Home5GDitching the high fibre diet: how a network-of-networks will help smart farming (Reader Forum)

Ditching the high fibre diet: how a network-of-networks will help smart farming (Reader Forum)

The pressure food producers face to digitally transform is mounting. With a rapidly growing population, farms find themselves at a decisive moment in their ability to continue to produce enough food to meet rising demand.

As with all sectors, technology is going to be the cornerstone of this transformation, and this increased strain on supply will call for an overhaul in how businesses along the food supply chain operate as they seek to continue to feed the world.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, food production will need to increase by 70 per cent if the population reaches 9.1 billion by 2050, as predicted. Food producers need to be smarter to ensure they are meeting demands, managing larger herds of livestock and delivering greater crop yields.

The proliferation of the internet of things (IoT) in business has caught the attention of other sectors and inspired them to think about how this technology can be used to their benefit – farming is no different.

Harvesting data to get smarter
Whilst IoT has been pivotal for helping organisations fine-tune processes and digitise operations, it has a more significant role to play in helping solve the world’s spiralling demand for food. Relying solely on traditional farming methods is no longer the way forward and producers need to become more efficient.

Cody Catalena – the agriculture industry is in “dire need of renovation”

The agriculture industry is in dire need of renovation, and IoT applications and devices can play an important role in helping them increase the amount of food being grown without sacrificing quality. One way this could be achieved is through IoT-enabled sensors.

These sensors enable farmers to keep a close eye on livestock, helping spot health disorders, monitoring for when sheep and cows may be due to give birth, or supplying GPS data on how animals move through pastures. These sensors trigger text alerts to farmers, notifying them if an animal is in labour, or if they need to check on a health problem or odd behaviour.

Through these sensors, farmers can also collect information on factors such as the health of the soil or crop yields – information which can alert the farmer when action needs to be taken, such as applying fertiliser or rotating crops.

These IoT-enabled sensors can also enable autonomous operations, particularly with watering crops and monitoring irrigation, by continuously monitoring plant health and moisture levels. By coupling these systems with agricultural equipment, IoT-enabled sensors allow farmers to control when and how much water their crops receive.

Autonomous vehicles also have an important role to play in smart farming. Drones that can capture high-quality images and data can help monitor soil quality and crop health, whilst also helping farmers plan the planting of crops to optimise land use. The future of smart farms will also see autonomous tractors utilised to pull specialist equipment for precision seeding, giving plants the best chance to grow.

Farms need to beef up connectivity
Smart farming is perfectly placed to help food producers increase yields in line with population increases, thereby supporting them to meet the growing demand for food. However, to truly harness smart farming technology, IoT sensors and autonomous vehicles need access to fast, reliable internet connections to service smart devices spread over vast distances

This connectivity problem is the biggest barrier facing smart farming technology. Most farms are in remote, rural areas, and so are unlikely to have access to dedicated fixed high-speed connection without considerable expense.

“Connectivity problem is the biggest barrier facing smart farming technology… Connectivity cannot be used as an excuse – and everyone, rural communities included, should be promised greater inclusivity.”

Cody Catalena, Vice President & General Manager, Global Business Solutions, Viasat

Furthermore, the rural areas that do have a connection are still being underserved by traditional providers, who supply a slow service fixed to one location. This doesn’t offer the bandwidth or coverage needed to support smart farming. 

That we need better infrastructure to help enable UK farmers to take advantage of the latest technologies, is clear. In this day and age, poor connectivity cannot be used as an excuse and everyone, rural communities included, should be promised greater inclusivity.

The role that IoT applications and devices can play in rural areas show that the appetite for more capacity and coverage is greater than ever before, especially outside of urban environments.

Poor connectivity must not thin-out the herd
The UK’s digital divide is creating a divided nation of connectivity haves and have-nots. For all food producers to be able to contribute, it’s vital they all have access to the same quality of broadband. 

Traditional providers typically only offer a fixed connection, but considering the average English farm spans 85 hectares, serving this area from one location would be impossible without great expense and infrastructure.

These connections are also typically very slow compared to modern fibre, and don’t offer the capacity needed for live video feeds, let alone trying to operate multiple autonomous vehicles over a wide area.

Getting into a situation where some farms able to adopt smart farming to become more efficient and others linger in the digital divide without the same opportunity, is out of the question.

However, providing this connection is a challenge, particularly when we’re increasingly reliant on fibre and 3G is still barely able to make it into some rural areas – let alone 5G. It’s vital that the government approaches future-proofing the UK’s broadband infrastructure as a matter of urgency to support food producers in keeping pace with population growth.

Relying on just one or two technologies to deliver connectivity to every part of the UK will not work.

Instead, what we need is a network-of-networks; a holistic mix of communication technologies like 5G, fibre, satellite and more, to provide the coverage and capacity smart farming needs to every area of the UK.

By taking on this approach, we can provide the stable connection needed to every UK farm. This means that farms from the Isle of Man to the Orkneys can continue to meet the demands of ever-growing populations.

Check out the new editorial report from Enterprise IoT Insights, called ‘Making Industry Smarter: Agriculture & Farming’, out from May 22. Click here to sign up to the newsletter to catch all the latest news and updates from Enterprise IoT Insights.

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