Smart Agriculture: The Next Agricultural Revolution

26 Nov
2018
smart agriculture

The world’s appetite is growing rapidly. To feed nine billion people in 2050, the world will need to produce 70 percent more food than it did in 2006. Farming methods have always evolved with the increasing demand for agricultural products. From simple, handheld farm tools from before the Industrial Revolution, to the mechanized farm equipment and the use of satellites for better monitoring, agriculture has always adapted to produce more at a lower cost. Smart agriculture combined with innovative technology is key to the future of farming.

Precision Agriculture Also Known as Smart Farming

Smart farming (precision agriculture) relies upon real-time date from sensors in the fields combined with images from drones or satellites and predictive analytics software to give farmers guidance regarding crop rotation, optimal planting times, harvesting times and soil management. Monitoring and collecting data for soil moisture, air temperature, air humidity and sunlight intensity across multiple fields can improve water usage and crop yield for small and large farms. Low-cost IoT sensors, data insights and IoT platforms are being introduced to help agriculture improve productivity and lower costs. According to a recent Markets and Markets report, the current Agricultural IoT market size was estimated to reach $7.5B in 2018 and has a CAGR of 12.39% between 2018 and 2023.

But, to feed nine billion people in 2050, agriculture also will need a paradigm shift. A shift from horizontal farming to vertical farming, from growing plants in the soil to growing plants with roots suspended in the air and from using sunlight to using horticultural lighting to grow plants.
Vertical Farming

Vertical farms use the latest technologies (hydroponics, aeroponics, IoT sensors, predictive analytics) and can grow crops in urban areas. Since it is a closed-loop agricultural system, it is a very clean industry that filters dirty air and rainwater during the process. A few of the advantages are:

  • Significantly increased and year-round crop production. An indoor acre is equivalent to four to six outdoor acres or more, depending on the crop. For strawberries, an indoor acre may produce yield equivalent to 30 outdoor acres.
  • Protection from weather-related quality and yield problems as crops will be grown in a controlled environment.
  • A large-scale production of organic crops. Controlled growing conditions will allow a reduction or total abandonment of the use of chemical pesticides.
  • Significant water conservation. Vertical farming technology with hydroponics uses approximately 70 percent less water than normal agriculture. Water usage can be further reduced with aeroponics.

Several indoor farm startups were launched in the past few years. One of these is Bowery based in Kearny, N.J. Bowery is applying machine learning and predictive analytics throughout the crop growth process. With small adjustments to water flow, light intensity, temperature and humidity – while meticulously monitoring the growing process and analyzing a large amount of data – Bowery is taking precision farming to the next level and is able to optimize quality, yield, taste and flavor.

A separate study from Global Market Insights estimates the current vertical farming market size to be $2.5B with a CAGR of 28 percent for the next 5 years.

Horticultural Grow Lighting

The purpose of horticultural lighting is to give the plants the right amount of light, as well as the right spectrum that they need in the different growth stages from germination to harvesting. It is well documented that plants need red light (which starts the photosynthetic process and impacts germination) and blue light (which is essential to control plant size, pigmentation, and, in some cases, taste) but experiments to characterize the benefits of light of a different color (including UV light) at different stages in the plant growth process are still ongoing.

The horticultural lighting market size is estimated to be $2B in 2017 with a CAGR of 20.6 percent for the next five years according to a report from Market and Markets. The market for horticultural LEDs is driven by technology improvement and new construction for indoor farming facilities. Lighting manufacturers started introducing full spectrum tunable and dimmable horticultural LED lighting fixtures. These tunable light sources are designed to support the plant during different stages of the grow cycle, allowing farmers to monitor every known influence on the crop’s well-being. Optimal lighting also has shown to make plants more resilient and therefore better positioned to stave off pests and disease, reducing the need for pesticides or fertilizers.

Smart Cloud-Based Lighting: The Internet of Things

Automating the entire photosynthetic process allows for properly scheduled light cycles, giving full control over the dark and light periods. Cloud-based technology and digital connectivity allow cultivators to manage light schedules, monitor environmental conditions, and document and optimize the growing process from a phone or tablet from wherever they are on the farm.

Smart agriculture is the future. The Internet of Things is the driving force behind increased agricultural production at a lower cost. Agricultural IoT is a fast-growing industry with massive opportunities for engineers looking to bring a smart farming solution or IoT agricultural sensors to the market. IoT Marketing will be attending the IoT Tech Expo 2018 in Santa Clara. Visit us at Booth 569 if you want to learn more about IoT technology, markets and marketing. Talk to us and find out how we can help you launch and grow your business.