Use Case: Precision Agriculture, the Internet of Things, and Big Data Management

By August 18, 2017Case Studies

“…farmers and agricultural companies are turning to the Internet of Things for analytics and greater production capabilities.” Business Insider

The big picture: population and climate changes.

As the world’s population continues to rise, so too does the importance of precision or ‘smart’ agriculture. Although the population growth rate has been declining since the ‘60s, it has since doubled to more than 7.2 billion people, reports the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO).

For small-to-medium sized farming operations, the IoT technology necessary to better augment smart agricultural methods has yet to be sufficiently accessible for those agriculturalists. This need for more affordable and accessible smart tools has no doubt been compounded by the effects of climate change and the new set of challenges that stem from those environmental shifts.

These challenges have led to the necessity for new strategies, tactics, and technological tools, including IoT solutions. However, those tools aren’t yet fully accessible for small-scale agriculturalists working within the confines of modest budgets.

“The severity and speed of climate change is presenting an unprecedented challenge. Current global surface temperatures are now about 0.6 degrees Celsius higher than the average for the last century… The poorest and most food-insecure regions around the globe are the most vulnerable. Already scarce land and water resources will likely become even more scarce, and insufficient technical and financial means will make adaptation to a changing climate very difficult.” — UNFAO


Room to grow: IoT for smarter agriculture.

Already, IoT is a major tool for the precision farming and agriculture industries — especially big agriculture. Now established, the role of IoT in agriculture is on the precipice of entering a phase of significant growth. As of 2015, the global market for IoT-based smart agriculture was US$7.8 billion, including services, hardware, and network platforms. This is expected to grow to US$18.45 billion in 2022.

“The world will need to produce 70% more food in 2050 than it did in 2006 in order to feed the growing population of the Earth, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. To meet this demand, farmers and agricultural companies are turning to the Internet of Things for analytics and greater production capabilities.” — Business Insider


Finding possibilities in the cloud.

IoT technology is becoming a fundamental aspect of the agricultural industry, and that shift has been made possible by the cloud.

Connected technologies already provide wireless sensor networks to help enhance crop production and yield. Realtime crop data, made possible by cloud computing, also provides information to improve planning, purchasing, inventory control, planting, and harvesting.

To maximize production, enhanced farming productivity requires more sensors, irrigation control devices, and connected technologies to achieve an increase in farm production and a reduction in used resources. It’s all of this that can be harnessed by the cloud.

“There are practical applications for the use of cloud computing that create a whole ecosystem, from sensors and monitoring tools that collect soil data to agricultural field images and observations from human actors on the ground accurately feeding data repositories along with their GPS coordinates. As an example, sensors are now able to detect the location of a bale of hay in a field, as well as the amount of moisture it contains. Farmers can also use the cloud to access information from predictive analysis institutes, whereby they can have an accurate prediction on products that are in demand by different markets and adjust production accordingly. They are also able to have insight on weather conditions and other parameters affecting production.” — IBM



The challenge: More data, more management problems.

Even when data is available to smaller farming establishments, harnessing it is no simple task. For the average farm, the amount of data expected to be created is expected to grow steadily — from just under 500,000 to over 4,000,000 data points in total per day — according to Business Insider Intelligence. Data extracted from IoT-powered precision ag increases crop yields, but the management of that data still poses a major challenge.

Because there is no industry standard for managing agricultural data, there remains a need to standardize the data management system to allow for ease of operation. Right now, many farmers are not aware of the effective use of data for decision-making purposes, so there is mounting pressure to provide growers with proper data management tools and techniques to help them acquire, manage, process, and use data effectively.

Data management is required to establish patterns based on monitoring and collection of data, including: feeding rates, pH levels, quality of water, humidity, livestock behaviour, location, disease symptoms, etc.

Of course, adoption of technology in precision ag is picking up speed. The increasing demand for food and need to improve livestock health are the major driving factors for the IoT-based smart agriculture market. Although that need is growing, connectivity service providers are not yet sufficiently involved in the agricultural machine-to-machine (M2M) market and the fragmented agriculture market. To date, according to Mergers and Markets, major players have adopted strategies like acquisitions, partnerships, and product innovations for the growth of the overall IoT- based precision/smart agriculture market.

Ag Market Requirements

Not including pasture land, there are 1.5 billion hectares of agricultural land and more than 20 percent of that is irrigated. That land requires soil parameter monitors placed every one to ten hectares, depending on whether it is irrigated.

The Helios Solution

Helios is developing a hub-style data collection device that can connect and retrieve agricultural or farm data from a significant number of sensors and then relay that data to the Helios satellite constellation. The hub or model will be compatible with existing terrestrial protocols such as LoRa or WiFi to be technology agnostic and allow for inter-operability, thereby eliminating the need for new CapEx spend by customers. In essence, data will be transmitted from sensors that measure soil temperature, ph balance, cattle count, or any variety of existing data points, to the Helios hub, which will then aggregate that data and transmit it to space. It will then be collected, downlinked to the cloud, and accessible to customers. The cost per data point, per sensor, is expected to be $1 per month which aligns with existing terrestrial solutions. Helios anticipates considerable customer interest in a “good enough” type solution that doesn’t require significant infrastructure implementation and will allow for rapid deployment at an attractive price point.

To aid farm management, Helios is monitoring parapets of soil and larger environments — an AP approach for applications that do not require highly frequent data monitoring.



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