmer-centric issues.
While the aforementioned solutions only focus on crop and soil health for analytics, Energy Bots Private Limited, a Gurugram-based organization, has come up with a smart watering system. The developed IoT device, which makes use of GSM and allows farmers to control the switching on and off of the motor pump from their mobile phones, use the humidity and moisture sensors to get data for the microcontroller and controller. They can send a SMS or missed call for switching the pump on/off or schedule the on/off timings. Moreover, whenever an action is performed, the famer is notified via a message.
IoT can best be described as an ecosystem that integrates technologies of different domains to solve specific problems. With almost 70% of the Indian population depending on agriculture and its services and around 75% of the population residing in rural areas, agro-based economies like India are typical realm for applicability of smart agriculture. The combined efforts of the Government and industry shall kick-start this journey of rural development and steer the country towards socio-economic equality.