Internet of Things makes farming decisions

As published by Agri-View, June 26, 2017

The Internet of Things – often referred to as IoT – will be among several topics of discussion at the InfoAg Conference, to be held July 25-27 at Union Station in St. Louis. The annual conference features a wide range of sessions on precision agriculture.

“The ‘Internet of Things’ is a catchphrase right now, but it refers to connecting different things, such as devices or sensors, that didn’t have a ‘voice’ before,” said Paul Welbig, director of business development for Senet, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based wireless provider for Internet of Things applications. “Technology allows us to obtain data through connections or remote connections to make better farming decisions.”

Welbig will be one of the speakers at the InfoAg Conference. His company provides low-power wide-area networks to connect across long ranges, and to provide long battery life in devices.

Kim Pearson, CEO of New Boundaries Technology Inc. of Minneapolis also will speak at the session. His company is involved in machine-to-machine and Internet of Things software services, and information-technology-management tools. The Internet of Things includes sensors such as soil-moisture monitors that can be connected to the internet to become “smart,” he said. Farmers can see what’s happening in a field in terms of soil-moisture levels — without driving to the field.

Farmers will increasingly be able to receive texts or email alerts on their mobile devices from devices in fields, livestock operations or dairy operations. A carbon-dioxide monitor in a poultry barn, for example, could alert a farmer if levels were becoming dangerous.

“We separate Internet of Things into consumer and industry-business segments,” Pearson said. “Consumers may use Internet of Things technology to change their security systems or thermostats in their homes.”

Businesses such as farms could use any number of devices to monitor and/or manage temperature, water levels, feed inventory, fuel-tank levels, plant-canopy conditions and more.

“Internet of Things technologies are quickly becoming more cost-effective,” said Jurriaan Ruys, CEO of both Sensoterra and Land Life Company.

Based in Amsterdam, Sensoterra manufactures soil-moisture sensors while Land Life Company is involved in ecosystem revitalization. Internet of Things technology will soon enable smaller-scale farmers to access the type of intelligence that many larger-scale farmers do now, Ruys said.

“In time, the cost of Internet of Things technology will become so low that all farmers, including farmers in less-developed countries, will make use of it,” Ruys said. “Adoption today is relatively low because devices that are generating data aren’t yet effectively integrated, and data aren’t yet sufficiently synthesized for actionable insights.”

Welbig said most current technologies are connected to cellular phones.

“Cellular has advantages, but in some cases may be cost-prohibitive with high connectivity fees,” he said.

Senet has developed a wireless service geared for connectivity to single-use devices. Devices could be connected more economically and have lower power requirements, Welbig said.

“And it would be easier on batteries,” he said. “Some users might not need to replace a battery for 10 years.”

As data-plan costs as well as costs of sensors and other devices fall, farmers could see many more technologies becoming available. More sensors for feed, fuel, fertilizer and crop-protection products could become available.

“We might see a global-positioning system for tracking anhydrous tanks,” Welbig said. “We might also see more devices for monitoring air quality, or water quality or quantity in livestock operations.”

Pearson added, “We could see sensors that would allow farmers to do soil testing for nitrogen and phosphorus, or monitor feed consumption.”

Because feed represents about 60 percent of a poultry farm’s cost of production, monitoring feed intake and protein output could help a poultry producer make better management decisions, Pearson said. In crop production, farmers could optimize decisions for field conditions, stage of growth and so on.

“Farmers will see increased yields and will need fewer inputs like water, fertilizers and pesticides,” Ruys said. “Eventually farmers will focus on bigger-picture decisions and leave more operational decisions to autopilots that will make use of data and models.”