Commercial facilities and farms can grow to cover a large area, ranging from 231 acres for small family-run farms to over 2,000 acres for the largest commercial farms. Some of these farms are so big that the weather can be different from one area to another. This is why smart, localized weather stations have also become a common sight for a farm of any size. These stations will routinely send information regarding the weather conditions to a centralized unit so that crop management can be more efficient and accurate.
Ultimately, between the scale of industrial farms, the multitude of data points to collect and challenges for labor, the agricultural industry has been ripe for automation improvements.
A great recent example is found in low-range (LoRa), low-power wide area networks developed to monitor rubber trees. By creating a LoRa system-on-chip (SOC) device, engineers are able to monitor tree parameters and harvest natural latex when the environmental conditions are perfect. This improves tree yield and also tree health. And this technology will see wider implementation as time goes by.
Agricultural technology (ag-tech) is critical to ecosystem and farming management success in this vital industry. These innovations are ensuring people get healthy, vibrant crops, and farmers are managing resources as best as possible.
New technology has revolutionized three key areas that make up modern-day farming: digital farming, smart farming and precision farming. While there is undoubtedly crossover between these concepts, each category has its own distinct value in modern agriculture.
Digital farming utilizes devices to collect data on specific areas of land. These sections are usually equally sized, homogenous and precisely located. The process of digital farming requires the use of embedded tags and sensors, particularly with livestock. Electronic identification (EID) of farm animals can then be used to track their grazing groups and ensure that the correct rotational grazing strategies are implemented. The embedded transponders are scannable and are generally compatible with hand-held readers or processing plants that can be connected to them.
Electronic tags are slowly replacing the printed tags that have been used for many years. They are more expensive than the traditional printed tags but allow for much more accurate tracing of livestock. This creates added supply chain traceability for those animals destined for the dinner plate. For instance, to prove a restaurant or retailer is using locally sourced meat, it can be traced back to the animal it came from - and even what fields, feed and water sources the animal came into contact with during its lifespan.
This hardware also needs compatible software to function correctly. This software comes in the form of various digital databases and qualitative software that can effectively store and analyze all the big data that is collected.
Modern farmers have come to rely on a number of distributed sensors, which record data in real-time while referencing the field conditions. This data is sent to the compatible applications to be processed. The data points are then used to trigger farm equipment used for fertilization, irrigation and other functions. The data can also be used to suggest custom action plans to farmers. In these processes, it is typically artificial intelligence (AI) that does the majority of the heavy processing.
Smart farming sensors measure a number of metrics:
The location sensors pair with GPS satellites for both precision and smart farming functions. Electrochemical sensors use their ion-sensitive diodes to test the soil for nutrients and acidity readings. Optical sensors read soil properties using the reflection of light, and mechanical sensors can measure soil compaction, along with radar.
Precision farming in modern agriculture is focused on accuracy and optimization. The aim of precision farming and the ag-tech that is involved is geared toward fostering livestock raising and crop growth in a centralized and controlled fashion. Several technologies are used to achieve this:
- Automated software and hardware
- Autonomous drones, robotics and vehicles
- GPS systems
- Soil sampling
One of the first ways that technology was incorporated into precision farming was through GPS-enabled tractors from John Deere in the 1990s. From this point on, farms from commercial to family-run have begun to employ non-traditional methods of mapping to optimize their operations. The reason for this influx of ag-tech was to deal with challenges that existing farming techniques were experiencing, like zoned planting, soil management and more.
Tools like these are reducing in cost as the technology becomes more mainstream, and with lower prices comes a higher adoption rate on farms. This means that smart farming will be able to take another step forward, and this is great news for the agricultural industry and the electronics industry as a whole. The agricultural industry is a perfect testbed for new electronics, and there is still lots of potential for innovation as there are some methods for soil analysis that have been in use for 30 years.