Updated: Aug 15, 2022
Agricultural Internet of Things (Ag-IoT) technology can help farmers monitor conditions in their fields in real-time and apply water more strategically.
Water is the most fundamental resource for people and the agricultural products we consume. Agricultural activities worldwide account for 70% of all freshwater use.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of objects equipped with sensors so that they can receive and transmit data over the Internet. Examples include wearable fitness devices, smart home thermostats, and self-driving autonomous cars.
In agricultural activities, it includes technologies such as internet of things technology, wireless underground communication, underground sensing and antennas on the ground. These systems help farmers monitor the conditions on their fields in real-time and apply other inputs such as water and fertilizer exactly where and when they are needed.
Monitoring soil conditions, in particular, holds great promise for helping farmers use water more efficiently. Sensors can now be wirelessly integrated into irrigation systems to provide real-time awareness of soil moisture levels. Research shows that this strategy can reduce water demand from 20% to 72% without hindering their daily work in the crop fields.
What is the Agricultural Internet of Things?
Even in arid places such as the Middle East and North Africa, it is possible to farm with efficient water management; however, extreme weather events caused by climate change obviously make this more difficult. For example, recurrent droughts and other disasters such as wildfires in the western US over the past 20 years have resulted in billions of dollars in crop losses.
For decades, water professionals have been measuring soil moisture to make water management and irrigation decisions. Automated technologies have largely replaced and continue to replace handheld soil moisture instruments, as manual soil moisture readings are difficult to obtain in remote production areas.
In the last decade, wireless data collection technologies have begun to provide real-time access to soil moisture data to make better water management decisions. These technologies also have the potential to apply many advanced Internet of Things (IoT) in public safety, urban infrastructure monitoring and food safety.
The Agricultural Internet of Things is a network of radios, antennas and sensors that collects real-time crop and soil information in the field. These sensors and antennas are wirelessly interconnected with farm equipment to facilitate data collection. Ag-IoT is a complete technology that can detect conditions in farmland, suggest actions in response, and send commands to farm machinery.
Interconnected devices such as soil moisture and temperature sensors in the field make it possible to control irrigation systems and conserve water independently. The system can program irrigation, monitor environmental conditions and control agricultural machineries such as seed planters and fertilizer applicators.
What Are the Challenges of Placing Wireless Networks Underground?
Wireless data collection has the potential to help farmers use water much more efficiently, but placing these components underground presents several challenges. For example, when antennas transmitting sensor data were buried in the ground, their operating characteristics were found to vary greatly depending on how moist the soil was.
Farmers use heavy equipment in the fields, so the antennas must be buried deep enough to avoid damage. As the soil gets wet, moisture affects communication between the sensor network and the control system. The water in the soil absorbs the signal energy, which weakens the signals sent by the system. In addition, denser soil also interferes with signal communication.
By varying the operating frequency and system bandwidth, a theoretical model and an antenna can be developed that reduce the impact of soil on underground communications. With this antenna, sensors placed in the upper layers of the soil can provide real-time soil status information to irrigation systems up to 200 meters away, which is longer than two football fields.
Another solution to ensure healthy wireless communication on the ground is to use directional antennas to focus the signal energy in the desired direction. Antennas that direct energy into the air can also be used for long-range wireless underground communications.
What's Next for Agricultural Internet of Things (Ag-IoT)?
Advances in cybersecurity are becoming more and more important for Ag-IoT. Networks in the fields need sophisticated security systems to protect the information they transmit. There is also a need for solutions that enable researchers and agricultural extension representatives to combine information from multiple farms. Collecting data in this way will ensure more accurate decisions on issues such as water use while protecting the privacy of farmers.
These networks also need to adapt to changing local conditions such as temperature, precipitation and wind. Seasonal changes and crop growth cycles can temporarily change the operating conditions of Ag-IoT equipment. Using cloud computing and machine learning, scientists can help Ag-IoT respond to environmental changes.
Finally, the lack of high-speed internet access in many rural communities still remains a major challenge. For example, many researchers in the US have integrated Ag-IoT and wireless underground sensors into their centre pivot irrigation systems, but farmers without high-speed internet access still cannot use this type of technology.
Integrating satellite-based networking with Ag-IoT can help farms where broadband connectivity is still not available and internet access is not available. Researchers are also developing vehicle-mounted and mobile Ag-IoT platforms that use drones. Systems like this can provide continuous connectivity in the field, making digital technologies accessible in more places and to more farmers.