In the United States, 99% of farms are operated by families and 90% of these are small farms ranging in size from 200 to 250 acres, according to the last 2012 UDSA census. There is a huge opportunity for the Internet of Things (IoT) to transform the extensive range of equipment and vast expanses of land inherent to the agriculture sector, specifically in these family-owned farms. IoT innovations for small agricultural operations can significantly increase profit margins by minimizing the need for manual labor with automation, expediting machinery commands with remote and real-time monitoring, and allowing farmers to utilize resources more efficiently with preventative maintenance and environmental prediction.
Embracing these advancements in agricultural technology will allow small family farmers to manage more acreage. And with more acreage comes higher potential for profit, as well as higher yields on the upfront investments. Following are five areas of innovation in farming technology that demonstrate how IoT is reshaping the agricultural landscape to bring family-owned farms the opportunity to expand into long-term successes for future generations.
- Environment and Micro-Climate Tracking
IoT is transforming traditional semi-automated weather stations into wireless units that not only provide core weather system data but also provide extremely accurate micro-climate information. These weather monitoring units alert farmers through an app on their phone or data center when acute risks, such as damaging frosts and heat waves, arise in areas local to their farms.
Ranch Systems, in particular, has designed such weather stations, as well as several other IoT agricultural products, including wireless network-connected soil probes. By continuously receiving updates regarding soils conditions, farmers can keep a close eye on water usage with these probes and conserve nutrient rich soil by irrigating according to definitive soil condition readings. Such precise maintenance can reduce plant stress and increase the growth of root systems by keeping moisture levels consistent. Similar environmental equipment can monitor local disease and pest threats to curb any excessive use of pesticides on crops.
- Real-Time Asset Monitoring
With assets distributed over tens and hundreds of acres, travel, labor, and time costs can be cut by reducing cross-property trips to check up on liquid, fuel, feed tanks, ponds, and similar assets. IoT monitoring technology does just that, allowing farmers to continuously track resource usage rates and improve delivery truck schedules in order to have the right amount of fuel, water, or feed on hand at all times.
Preventative maintenance is a strong suit of IoT technology. It is achieved by equipping machinery, such as mining pumps, generators, and wind machines, with embedded IoT sensors. The technology alerts farmers in real time when potential failures arise, removing the need for in-depth, hands-on diagnosis. Preventative maintenance for agricultural machinery can minimize unexpected costs and machinery downtime due to progressive damages caused by overlooked issues leading to machine failure.
- Remote Equipment Controls
Similar to monitoring assets, remote equipment can be controlled from centralized data centers, and even smartphones and wireless devices, to minimize travel time and costs. Remote power throttling can lower electricity usage on equipment like generators, wind machines, and various pumps and valves located throughout the property. Equipment can be powered on or off at anytime from anywhere to expedite work cycles. Remote monitoring technology also can optimize refueling schedules by measuring the exact run times for a given amount of fuel, and prevent pump issues that may arise from dry running.
- Cattle Tracking
Perhaps one of the most interesting IoT applications for agriculture is cattle tracking. Cattle movement can be tracked with network-connected collars, and knowing their exact locations can prevent cattle loss or theft. Fertility tracking can ensure that each cow’s small window of fertility time can be accounted for to optimize breeding opportunities. Furthermore, eating behavior and health activity can be monitored with a leg- or neck-mounted sensor to efficiently identify and monitor health issues.
- Driverless Machines
Machine automation is not a new concept, as agriculturalist consistently have found ways to automate their equipment―though IoT powered driverless machines bring automation to the next level. First, there is a slice in the costs required to pay laborers to man farm machines like tractors, seed drills, cultivators, and tillers, though the benefits of driverless machines don’t stop with labor reductions. Driverless machines become far more compact and lightweight when AC units, seating, and the entire cab sections are removed. Less power is required to run the smaller machines.
In their inception, many pieces of farming equipment started out as compact devices that could be easily manned by one person. To cut back on labor costs and time, these machines were engineered to become bigger so as to execute several iterations of a repetitive task in one fell swoop, like a tractor that can till five rows at once, In cases such as this, however, failure in one large machine results in significant downtime. Returning to larger quantities of smaller, unmanned units addresses both concerns by providing the positive impact of minimizing laborers and reducing the massive loss of production time due to outages in larger machines. Furthermore, machines, like seeding units, are superior when smaller―less weight means fewer issues from soil compaction that causes yield reductions.
Cultivating the Future of Our Farms with Aeris
With many opportunities for technology advancement, agriculture is a burgeoning sector of the IoT industry, and there is extensive potential for IoT applications in agriculture to increase productivity and profits for family-owned farms all across the United States.
Ranging from soil monitoring to remote engine control to animal tracking, many companies have designed many ingenious IoT agricultural products that can optimize farm productivity, large or small.
If you are looking for a more customized solution to grow your farmland, Aeris is here to provide the network and knowledge to project your idea forward. Contact us today.