Agriculture is not crop production as popular belief holds – it’s the production of food and fiber from the world’s land and waters. Without agriculture it is not possible to have a city, stock market, banks, university, church or army. Agriculture is the foundation of civilization and any stable economy. Allan Savory
Taking so many factors into consideration, farming has gotten smarter. Farms had to adapt to deal with climate issues, degradation of land, government mandates, regulations, and more.
Agriculture has been evolving like any other market. Evolution is necessary when innovation controls the market. Decisions are made in farming led by data. Analytics take precedent over gut feelings and you can visualize the most logical steps to take in your operation.
With that said, Data is the new oil.
Big Data Analytics in Agriculture
Technology allows us to be more connected than ever. As stated in the video above, data is taken at any given point in the process of farming. Pieces of farm equipment now have computers which send data to the cloud, like location. GPS allows the farmers to locate where a piece of equipment is at any given moment.
- Publications / theses / reports
- Educational material and content
- Research data
- Primary data – measurements and observations structured, e.g. datasets as tables digitized in image or videos.
- Secondary data – processed elaborations, e.g. dendrograms, pie charts, models
- Sensor Data
- Experimental protocols and methods
- Social data
- Germplasm data
- Soil Maps
- Statistical data
- Financial data
A major challenge and concern is the human resources it takes to effectively analyze these data sets to form an idea of an action map. Data is collected in real time.
Precision Agriculture Technology
Precision agriculture (PA) or satellite farming or site specific crop management (SSCM) is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops. – Wikipedia
By using the big data collected at any stage of farming, smarter, more precise decisions based on analytics can be made. Data is collected by many devices, especially those used in the field like UAV’s and Tractors.
MaxBotix specializes in UAV sensors and ultrasonic range finders. Similar to those used in projects like Agricultural Drones and Automatic tractors.
UAV’s that are used for stages of agriculture have been put in place and made farming easier. They can do everything from counting plants to checking soil temperature and water levels, as well as map the land.
According to Michael Mazur from PwC, here are Six Options for Agricultural Drones.
Soil and Field Analytics – Instrumental at the start of the crop cycle. Produce precise 3-D maps and planning seed planting patterns.
Planting – Drone-planting systems have been created to shoot pods with seeds and plant nutrients into the soil.
Crop Spraying – Distance-measuring equipment – ultrasonic echoing enables a drone to adjust altitude as the topography and geography varies, thus avoiding collisions. Drones can scan the ground and spray the correct amount of liquid, modulating distance from the ground and spraying in real time for even coverage.
Crop Monitoring – Largest obstacle for farming is the large fields and low efficiency in monitoring crops. Time-series animations can show the precise development of a crop and reveal production efficiencies, enabling better crop management.
Irrigation – Easily identify which parts of a field are dry or need more improvements. Once a crop is growing, drones can calculate the vegetation index.
Assessing Crop Health – Spot bacterial or fungal infections on trees. By making it easier to watch the crops, you can respond to save an entire orchard.
As you can see there are practical uses for drones that can help a farm maintain sustainability.
You have to take into account the potential downsides of using drones on your farm. Droneguru.net, has listed some issues an organization may face when considering implementing agricultural uavs.
- Flight time and Flight range
- Most drones have a short flight time of between 20 minutes to an hour. Limits radius that can be covered during every flight time.
- Initial Cost of Purchase
- Some can cost up to $25,000. Some drones include hardware, software, tools and imaging sensors.
- Federal Laws
- The use of drones for agriculture purposes is considered commercial. Farmers need to undergo FAA operator training to obtain a remote pilot certificate or they can hire an operator.
- Interference Within the Airspace
- Agricultural UAV’s share the same airspace with manually manned aircraft which makes them prone to interference.
- Most farms in the US have very little online coverage. If any. Farmers intending to use drones have to invest in connectivity or drones that can store the data locally.
- Weather Dependent
- You may not be able to fly your drones if it’s too windy or rainy.
- Knowledge And Skill
- Skilled and knowledgeable personnel are needed to translate useful information. Average farmers without these skills may be forced to either train or hire skilled workers.
Also known as agribots or agbots, are robots deployed for agricultural purposes. Using these robots as well as drones have helped farmers save a lot of time, and money ultimately.
Farm operations can be run autonomously while reducing environmental impact.
Tasks like picking fruit, tending to crops, weeding and fertilizing can be done as hands off as possible with a fleet working day and night.
Take a look at this agribot designed for weeding.
— Robotic Gizmos (@RobotGizmos) November 19, 2016
Everything is connected when smart farming. The data drives decisions. The data has to be collected at all points, if possible, make educated decisions about the welfare of the farm.
Smart Farming with IoT
As you can see in the infographic provided by Nesta, the importance of all of these connections help the overall operation to sustainably grow. There are large amounts of unused and underutilized research and data that is slowing down the industry.
Livestock can be tracked, their position as well as their feed levels with a grain bin level sensor. Not only can livestock be bio monitored for health issues, so can the farmers and employees for fatigue and stress.
By farming smarter, quality and steady supplies can be provided. With more introduction of technology, more funding will be put into agriculture. The main factors holding back this wave of agriculture is all technical. Hardware, data services, connectivity, and data security are major concerns.
Precision agriculture or smart farming as it’s also known, isn’t going anywhere. Data IS the new oil. Not only do you need to be able to collect it, you have to interpret it. By using the different methods we’ve listed for data collection; making sound decisions with crops is easier now.
MaxBotix wants to help if you need to detect boom heights on your tractors or need UAV sensors for your agricultural drones.
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