Utilizing precision ag would significantly reduce the agriculture industry’s environmental impact, which currently accounts for around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Satellite IoT is the Key to Success in Precision Agriculture
David Haight, Vice President of IoT | Globalstar
Few industries stand to gain more than the agriculture sector does from the adoption of technology at scale. A plethora of studies have shown the benefits of using detailed, real-time information about crops – known as precision agriculture (precision ag) – to increase yields while reducing water, fertilizer, and herbicide. Additionally, livestock ranchers have achieved sharp reductions in lost and injured animals by tagging them with trackers that transmit their location and identify behavior that may signal problems.
In 2021, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) published the results of a study titled “The Environmental Benefits of Precision Agriculture in the United States” on the impact of precision ag technologies and documenting how it enables farmers and ranchers to do more with less. On average, participants in the study achieved: 4% increase in crop production, 7% reduction in fertilizer use, 9% reduction in herbicide use, 6% reduction in fossil fuel use, and 4% reduction in water use.
In their study, AEM estimates the current usage of precision ag in the industry as between 10-60% depending on geographical location. The association predicts that a 90% adoption rate would yield: 6% increase in crop production, 14% reduction in fertilizer use, 15% reduction in herbicide use, 16% reduction in fossil fuel use, 21% reduction in water use.
Utilizing precision ag would significantly reduce the agriculture industry’s environmental impact, which currently accounts for around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the use of precision ag technology at scale results in positive economic impacts on farmers and ranchers, meaning that it is not only an environmentally friendly option but one that makes financial sense for business owners. Despite these promising figures, the incorporation of smart technology throughout the agriculture sector has been slower than expected.
The reluctance or inability for the industry to utilize precision ag technology is complex, and while many factors contribute, one undoubtedly stands out: connectivity. Most agricultural technology requires connectivity, and farm country is one of the last regions to have good mobile service. Without it, farmers and ranchers cannot fully leverage the benefits the technology provides – and neither can the government agencies that support them.
The Internet of Agriculture
Precision ag is a subset of the Internet of Things (IoT), an industry projected to be worth $1.4 trillion by 2026. IoT connects physical objects with sensors, processing ability, software, and other technologies to one another, thereby enabling the exchange of data with other devices and systems via the Internet or other communications networks. However, farms and ranches are a challenging place to capitalize on IoT technology due to the lack of traditional connectivity. In the case of agriculture and livestock tracking, as in many other remote industries, satellite IoT solutions are preferable. It is important to note that most farmers and ranchers lack the time to work out the bugs in cutting edge technology emphasizing their need for affordable technology that does its job reliably and well – for instance, satellite technology.
In locations that lack cellular connectivity, satellite prevails. Unfortunately, most satellite systems are too complicated, provide unnecessary bandwidth, and are priced at too high a cost for many business owners. However, certain satellite networks take a different approach. By leveraging global constellations of LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites, these networks can deliver small packet smart data, effectively providing the information, location tracking, and messaging necessary to reap the benefits of precision ag without the traditional cost.
IoT solutions must also meet the physical demands of the agriculture industry which favors small size, durable, weatherproof, and long-lasting capabilities. When considering IoT solutions, it is important to make sure technology is compliant with existing regulations and is certified as intrinsically safe.
Connecting and Protecting People and Assets
Nearly every stage of agriculture puts people and assets into the field and far from wired and mobile networks. As such, managing crews and lone workers – and ensuring their safety – is a major challenge, but one that satellite networks can help overcome.
Asset trackers attached to vehicles and equipment can provide accurate GPS coordinates by minute or as infrequently as once per day, depending on the need. Ideally, asset trackers combine small size, easy mounting, and extreme ruggedness with low cost for hardware and service. Additionally, they should provide dependable tracking for high-value equipment meant to be stationery or operate in a defined work area like a field or pasture.
IoT devices excel at asset tracking for livestock, vehicles, and equipment regularly in motion by providing location pings as often as every two-and-a-half minutes, allowing farmers and ranchers to track their herds and vehicles in near real-time and identify problems or misuse.
When success depends on herding or learning about animals in the wild, nature is in the driver’s seat. Predators, natural hazards, extreme weather, disease, and poaching pose constant threats. Distance and rough terrain limit visibility and reduce even experienced herders and researchers to guesswork.
Technology provides an answer in the form of tracking collars and ear tags. The “smart collar” market for cattle alone is forecast to grow from $243 million in 2019 to $514 million by 2027. As an individual or business that depends on raising livestock, knowing where animals are, how they are moving, and where they are headed is invaluable information. Such data minimizes loss, improves yield, and drastically reduces the time required to locate animals for care, round up and emergency interventions, thus improving overall livestock health. For researchers, these same technologies can be a critical source of data on wildlife populations, ranges and behavior that is otherwise unobtainable.
The benefits of IoT satellite solutions in the agriculture industry are innumerable. In terms of productivity and cost savings, these services allow for real-time data collection from fields and grazing lands. Live information gives farmers and ranchers greater, more robust information than is traditionally available, effectively improving and accelerating decision-making. Additionally, the geofencing of herds and valuable equipment helps protect against accidents and theft. The IoT monitoring of equipment enables need-based maintenance, scheduling, and reduces downtime from breakdowns. Amid current supply chain uncertainties, the real-time tracking of shipments and supplies provides improved coordination to keep work moving.
To capture those benefits numerically, a 2021 study from Purdue University suggests that the adoption of precision agriculture technology produces multiple compounding benefits. Farmers surveyed by Purdue saw a perceived average net benefit of almost $90 per acre. The value came from cost reduction, efficiency improvement, improved control over sprawling operations, and reduced downtime.
The benefits are not just for the producers. Consumers benefit from improved food safety due to closer tracking and traceability, and the environment benefits from the reduced use of chemicals and related water runoff. Affordable, reliable precision agriculture solutions that utilize smart data to target the practical needs of farmers and ranchers is universally beneficial once the connectivity hurdle is surpassed, which is why satellite IoT solutions should be implemented to meet this challenge.
About Dave Haight
Dave Haight is the vice president of IoT for Globalstar. Haight is a prominent telecom and IoT industry leader, with extensive experience driving network connectivity growth and developing impactful strategies to build partner channels and strategic relationships in IoT.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AgriTechTomorrow
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