Setting a New Pace for the Future of Farming
In the last 50 years, the world’s population has rapidly increased and continues to expand faster than at any other time in human history. To meet the needs of the world’s growing population, food production must increase by 70% by 2050 . For small farmers, herders, and fishermen who currently produce about 70 percent of the global food supply, this presents a grave task. With their current farming systems not up to the challenge, the need for a solution which can overcome modern challenges in fast-paced farming environments has never been greater – and the answer lies with precision farming.
In today’s modern world, farmers are tasked with overcoming challenges such as limited farmland, waning natural resources, strict sustainability regulations and water shortages. These hurdles have major implications for farmers and prevent them from feeding the growing population. Enter the solution for farmers to partner with technology. Farming equipment that is automated can increase efficiency, while remaining sustainable, producing higher yield from 24/7 operation that manpower alone cannot provide.
For farming operations, autonomous equipment consists largely of tractors, weeding machines, and planters that must traverse large areas to plant, harvest, and manage expansive crop fields. Reliable mobile connectivity is a must-have to keep this equipment running. If there is latency or delay in data transmission to an autonomous piece of equipment, the machine will stop. However, until now, wired, cellular, LTE and traditional Wi-Fi mesh networks have not been able to deliver this level of connectivity on their own. These technologies were simply not built to meet the bandwidth demands and mobility needs that these applications require from a network.
In a scenario such as this, consistently high throughput connectivity is critical. If farmers are to achieve peak productivity, while also keeping costs low, they must find the right type of network to power its Internet of Things (IoT)/ automated applications. A farm’s network is ultimately the asset that powers agricultural automation, delivering the connectivity required to run digitally-driven precision farming equipment.
The right network technology can open doors to a new age of efficient, automated and sustainable farming. The network will empower the use of precision farming technologies, which utilize automated agriculture robots to produce a resilient, productive system that works around the clock to perform typical farming tasks with far greater speed, accuracy, and productivity than traditional manual means.
In addition to this, precision farming enables real-time data to be gathered and analyzed to help farmers make better decisions. For example, soil hydration and PH/nutrient levels in soil can be monitored to increase the yield of crops, while eliminating the need for constant surveying and testing of the ground by staff. This also opens doors for the use of drones in agricultural environments, allowing crops to be autonomously fertilized and sprayed to aid a more productive, balanced and regimented process of crop management.
Creating a Living Network
For this to be achieved, farmers require a network which can move with their operations to drive Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) capabilities. To meet the demands of precision farming practices for any level of automation, a highly-mobile and secure network is critical. A network such as this is able to rise to the challenges of autonomous equipment, providing a way to dynamically load balance traffic, mitigate interference by routing around detected congestion, and react to topology changes to provide continuous connectivity without fail.
This is critical to farmers’ operations, as downtime can critically impede production, so connectivity must be 100% reliable regardless of mobility demands as equipment travels over farmland. It also means that farmers can keep a constant line of remote communication that is resilient to adverse weather conditions, pesticide sprays, rough conditions and mobility’s unpredictability.
Ease of set up is another factor as the network may require shifting based on varied harvest schedules. All networks are not created equal and farmers need to shop with these success factors in mind. However, thanks to advancements in wireless access nodes technology, tractors, drones, soil sensors and more can be easily connected to a peer-to-peer network, seamlessly creating an autonomous IIoT environment. Within this, every connected asset has the ability to be on the move and are always able to communicate with a remote operator, even at the network edge. By interconnecting crops, tools and vehicles to smart devices and sensors, farmers will not only be able to produce more, but they will also be able to do so while saving money and conserving natural resources.
An example of the profound abilities of wireless access nodes can be found in eucalyptus farming. By powering forest-wide remote monitoring applications to optimize yields, farmers have benefitted from sensor-based monitoring of tree growth pace, identification of disease via computer vision and AI, and fire and disaster management.
Achieving Autonomous Farming
The growth of advanced and autonomous equipment in the agricultural industry is empowering farmers globally to feed the growing population while using less farmland; using fewer natural resources while increasing yields; reducing pests and diseases without stripping the soil of its nutrients.
While the realization of a fully automated farm will not happen overnight, the key to success will be starting with a network that can easily grow to support more and new IIoT enabled assets, with increasingly autonomous demands, over time – which will, in turn, empower the fast-paced and relentless environment of agriculture.
- Global agriculture towards 2050, FAO, 2009, http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/Issues_papers/HLEF2050_Global_Agriculture.pdf
Chris Mason is the Director of Business Development for the EMEA Market at Rajant Corporation. Prior to Rajant, Mason worked with British Telecom (BT) in a variety of sales, business development and management roles to help worldwide organizations identify IT solutions for common business challenges. Mason has experience with the United Kingdom’s Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) network for the Emergency Services and the Ministry of Defence. Mr Mason also earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Science in Telecommunications Business from University College London and is an active member of the Institute of Directors.
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