The seven smart watchlist items for farmers in 2021

15th February 2021
Lanna Deamer

With the United Nations (UN) projecting that the world’s population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050, global agricultural production will need to rise to the challenge to produce enough food to meet the growing demand. In this article, Matthew Margetts, Director of Sales and Marketing at Smarter Technologies takes a look at seven ways that smart technology is helping farmers profit from greater productivity.

​In 2021, farmers and agricultural businesses are turning to the Internet of Things (IoT) for analytics and greater production capabilities.

Current challenges faced by farmers include:

  • Increasing demand for agricultural food products
  • Shifts in consumer preferences to higher standards of food safety and quality
  • Unavailability of labourers during COVID-19 

Once driven by manual devices requiring teams of staff, agricultural systems have advanced to reduce personnel, costly processes and wastage.

1) Field mapping

With Brexit and the COVID-19 situation, farmers are increasingly looking at ways to regulate the farm processes remotely to save human resource allocation. Field mapping allows farmers to monitor the entire farm area through satellite imaging.

Combined with data from sensors, farmers can use this information to regulate operations accordingly - with fewer staff members, more social distancing and greater accuracy. 

2) A system of sensors 

Smart sensors can be developed, programmed and implemented into existing agricultural equipment to measure a wide range of environmental elements and relay real time information. 

For example:

  • Sensors placed in fields allow farmers to obtain detailed maps of both the topography and resources in the area.
  • Sensors can report on variables such as acidity and temperature of the soil. 
  • Smart weather centres provide climate forecasts to predict weather patterns in the coming days and weeks.

3) Integrated management software

Data storing and collection is vital when measuring quarterly and yearly yields. Efficient and error-free reporting provides valuable insights on all aspects of the agricultural lifecycle.

Having a single platform for all data relayed from sensors, gateways and other reporting devices allows farmers to view their farm holistically - and in real time. With cloud-based, custom-developed software, they have all the information they need literally at their fingertips, at any time from anywhere. 

Now, farmers can use their smartphones to remotely monitor all aspects of their agricultural business - equipment, crops, and livestock - and run statistical predictions to enable more informed decision-making. 

Along with informational and reporting capabilities, this software can also provide process automation. For example, if humidity levels fall below a certain optimum range in a greenhouse, a process will be set in place for this to be corrected automatically via the control system. 

4) Tracking and fleet management

In 2020, there were reports of growing incidences of GPS equipment theft from tractors and combine harvesters. By placing a smart sensor or location tag on the GPS equipment itself, farmers will know if this has been tampered with. 

In addition, locating tracking tags installed on all farm equipment means that a farmer will know the given location at any time. If the asset moves beyond certain parameters, an instant notification can alert the farmer to any unsolicited movement of the asset. 

Maintenance of vehicles and other equipment is an important part of farm management. Farmers typically have a range of expensive machinery that needs regular maintenance scheduling. Instead of this being managed manually, smart sensor technology can provide input to prevent any problems from occurring in the first place, and the software will provide automated alerts when maintenance activities are due. 

5) Farm security 

Smart farm security systems help to protect the entire property, from assets to produce to staff. A comprehensive network of sensors and trackers provide a 360° view of the entire farm. 

  • Perimeter and building security
  • Livestock and produce security
  • Livestock tracking
  • Asset recovery 
  • Access control 
  • Panic alarms 
  • Motion tags for gates, doors and windows
  • CCTV footage 
  • Trackers on all valuable assets

6) Smart greenhouses

Using a series of IoT devices, smart greenhouses create a completely self-regulating microclimate that is conducive to crop growth and yields. With a controlled environment, farmers can eliminate challenges such as inclement weather, pests and predation.

At the same time, the farmer has access to real time insights for optimum efficiency. Armed with a wealth of data and reporting, there is scope to leverage these insights to regulate:

  • Crop spraying
  • Irrigation
  • Lighting
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • ...and more, the possibilities are virtually limitless 

7) Livestock wellbeing

As reinforced during the coronavirus pandemic, body temperature can be a helpful gauge of illness. Farmers with real time access to the temperature of their animals are better equipped to detect and prevent the onset of illness and diseases, potentially saving vast amounts of money and preventing animal death. 

A bolus inserted into the rumen of cattle, for example, allows farmers to track and monitor the temperature of every individual in the herd. Instant alerts can be sent if temperatures exceed or fall below predefined parameters. Along with early disease detection, this smart technology allows farmers to accurately determine calving times and monitor lactation. 

Start with smart in 2021

Smart farming makes it simple for farmers to observe and record data, improving production output while minimising cost and preserving resources. 

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