How digitisation, process automation and IOT are driving smart agriculture

Jul 1 2021 | Agriculture, General

 

The Australian agricultural sector has changed rapidly over the last 50 years.

Embracing a new wave of smart technologies and advances in traditional machinery has enabled farmers to expand their operations at unprecedented rates. This has led to more efficient, more sustainable methods of cultivating their land and managing livestock.

And now, adopting data analysis and broader connectivity is beginning another agricultural revolution. Digitisation, process automation and IoT-based smart agriculture will play a vital role over the coming years in helping to increase yields, improve efficiency and find sustainable solutions to long-term problems.

However, the technology trends gaining the most traction aren’t the ones that completely reinvent the wheel. Instead, they’re the trends that make agricultural tasks just that little bit quicker and easier.

And the Australian agricultural industry is taking important steps in this direction by:

  • increasing outputs through controlled environments
  • reducing (or completely removing) manual processes.

Let’s take a closer look.

 

The rich history of technology in agriculture

Australia has a proud lineage of agricultural innovation – often born out of necessity. But with such diverse land types and farming needs, the industry has also been fragmented and hesitant about adopting new technology.

Farmers have seen a revolving door of agricultural technologies that have proved incredibly inconsistent. So they’ve rightfully felt cynical about how to best capture good data and get it into the hands of its end-user.

 

Sticking with what you know

Traditional farming practices lie at the core of Australia’s agriculture industry. Farmers used to actually taste their soil to gauge the acidity and moisture of the land where crops would eventually grow. While it wasn’t an incredibly accurate way of measuring, it was what worked best at the time.

But then, when the technology to streamline this process and make it more accurate became available, why didn’t farmers swiftly adopt it?

For many farmers, this change was too much of a jump in mindset. For others, the technology at the time wasn’t good enough to provide more accuracy and there was a cost risk too. Compounding these reasons was the fact that many new Ag-Tech companies simply couldn’t find a consistent foothold in the market. Platforms and technologies often became obsolete within six months.

The rapid turnover left many in the agricultural industry feeling burnt. Every time something new came along, it disappeared shortly afterwards. But fortunately, greater collaboration and wider national internet coverage will lead to increased uptake in innovative, next-generation IoT-based smart agriculture technology in the coming years.

 

The missing link on the path to efficiency and sustainability

Agriculture, much like other major industries, has now begun to adopt digitisation, IoT and process automation into its workflows.

Via sensors and improved connectivity, farmers can now access real-time data to improve overall productivity, efficiency and sustainability. Pilot programs are rolling out across Australia, giving farmers first-hand experience of how industry-purposed devices can provide greater insight and guide their critical management decisions. As a result, they’re seeing how IoT in agriculture can offer real return on investment.

From smart cattle tags to soil probes and water management sensors, IoT technology is a key part of getting telemetry data into the right hands. This, in turn, gives farmers access to a variety of previously unattainable benefits, including:

  • less time and money spent on water runs
  • greater labour efficiency
  • smarter data monitoring
  • accurate irrigation scheduling
  • satellite pasture management.

 

Getting the industry on board

So how can farmers become active participants in embracing a technological shift?

While the push is still in its early days, the government offers incentives for those looking to take a risk and adopt emerging technologies. These government initiatives work alongside organisations such as Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). Together, they aim to promote Australian agriculture and its exports as an efficient, environmentally friendly industry.

One example is AgriFutures Australia – a government-funded initiative that invests in research, leadership, innovation and learning in the industry. AgriFutures has led the way in providing grants to deliver custom technology created for specific rural industries. Providing access to product showcases and other activities has helped major agricultural body representatives to successfully overcome once-hardline barriers to technological adoption.

 

Trends moving Australian agriculture forward

Collaborative development between agriculture and tech

It seems counter-intuitive to dismiss the concerns of your client base when developing new technology, but it happens.

Unfortunately, when working with advanced technologies and automation in agriculture, tech companies have been bogged down in how data is represented. It’s all well and good to have perfectly formatted graphs on a state-of-the-art IoT and telemetry platform. But if nobody consulted the farmer about their specific issues, the information in those graphs is almost meaningless.

Digitisation, process automation and IoT paint a clearer digital picture of how we can answer common problems. However, with any significant change to practice, new problems arise that need solving. In the case of IoT-based smart agriculture, these include:

  • too much data
  • irrelevant or insufficient information
  • lack of clarity on how to understand and use the data

To solve this, Ag-Tech companies are now developing IoT and automated process solutions in collaboration with farmers. Technology that streamlines agricultural work will always be most effective when it’s driven by the primary producer’s experience and knowledge.

When it comes down to it, technology providers need to identify the actual problem that farmers are facing. Leveraging the understandings of those who know the land enables tech providers to find the best fit for their products, not just shoehorn solutions into already-fluent farming operations.

 

Increasing output with controlled environments

Advanced data fusion solutions such as Perspio™ allow farmers to effectively use data from IoT agriculture sensors to increase output.

Australia is no stranger to drought and extremely harsh growing conditions. This makes the right data from various sensor inputs critical for sustainably, efficiently growing healthy crops and managing livestock.

Data fusion solutions give producers access to their own customised dashboard with the exact information they need, and assist them in responding where relevant.

 

Digitisation in Tasmania’s berry farmers

IoT and real-time data analytics are changing the way that Tasmania’s berry growers irrigate and manage their crops.

Companies like Landscape Technologies are supporting farmers with sensor technology that ‘reads’ their soil in real-time so irrigation and other processes can be automated.
Products like Perspio™ are perfectly designed to work in sync with these sensors to make the link with the irrigation automation platforms for greater productivity, leveraging:

  • air humidity
  • soil moisture
  • water salt level

to make the right irrigation decisions.

This information helps to close the loop and get data to the farmers exactly when they need it: in real-time. And because it has been developed in collaboration with the farming community, it is capturing and analysing data they can actually use and rely upon for decision-making.

As a result, they can now monitor and flush salts via an irrigation cycle – a process that requires constant updates from every 30 seconds to every three or five minutes. No longer do farmers need to collect a soil sample and consult an agronomist. IoT and data fusion technology now enable the people growing the berries to do these tests on-site, saving time and money, and boosting productivity.

 

Reducing manual labour

One of the most effective ways that IoT and automated processes are changing Australian agriculture is by reducing manual labour.

When you consider that some farms are as large as 20,000 acres, finding efficient alternatives to time-consuming activities is a key component of any farm’s long-term viability. Simply travelling around the farm to perform simple tasks eats into both time and profitability.

With the assistance of sensors and IoT connection, farmers can reduce the time they spend on a range of manual labour, including:

  • monitoring soil conditions
  • checking for mechanical equipment failures
  • monitoring water and feed levels for livestock
  • effectively maintaining fence lines

Sensors that provide essential location and telemetry data can actively notify producers of any critical situations. This means the producers no longer have to spend unnecessary time searching for issues.

Even better, these sensors improve the safety, efficiency and environmental performance of their operation.

 

Agriculture is at the heart of our way of life

New technologies constantly evolve to meet the demands in most areas of our lives, and agriculture is no different.

Data fusion platforms like Perspio™ can help producers to build safe, efficient, sustainable operations that make the most of their resources in often harsh, unforgiving environments.

At Inauro, we understand how digitisation, process automation and IoT can work hand-in-glove with traditional methods to evolve the way agriculture works in Australia. From irrigation automation and soil management, through to caring for precious livestock, there’s an opportunity for all rural industries to make the change.

Want to find out how Inauro can help you link tradition and technology?

 

Reach out and give your business a boost today.

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