IoT could be key to farming, says Beecham Research

The internet of things could be key to the farming industry meeting the challenge of increasing food production by 70% by 2050, says report

The internet of things (IoT) could be key to the farming industry, increasing food production by 70% to feed the 9.6 billion global population expected by 2050, according to Beecham Research.

Smart farming will allow farmers to improve productivity and reduce waste, according to a research report on how machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies and IoT can transform agriculture.

Beecham senior analyst and co-author of the Towards Smart Farming report Therese Cory said the farming industry must embrace the use of precision agriculture and harness the benefits of IoT.

“The demand for more food has to be set against the challenges of climate change, more extreme weather conditions and the environmental impact of intensive farming practices,” she said.   

For crop farming, smart farming means preparing the soil, planting and harvesting at precisely the best time; while for livestock farming it includes monitoring the condition of animals to provide the right type of intervention at the right time.  

In 2014, Cambridge-based sensor and monitoring firm General Alert (GA) teamed up with IoT specialist 1248 to see if the company’s Geras IoT database can improve livestock welfare.

The database stores billions of readings on environmental data such as temperature, humidity, drinking-water flow, feeding rates and CO² concentration, as well as ammonia and pH levels.

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With potential to deploy such sensor networks nationally, GA and 1248 reckon they could provide early warning of diseases such as foot and mouth, which caused major losses in the UK in 2001.

In the longer term, the Beecham report said smart farming will allow farmers and other stakeholders to better understand the wider conditions that lead to variabilities.

Embedding intelligence into the design and operation of machines will allow sensor information to be combined with other data and the knowledge of the farmer.

“The ecosystem of suppliers and stakeholders is very complex,” said Cory. “It ranges from large manufacturers of heavy agricultural vehicles to suppliers of M2M technologies and IT-based decision support systems, along with providers of expertise in all areas of farming. Partnerships are key to forging a successful supply chain.” 

The report said that while the use of M2M technology in farming is still in its infancy, the notion of a “connected farm” is coming closer, connecting real-time farming processes with historical data, such as weather events, climate, economics, product information and machine settings.

“We also anticipate that the use of smart farming will spread to adjunct areas, such as environmental monitoring, land management and food traceability," said Cory. "This is a consequence of the greater public focus on issues such as food safety, wildlife preservation and rural areas development.”

Beecham principal analyst and co-author of the report Saverio Romeo said in Europe the move towards smart farming is being encouraged through various projects being funded by public and private money.

“These include EU initiatives and projects at a national level, and while the M2M agricultural sector is still emerging, M2M and IoT technologies will be key enablers for transforming the agricultural sector and creating the smart farming vision,” he said.

Strong IoT interest from farming industry

According to Beecham, the interest in IoT is already strong from agricultural machinery suppliers such as John Deere, Claas and CNH Global, while there is also considerable attention on data and farm management systems from a variety of players including agri-food giants including Monsanto.

“The US market is leading the way in smart farming, particularly in areas such as arable farming, while Europe is increasingly looking into small-sized field farming, precision livestock farming and smart fish farming; and this trend will soon expand into other important agricultural economies,” said Romeo.

While the M2M/IoT industries will not see the light from the agricultural sector immediately, they need to be prepared, because it will soon be strong and bright

Saverio Romeo, Beecham Research

He believes the next two years will be exploratory for smart farming, but the pace of change will intensify from 2017 to 2020.

“While the M2M/IoT industries will not see the light from the agricultural sector immediately, they need to be prepared, because it will soon be strong and bright,” said Romeo.

In September 2014, Beecham released a report focusing on the security and privacy concerns associated with IoT technologies.

The report called on industry to take immediate action regarding IoT because a failure to do so could potentially affect every level of society’s needs, including food supplies and heating.

“Devices must be securely managed over their entire lifecycle to be reset, if needed, and to enable remote remediation to rebuild and extend security capabilities over time,” said Jon Howes, technology director at Beecham and co-author of the report on IoT security.

The report said there are currently insufficient security capabilities in the emerging IoT standards to manage the long life cycles expected in many IoT devices, such as heating systems.

The authors of the report believe industry must unite from silicon semiconductor manufacturers to network operators and system integrators to ensure security is built in from start to finish.

The authors believe significant evolution is required in the identification, authentication and authorisation of devices and people in IoT systems.

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