Expert view

How farmers will benefit from smart machinery

The “internet of things” (IoT) is starting to assert itself in agriculture.

At the recent Sima show, the second largest agricultural machinery fair in Europe, it was clear that it is just a matter of time before virtually every function of a piece of machinery will continuously be monitored by small sensors linked to the internet.

I cannot escape the conclusion that the technique really is advanced. There are very energy-efficient sensors which measure sound, light, vibration, movement, humidity, temperature and pressure.

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IoT: the internet of everything

I also heard about the long range, low power (Lora) communication networks, which are being rolled out in Europe. Machinery manufacturers tell me there are barely any technical limitations in harnessing the IoT in agriculture.

The internet of things is not described as the “internet of everything” for nothing. The big question is: what should farmers do with all the data that the sensors will collect for them? And who will tell them how to convert the information into profitable actions?

Research about algorithms

Miedema, the manufacturer of high-tech potato planters, acknowledges the unprecedented opportunities that the IoT offers in the future.

Marketing director Guido Mangnus says what we are missing are algorithms. These are the mathematical models that convert whatever you are measuring into whatever you want, such as machinery adjustments. This takes years of extensive research.

“Farmers point out that whenever I add something to machinery, it ends up making it more expensive for them. If I don’t work out how it will benefit the user, he will say no. Especially as margins are small in potato growing.”

Mr Mangnus says that if he was an arable farmer, he would still collect data. “At some point there will be some new algorithms and then all this data will be of use.”

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Internet of things is coming

So the combination of new sensors and the internet of things means that a lot is possible. For example, a potato farmer could make use of the internet by having thermometers in his potato store that monitor the temperature of the potatoes and send this information to a central computer, using the internet.

This can then send alarms via your smartphone to alert you if the store gets too hot or cold, thus avoiding losses.

In conclusion, the internet of things – of everything – is an easy way of collecting and sending data. How to make use of it, will be the subject of my next piece.