Data-driven Agriculture 4.0: How IoT is Modernizing the Food Chain

Artificial intelligence is automating farm operations as environmental sensors, digital images, and computer vision impact everything from planting to harvesting, and farmers are reaping the profits.

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Image credit: OneSoil

Farmers are getting a boost from technology. From GPS and moisture detection capabilities in tractors to feeding and weighing systems that track livestock growth, today’s farmers can use data to drive efficiencies that previous generations would have thought impossible.

The Agriculture 4.0 movement gives farmers more control and improves production by providing data about operational processes. On a pig farm, for example, the largest pigs eat the most, so bringing them to market at their peak results in, well, fatter profits from reduced feed costs and quicker time to market. Temperature, humidity, and even cleanliness can impact a pig’s eating habits and growth, so sensors that monitor environmental issues, food consumption, and biometrics can help streamline farming operations.

From the Ground Up

Outside of the barn, the use of sensors is increasing as well. Researchers at FifthIngenium, a member of the Intel® Developer Zone, have been testing an intelligent dashboard application that informs farmers about their crops. Optimized by the Intel® Distribution of OpenVINO™ Toolkit, the dashboard will use machine learning to analyze, predict, and forecast crop health.

The system uses computer vision to analyze data from sensors in the field that monitor light, temperature, humidity, soil moisture, and carbon dioxide, as well as infrared and color images collected from a drone. The images use GPS and other metadata to identify the location of each parcel of land and match it to the data from the ground sensors, presenting a full picture of a crop’s growth, potential threats, and estimated harvest.

Belarus-based OneSoil is using Amazon Web Services and artificial intelligence to develop a precision farming platform that helps farmers analyze crop growth and determine the potential yield on their crops. The free app uses satellite images and machine learning algorithms to identify farmland boundaries and the type of crop growing on that farm.

Farmers locate their land using the OneSoil mobile app or web browser. They can also install a stake-like device in the field with embedded sensors that monitors air and soil temperature, humidity, and moisture levels. Data is collected multiple times per day on a SIM card; a modem transfers the data to the OneSoil platform via a mobile link.

The OneSoil Scouting app lets farmers track their fields, store field-related data, and add notes. Farmers can view a dashboard with visual representations of farm data. OneSoil is working on algorithms that analyze the multispectral images to suggest when to sow, fertilize, and apply pesticides; the app will eventually predict disease, pest presence, and crop yield. 

Three mobile screens showing agriculture data for farmers

Image credit: OneSoil

Driving Profits

At the other end of the spectrum, John Deere has added technology to its S-Series Combines to help farmers harvest more of their crops with less effort. For example, morning dew makes threshing and separating straw difficult, but in the afternoon when the moisture has evaporated, it’s much easier. John Deere’s Combine Advisor and ActiveVision use sensors and cameras on the combine to enable machinery adjustments based on environmental factors and farmer-determined thresholds for loss and quality. 

ActiveYield measures grain weight as it’s harvested and tracks the load. Previously, farmers had to make those adjustments manually—a process that could eat up 90 minutes of harvesting time—but now those changes are automated.

“The technology is working,” says Deanna Kovar, vice president of production and precision ag production systems at John Deere. “The settings of the combine have to change with the temperatures. John Deere’s computer vision, Combine Advisor, adjusts five settings on the combine to do the best job throughout the day.”

The smart agriculture market is estimated to grow to $13.5 billion by 2023, but the industry has to overcome some hurdles: initial investment is high as is skepticism about technology. “We’re driving more automation into our machines,” Deere’s Kovar says. “But we have to demonstrate that it is better, or the same, as the way they do it [now].”

 

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