I gave a presentation at this month’s IoT World 2018, on the subject of how to get started in Agriculture IoT (Agri-IoT). Below are some of the key insights from my talk:
Food producers will have to do more with less
The global population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050, which means that food production will have to increase by 50% to keep pace. This population growth will put pressure on the amount of arable land available, and each hectare will have to support more people with each year. At the same time, developing countries are expected to add 40 million hectares of irrigation in the years to 2030, which will put further pressure on global freshwater reserves.
Food waste is the most pressing problem to solve
Current global output is large enough to feed the existing population, but armed conflicts and climate-related events are disrupting supply chains in vulnerable countries. As a result the number of undernourished people worldwide, which had been declining until 2015, has started to creep up again. But waste isn’t just a problem in developing countries: farming in industrialized nations wastes around twice as much food, by value, as in developing nations.
Mobile networks are the best bet for Agri-IoT
Cellular technologies like 3G and 4G, as well as NB-IoT or LoRa, offer the ideal combination of range, data throughput, cost and battery life to support IoT activities in agriculture. The distances are greater than in use cases like smart home or smart building, and are more subject to change, meaning that even mesh technologies like Bluetooth Mesh, ZigBee or Z-Wave aren’t ideal. At the same time, most mobile operators (MNOs) are entering Agri-IoT in some way, so they will make good partners for startups seeking connectivity in this space.
Farmers need to make sense of their data
Food producers have been using data to drive their activities since the technology was available. However, their machinery and equipment is generating so much data that farmers need something to help them make sense of it all: whether by communicating crop prices or helping them to find dealers or marketplaces to buy and sell equipment or produce.
The big opportunities are in managing the supply chain
As stated, food waste is mainly a supply chain problem. For distributors, cold chain and logistics or fleet management will help to ensure that produce or inputs (e.g. seed) get to and from growers without spoiling. For retailers, blockchain can act as a certificate of authenticity to help them trace sources of foodborne illness.
The biggest opportunities for startups in the Agri-IoT sector are reducing waste and creating actionable insights out of farmers’ data. Mobile networks will be important partners in delivering connectivity, given relative lack of broadband coverage in rural areas and the limitations of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, et al. Agri-IoT comprises multiple technologies beyond connectivity, including computer vision to visualize crop or animal health, and artificial intelligence to spot trends.