Venture capitalists invested a record amount in agriculture and food startups in the third quarter this year, totaling $269 million across 41 deals. Conservis, for example, raised $10 million to offer farmers a real-time view of operations. FarmLogs raised $4 million to deliver apps that help farmers increase their productivity and profitability by identifying the crops most likely to sell. In November, Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors and Flextronics Lab IX launched Farm2050, a collective to support “ag-tech” startups whose solutions boost global food production.
Despite great investor interest in agriculture technology, it’s a little known fact that farming has been, and continues to be, among the most fertile laboratories for Internet of Things (IoT) innovation and large-scale adoption.
The global food challenge necessitates that farmers find better methods of feeding a population that’s expected to grow by 2 billion before 2050. Doing so with IoT makes business sense: it improves operational efficiency, drives productivity, creates new revenue sources and, ultimately, makes sustainability synonymous with profit.
Here are a few ways in which the agriculture industry has emerged as a key testing ground for IoT strategy, and with significant success.
The field of precision agriculture, a practice that uses analytics to optimize farming decisions, is a gold mine of opportunities for IoT innovation. Today, it’s more critical than ever to maximize yields from every acre of land dedicated to food production.
Wireless, cloud-connected systems aid in this crop yield maximization, automating everyday agriculture operations and providing real-time monitoring and data analysis for smart decision making, day-to-day and season-to-season. Connected equipment from companies like Topcon Precision Agriculture leverage GPS, monitoring and electronic controls to help farmers continually analyze and improve performance.
2) Pest Control
As the organic movement gains popularity, the food and agriculture industries have taken increasing interest in finding effective and relatively inexpensive alternatives to pesticides.
Pheromones are particularly useful when they are paired with the power of IoT. Wireless sensor networks like that of Semios monitor pest counts, and when it detects that the pest population is too high, its metered pheromone delivery system automatically activates and disrupts the mating patterns of pests. This minimizes, and in some cases completely replaces, pesticide use.
Farming in the face of water shortage has historically been a challenge, demanding extensive technical knowledge and mastery of complex data collection and irrigation systems. For effective drought response, farmers require precise, real-time information to help minimize waste, prevent over- and under-watering and proactively manage water costs.
Enter enterprise-grade IoT software. With embedded wireless devices and soil monitoring systems like that of Smart Watering Systems and Observant, farmers can measure moisture, detect leaks and more efficiently manage energy usage, all in real-time.
4) Continual Value
For agriculture solution providers, the greatest challenge — and opportunity — is offering service beyond product. Fundamentally, farmers care about results. Agriculture technology needs to deliver new, incremental value throughout the product lifecycle, akin to the subscription-based software industry’s task of continually adding features and functionality after releasing a title.
John Deere was among the first agricultural equipment manufacturers to embed connectivity into their products. Whereas, in the past, a sale marked the end of a transaction, the sale of a connected machine signals the start of a long-term relationship. With John Deere’s fleet telematics solutions, farmers can track their machines and analyze actionable data in real-time. Responses to that analysis are automated to optimize crop yield, ultimately boosting productivity from season to season. Insight and automation like this enable farmers to program exactly what and where each piece of equipment will plant, fertilize, spray and harvest for an area as small as one by three meters.
It is important to note these solutions are already being implemented on a large, global scale. To date, John Deere has connected over hundreds of thousands of machines across 120 countries, and the demand continues to build.
The agriculture industry is proof that soon, every company will be an IoT business, no matter their size or industry. The benefits of converging the digital and physical worlds are too valuable to ignore. In the not-so-distant future, constant connection between people, companies and products, in real-time, will be the norm.
Jahangir Mohammed is founder and CEO of Jasper, maker of cloud-based platforms for the Internet of Things. Jasper’s platform powers IoT initiatives across more than 1,500 enterprises, millions of devices, and dozens of industries in partnership with global mobile operators on six continents.