The Federal Government has released a 152 page White Paper on the competitiveness of Australian agriculture. It gives agricultural IoT short shrift, making only passing reference to IoT, widely tipped to have huge potential to transform agriculture.
UK based Beecham Research earlier this year issued a report, Towards Smart Farming, saying that M2M technologies and all the technologies around IoT were key enablers for the transformation of the agricultural sector towards the smart farming vision.
“We believe that the use of precision agriculture is bound to grow, not least because of the urgency of the problems the world faces regarding food security in the long term,” it said, adding: “However, because the technology is in its infancy and not widely understood, this growth will be slow at first compared with sensor based technologies in other industries. This is because of the lack of a vision shared by all stakeholders and their governments as to how to bring together the needs of agriculture with business opportunities.”
Agriculture “the first big IoT market”
IoT technology company, Ayla, suggests that Agriculture could be “The first big industrial IoT market.” It argues that “Rising prices of fertiliser and electricity, combined with regulations limiting irrigation are placing increasing demands on farmers to more precisely utilise their resources. Reducing spoilage and food waste will require both better in-field monitoring as well as better monitoring and management within the field-to-shelf supply chain. It is a world where deadline pressures, a lack of information and conquering the challenges of time and distance confront individuals on a daily basis.”
In Europe at least, governments are taking concerted action to explore the application of IoT to agriculture under the concept of ‘precision farming’. In February, Forbes magazine reported: “The European Union has sponsored several projects on the topic [precision farming] during the Seventh Framework Programme and, now, during under Horizon 2020. The currently running EU-PLF project for instance, is designed to look at the feasibility of bringing proven and cost-effective precision livestock farming tools from the lab to the farm.”
The article said the agricultural sector would face enormous challenges in order to feed the 9.6 billion people that the FAO predicts are going to inhabit the planet by 2050. “Food production must increase by 70 percent by 2050, and this has to be achieved in spite of the limited availability of arable lands, the increasing need for fresh water (agriculture consumes 70 percent of the world’s fresh water supply) and other less predictable factors, such as the impact of climate change, which, according a recent report by the UN could lead, among other things, to changes to seasonal events in the life cycle of plant and animals.”
Farming “the ultimate IoT opportunity”
Back home, the ABC last October quoted David Lamb, a professor of precision agriculture at the University of New England, in Armidale, saying the next wave of on-farm technologies would likely to be driven by IoT. “Our farming landscapes are the ultimate opportunity for developing the internet of things, for connecting people to landscapes on farms, to animals, to plants, to machines,” he said: “At the moment, the Internet of Things, as far as farming is concerned, is only just being appreciated in terms of what it could offer in the future.”
And what does the agriculture competitiveness report have to say? It give the nod to the Sense T project in Tasmania, makes numerous references to the CSIRO but none to its agricultural IoT project Phenonet, whch collects, processes and visualises sensor data from the field in near real-time. It is helping plant scientists and farmers identify the best crop varieties to increase yield and efficiency of digital agriculture.
The report says the Government “recognises the need for investment in cross-cutting applications such as digital technology, sensor technology, robotics, communications and management of natural resources. It adds that “The Government’s investment in the National Broadband Network (NBN) will mean advances in digital technology are available to all farmers.”
It really needs to do more than ‘recognise the ned for investment’ and hold up something, the NBN that merely provides one component of what is needed to apply IoT to agriculture.
In many ways Sense-T in Tasmania epitomises on a small scale the vision fof what can be achieved by applying IoT to agriculture, and more. That vision will need to be applied and extended enormously if Australian agriculture is to achieve and retain competitiveness.