Smart Agriculture in Depth

Man Farmer Pilot Using Drone Remote Controller at Sunset

Smart Farming Example: A Farmer Using a Tablet to Control a Drone for Aerial Application

The world of agriculture is changing.  The challenges posed by our growing global population are compounded by the problems caused by climate change and the competition for resources.  As a result, farmers are under pressure to grow more food while minimizing their impact on the environment.  Technology has emerged as one of their most valuable tools to enable them to meet both these needs.

Smart agriculture involves the use of advanced technology that will be essential to the farm of tomorrow.  At the heart of smart agriculture is the Internet of Things (IoT), the network of machines that are communicating with each other for the first time. Collecting and sharing data through a network enables these machines to help farmers understand better what’s happening on their land and make critical decisions on several key levels.

With new opportunities and technologies in continuous cycles of development, the smart agriculture market has both accelerated and evolved. In order to help customers understand how they can take advantage of this expanding market, the Molex Global Business Services Research Analytics team has developed a white paper that examines the current trends and opportunities within smart agriculture.  It paints a complex picture of the interplay between established and emerging technologies that will power the world of farming over the next decade.

Automation on the Smart Farm

Changes in the demographics of the growing population along with job opportunities in other industries mean that farmers are finding it hard to find farm workers. Labor-intensive tasks such as planting, harvesting and animal husbandry are ripe for automation and will reduce the demand for farm workers.

The industrialization of the farming industry is not a new trend, but the connected nature of the latest farm equipment is changing how automation can be employed. Instead of unintelligent machines performing repetitive tasks, autonomous equipment can employ machine learning capabilities to tailor its actions in line with real-world conditions.

Heavy equipment such as tractors and harvesting machines are forming a key part of this autonomous network.  Fitted with precision guidance along with advanced sensors, including embedded vision and image recognition systems, the latest generation of machinery can perform complex tasks with little or no supervision.  This extends beyond the use of traditional farm machinery into advanced areas including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), often known as drones. 

UAVs offer a powerful tool for farmers, as they can provide an overhead view of farmland at a tiny fraction of the cost associated with traditional aviation.  Fitted with multispectral or thermal sensors and connected via 5G wireless communication systems to advanced mapping software, they can create a detailed and accurate picture of the health of a farm.  They are even able handle aerial application—crop-dusting—but with the precision not possible using conventional aircraft. 

Growing Market for UAVs and Sensors

The market for UAVs on the smart farm is growing at a remarkable rate and is predicted to grow by nearly 40% per annum for the next five years. With this expansion comes the need for a range of lightweight connected sensors that will collect and share data with the network. In fact, beyond the UAV application, sensors represent one of the key growth sectors within smart farming.  As we have seen, this revolution in farming relies on the collection and processing of vast amounts of data.  Sensors provide the data that makes this a reality. 

Sensors will be employed in a range of applications around the smart farm.  Static sensors deployed in fields will provide long-term monitoring of growing conditions, while traditional heavy agricultural machinery such as tractors will employ sensors to provide monitoring and feedback to the operator.  They will also serve as the foundation of some of the most exciting and innovative aspects of smart agriculture.

The world of smart farming is embracing nontraditional solutions for conventional problems, something only possible with the use of connected sensors.  In just one example, highlighting the labor-intensive processes involved in growing livestock, farmers are faced with the constant need to monitor the health of their herd.  Designers who have no preconceived ideas about the world of farming are thinking differently about the ways to solve problems, creating new and disruptive ways to use connected technology from other markets.  Biosensors and wearable devices that have previously been part of the fitness and healthcare industries are being redesigned to provide monitoring solutions for livestock farmers.  The result is “smart collars.”

Solutions for Livestock and Beyond

These latest smart collars allow the farmer to collect a broad range of data that creates a snapshot of the herd’s health, whenever needed.  With this information, the farmer can make decisions about the care of the animals to ensure their wellbeing and productivity.  There are even devices designed to be included in feedstock which, when ingested, will monitor the internal health of the animal.

Other external sensors can be used to monitor the herd, such as the use of facial recognition systems that have been developed for the security industry.  The ability to identify individual animals allows each one to receive individual care in a way that would have been hugely impractical when farmers relied on physical ear tags.  There are also applications using microphones that collect audio data which can be analyzed to provide early warning of distress or diagnosis of respiratory diseases.

This smart agriculture white paper highlights that the future of this technology is rich and varied.  The unusual combination of existing machinery with ground-breaking, disruptive technologies is shaping the way that food will be produced in the coming decades.  However, at the very heart of smart agriculture will be the need for high-speed data connectivity.  Molex has the experience and expertise to develop the latest interconnect technology that will power this revolution in farming.  Download the white paper to learn why we’re so excited to participate in the farm of the future.

Senior Director of Product Management and Marketing