What is known as Agriculture 4.0 is nothing but the application of Digitalization processes and the evolution to Industry 4.0 within the primary sector. But, what exactly is that?
The introduction of Agriculture 4.0 has produced a new term to describe those companies using this new and much more technified model: the Agritech sector. Companies in this sector are adopting new methodologies such as Precision Agriculture. Basically, the definition, according to the European Parliament, is “a farming management model based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops”. The goals are mainly to increase the productivity of the crops while ensuring a higher environmental sustainability.
In plain words: to produce more and better with less.
And to do that there are several tools, techniques, and technologies.
The use of drones (unmanned aircrafts) is starting to develop in the Agritech sector in several ways. One of their most common uses is to capture images of the crops. These images are later analyzed with SW programs that provide information about how the crops are evolving. In this way, the farmer knows, for instance, which areas need to be watered more intensively (the analysis here is usually based on the radiation that the vegetables release or reflect in certain bands of the EM spectrum), where there are more weeds to remove, or if there is any plague present. Companies such as Aerial Insights, from Spain, offer this kind of photograph analysis as part of their business.
A less common but also possible fact is that companies are now using drones as remote fertilizing vehicles. By introducing fertilizers on board the aircrafts and defining the route they have to follow, specific areas of the farm or even individual plants can be fertilized.
And not only farmers but also public administrations are beginning to use drones in the farming sector. These aircrafts are a very good alternative to carry out the control tasks for the public grants given to farmers, which usually depend on the extension of the farmland and the number of plants that are eligible for a grant (such as the olive tree in Europe). The tasks to control these grants have been traditionally performed by taking pictures from regular aircrafts.
Internet of Things
The Agritech sector is considered to be one of the areas with bigger growth potential within the Internet of Things (IoT) industry. Deploying IoT devices in farmlands which are capable of remotely sending data related to the crops, opens a whole new world of possibilities.
These devices may include a number of sensors that measure several parameters affecting the evolution of the crops, such as the soil moisture, the temperature or the electrical conductivity of the ground. All of this data allows a real-time monitoring of the status of the crops as well as, through statistical models, predicting when watering or fertilizing in certain areas are going to be needed.
The next step is to include not only sensors but also actuators as part of IoT deployments. By establishing rules that execute actions under certain events, it would be possible, for example, to automatically enable watering in a specific área when 3 sensors report a soil moisture under 30% in the same period of time.
If there is one technology that is currently on everyone’s lips, that is Blockchain. We constantly hear and read about new use cases or services claiming to be based on this technology. Agriculture, or more broadly, the food industry, is not an exception and we are starting to see some initiatives and ideas concerning Blockchain.
One of these initiatives is related to ensuring the origin of the food. With regards to the supply chain, from the moment the “raw material” (fruit, cereals… etc) is planted and harvested in a farmland until it is purchased by the consumer in any format, is very long. In a scenario like this one – several actors (the elements in that chain) with a certain degree of untrustworthiness among them interacting – Blockchain makes sense. By using solutions based on Smart Contracts, it would be possible to write all the transactions in a Blockchain and, therefore, ensuring the legitimacy and origin of each transaction. You could even control the treatment given to the product itself throughout the whole chain, and ensure that the labeling at the point of sale is coherent. This could avoid potential frauds regarding the quality of the products.
New technologies have been progressively introduced in sectors that are traditionally seen as poorly technified. The Agritech sector is a good example of this. These technologies and new ones to come will progressively become part of the reality of the Agriculture in our society.
Welcome to the Agriculture 4.0 era!
Article written by Juan Pérez-Bedmar, Pre-sales Manager at Barbara IoT.