25 Apr AG 3.0: What Does the Internet of Things Mean for the Future of Farming?
In many ways, the Internet of Things (IoT) already impacts many elements of our daily lives. The IoT—an umbrella term for internet-connected devices and sensors becoming near-ubiquitous across many industries—allows us to set our home security system from a thousand miles away, to track the steps we take and the calories we burn, and to ask our smartphones to play some Chuck Berry.
IoT is poised to improve and modernize our day-to-day lives, and it is poised also to modernizing entire industries. The IoT applications for farming are particularly promising; the combination of increasingly inexpensive sensors, intelligent software, and cloud computing could transform agriculture as we currently know it. Ultimately, the precision approach to farming that IoT enables should yield large productivity gains.
Since the pre-industrial days, farming has been considered a combination of art and science, with predictions based on “gut” instincts gained from walking the land and watching the skies combined with harvest data from previous years. The IoT approach emphasizes data over intuition—and the more data, the better. Currently, farmers, and the companies that sell to them, are beginning to place sensors everywhere on the farm. This trend started out with precision farming on equipment, and has broadened to include sensors that monitor inputs (water, nitrogen, and pesticides) and in-field sensors that monitor the crops themselves.
The advantages of implementing IoT advancements within the agriculture sector are multifold. First and perhaps most obviously: gathering, studying, and learning from data allows future crops to be planted and cultivated with greater precision, taking in account everything from optimal watering to ideal soil chemistry. Further precision allows a farmer to consistently drive costs out of the operation and simultaneously improve the efficiency and sustainability of their farm. Additionally, IoT introduces a new level of transparency to farming. Stakeholders such as banks and insurance companies can see how a farmer is managing their land, and for the first time, consumers can learn more about the practices used to raise their food. Data—provided by the communicating sensors and the interconnected platforms of the IoT—will enable quantitative measurement of farming practices and true farm to table traceability.
The biggest potential impact of “Ag 3.0,” however, is to close the food gap. Our global population is projected to eclipse 9 billion by 2050, meaning worldwide farm productivity will need to increase from the 1.5 tons of grain average per acre today to 2.5 tons by mid-century. And while American farms are often quite large (450 acres on average), farms in other areas of the world are much, much smaller (in Africa, for example, the average farm is two acres). Therefore, the majority of the world’s farmers will rely on data for productivity gains—they can’t farm bigger, so they must farm smarter. These goals can be accomplished with cheap sensors, remote imaging, and inexpensive information relay systems, such as real-time information on weather and soil conditions delivered to farmers’ cellphones.
At Lewis & Clark Ventures, we are excited by and optimistic about the implications of IoT for farming. As global demand increases, the promises of this technology appear poised to deliver. Within the next decade, IoT in farming could be as commonplace as asking your smartphone for restaurant recommendations.