In an interview José Cruz, Founder and CEO of Red Wireless shares his perspective on helping farmers to adopt the internet of everything (IoE) and IoT solutions for agriculture with product managers.

It certainly may not sound as sexy as a driver-less car or a smart fridge. However, the potential impact the internet of everything could have on agriculture in terms of future global food security is of far greater consequence. Therefore, developing and marketing technologies that take advantage of the IoE in agriculture to enable smarter farming to reduce hunger globally, is a concept that has real purpose. On the other hand, it is probably also the sector facing the greatest challenges to adopting IoT technologies.

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Source: (c) shutterstock, red wireless

“Without food there is no smart city or smart anything!” states José Cruz as his motivation to help farmers more than any other vertical. He founded Red Wireless in Michigan USA to consult small businesses on smart wireless and IoT projects and help end users make the best decision on wireless connectivity.

When it comes to developing products utilizing the IoE for farming, José’s said: “A collaborative approach is required to come up with solutions that are more tailored to individual cases, rather than pushing “one-size-fits-all products”. One sensor at a time.”

The basis of much new technology is data in terms of capture and analysis. Sensors can easily help monitor metrics such as soil temperature, water levels, silo levels, animal behavior on a real time basis to help farmers respond with precision. Maximizing efficiency like this was not possible before.

The market opportunity

The global human population is predicted to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050 (DESA United Nations 2015), which will make achieving global food security even more challenging than it is today. Not surprisingly the agricultural industry is huge and contributes to an average 10% of global GDP.

IoT has the potential to significantly improve the capacity of farmers and agricultural companies to meet the world’s food demands. Adoption of IoT technology in the farming industry results in increased agricultural productivity and sustainability. Studies run by OnFarm, which provides a connected farm IoT platform, revealed that on the average farm harnessing IoT yields rose by 1.75%, energy cost dropped by $7-$13 and water use for irrigation fell by 8% (Meola 2016).

In 2017 the highest revenue from IoT in agriculture was generated by North America. Globally the market for IoT in agriculture is expected to grow to $28.65 Billion by 2023 (Report Buyer 2018) and was valued at $4.40 Billion in 2015 (Goldstein Research 2017).

Challenges to consider

One of the biggest barriers to growth of IoT business in agriculture is connectivity. Simply not having access to reliable internet and connected services inhibits the ability of farmers to take advantage of the new technologies.

Another hurdle to further distributing IoT technologies distribute further within agriculture , is that a lot of “smart” farming devices are in the hands of large co-operations. They are eager to protect instead of sharing the data and only provide the technologies to their own operations.

On the other hand, Burwood-Taylor (2016) reports that companies like Verizon are choosing not to open their IoT Platform fully to other technology providers. Instead they are only granting access to selected hardware manufacturers, with the aim of building a Verizon branded end-to-end agtech solution. This is despite the fact that their strengths are in increasing connectivity from which many others could benefit. Examples like this reduce the potential for adoption of new smart technologies by farmers.

A surprising fact highlighted by Alpha Brown (2018) is that a lot of farmers are still not aware of the IoT solutions available to them. A survey of 1600 farmers in the US, revealed that 68% had heard the term IoT for the first time through the survey.

Something also to consider when developing IoT solutions for the farming industry is to take away the fear of new technology. Farmers may not be adopting IoT technology because they feel apprehensive of trying something new.

One last thing to deal with, is the fact that in any farm environment no two cases are identical. As Hovakimyan (2017) explains, this makes the development, testing and validation of digital technologies in agriculture a lot more difficult compared to other industries. In other industries the data is more static.

How to manage the challenges

José Cruz shares how new developments can enable farmers to have from dozens up to thousands of sensors monitoring key metrics in crop and animal production in a very economical and secured way: “If a farmer is looking for cheaper and faster ways to deploy sensors and technology on acres of farm land it is now possible to do it – even by themselves, in part or in whole – without the constraints of short-range existing technologies like Wi-Fi or typical high costs like cellular. With the help of ‘built-from-scratch-for-IoT’ options like Sigfox, LoRaWAN, RPMA and other long-range connectivity wireless solutions, they can bring the costs down to the sensor level. Along with advances in AI and cloud-based solutions, we can now have a lot more ‘distributed data’ at our disposal to be analyzed faster and more cost effective than before.”

Flux is currently developing open-hardware platforms that will be affordable to anyone, not just big agricultural companies (Flux 2018). This again can also contribute to empowering smallholder farms. Flux, is an open architecture, blockchain-based protocol leveraging a global network of IoT sensors to power artificial intelligence.

However, ultimately a farmer’s motivation to cooperate in the development and deployment of digital tools, will be key for IoT to reach its full potential in agriculture.

Therefore, increasing the awareness of the potential benefits IoT can bring to agriculture and individual farms amongst the farming community is important. There are already several initiatives. For instance, the European Commission introduced the project “Internet of Food and Farm 2020 (IoF2020).

Claver (2018) points out that making new technology look like old technology, could help to reduce a farmer’s fear of new technology and therefore increase adoption of IoT solutions in agriculture. For example, it is possible to make driverless tractors look like normal tractors, just like Tesla cars look like normal cars, but the technology underneath is completely different.

Conclusion

IoT could provide one of the biggest benefits for future generations working in the agriculture industry. Key to its success is a collaborative approach with farmers. However, for IoT to reach its full potential in this industry, challenges such as connectivity, awareness and fear of new technology at the farm level need to be managed effectively.


References

Alpha Brown (2018). What is IoT in agriculture? Farmers aren’t quite sure despite $4bn US opportunity – report   (9th July 2018). [2018-11-28]

Burwood-Taylor, L. (2016). Verizon surprises with plan to launch end-to-end agriculture IoT product in Q3 (25th July 2016). [2018-11-29]

Claver, H. (2018). Farmer at the core of precision farming revolution. Future farming magazine. (7th November 2018). [2018-11-29]

DESA United Nations (2015). World Population Prospects. 2015 Revision.  [2018-11-25]

Flux (2018). Unlocking the full potential of IoT Farming. Bitcoin Magazine  [2018-11-26]

Goldstein Research (2017). Global IoT in agriculture market outlook 2024: Global opportunity and demand analysis, market forecast, 2016-2024 (14th September 2017). [2018-11-27]

Hovakimyan, N. (2017). Digital Agriculture needs a broad community of contributors to succeed   (31st August 2017).  [2018-11-27]

Meola, A. (2016). Why IoT, big data & smart farming is the future of Agriculture. Business Insider  (7th October 2016).   [2018-11-25]

Report Buyer (2018). Global IoT in Agriculture Market: Focus on Systems (Sensing, Communication, Cloud Computing, Data Management), Applications (Precision Crop Farming, Indoor Farming, Livestock Monitoring, Aquaculture)- Analysis and Forecast (2018-2023)  (November 2018).  [2018-11-29]

Sam-Martin, K. (2018). How Marketers can leverage the Internet of Things. (1st November 2018). [2018-11-30]