Precision agri solutions ‘help cut carbon footprint and drive resource efficiency’

Global agriculture businesses are increasingly turning to the ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ to meet environmental targets and boost yields, according to a new study. But obstacles to using this technology remain.

Faced with a growing world population and scarce resources, a new study shows international agricultural businesses are investing heavily in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to help them better meet their environmental obligations and to produce more efficiently. But major bottlenecks remain.

The study, which covers agricultural businesses in Latin America, North America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, was conducted on behalf of Inmarsat, a world leader in global, mobile satellite communications.

Industrial IoT relates to the application of networked sensors to provide data and transparency across the global production and supply chain. Inmarsat’s geostationary satellite network delivers continuous mobile coverage, eliminating downtime when switching between satellite networks, to ensure continuous data collection across the global supply chain.

The research follows a recent report by the UN that the world must take action to meet their commitment to avoid global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the pre-industrial period.

The study shows that major drivers behind the adoption of IIoT-based solutions in agriculture include monitoring of environmental conditions – such as soil quality, pollutant emissions and environmental contamination – with 50 percent of respondents supporting this. Thirty-eight percent singled out improving resource efficiency as a key driver, reducing the amount of fertilizer run-off and water usage. In addition, this sort of precision farming can drive significant yield increases, thereby reducing the amount of land needed to feed a growing population. As many as 44 percent identified the promise that IIoT holds for reducing operational costs.

Agriculture respondents hope to devote 9 percent (rising to 11 percent in farming) of their IT budgets to IIoT through to 2021. Farming businesses expect IIoT solutions to help them increase their turnover by more than 16 percent, while farmers expect these solutions to help cut costs by about 20 percent.

However, the level of investment in the agricultural sector is still far below those seen in other industries. A lack of in-house skills was highlighted by 46 percent of respondents as the single biggest barrier to the adoption of IIoT solutions within agriculture.

Another key factor hindering the use of this technology is that many agricultural organizations operate in remote areas where terrestrial networks are not available, yet satellite communications networks are key to achieving the benefits that IIoT has to offer, the study reveals.

“It is clear that without the right connectivity networks, IIoT deployments won’t succeed in delivering the improvements in sustainability they are capable [of],” said Chris Harry Thomas, Director of Sector Development Agriculture at Inmarsat Enterprise.

Data security is also an area that much of the sector is struggling with, the study shows. A big issue regarding data sharing is about trust. Many farmers – of all sizes – are very much concerned about who owns their data and how it is used.

That is why a new code of conduct on agricultural data sharing was recently launched by the EU agri-food chain in Brussels, to help farmers and agri-cooperatives move into an era of digitally enhanced farming. It sets out key guidelines for operators to follow, combined with a check list.

“The era of big data is upon us. Making progress in precision agriculture has to be the rule, not the exception,” said European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan.