The future of agriculture is full of paradoxes. Solving them is the challenge of our times. In recent years, the adoption of organic farming has witnessed a phenomenal surge in the European Union (EU). The total organic cultivation area in 2019 amounted to an impressive 13.8 million hectares, which accounts for approximately 8.5 percent of the total agricultural land used in the EU. This represents a remarkable 46 percent increase compared to the area dedicated to organic farming in 2012. We will go on to talk about the role of the Internet of Things (IoT) in organic farming.
One of the driving forces behind the rapid expansion of organic agriculture is the growing awareness of the environmental impact of conventional agriculture. Conventional farming methods have been associated with soil degradation, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Paradoxically, while we try to meet the growing need for food, we deplete natural resources. In the end, we get less food and less quality, increasing prices and health problems due to lack of nutrients.
In contrast, organic farming places great emphasis on maintaining and enhancing soil health, which acts as a natural foundation for sustainable agriculture. By avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals and embracing crop rotation, cover cropping, and composting, organic farmers nurture soil fertility and structure, promoting a resilient and balanced ecosystem.
As stated in the Libelium Agriculture whitepaper, the agricultural sector is particularly slow to adopt new digital technologies, and many professionals in the sector are still unaware of the benefits that IoT and other connected technologies can bring to their sector. However, to maintain the high production that industrial agriculture still provides, organic agriculture must embrace the latest technology.
How We Can Solve Paradoxes
While new technologies and robotics have begun to be used in agricultural practices, these tools are generally not connected and therefore the potential benefits of IoT are not appreciated. Plus, the vast amount of siloed data makes all the information incomprehensive, increasing the untrust among the farmers who cling to traditional knowledge, intuitions, test and error essays, and weather knowledge that no longer works in our climate change era.
The incorporation of IoT technology for organic farming must be urgent because the demand is urgent, and the sustainability crisis we are experiencing is urgent.
And here is the latest paradox: the incorporation of young farmers, millennials, and gen-Z (digital natives). They are not only able to better understand the benefits of technology and the power of data, but they are also more aware of the urgent need to adopt a more sustainable way of life, a more authentic diet, and more local consumption.
There is a new generation of farmers who are more connected to the land, but not in the traditional meaning of the word.
A Real Example in Italy
Innovative technologies are revolutionizing the agriculture industry, and organic farming is no exception. Leveraging the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning, a remarkable success story unfolds in Sardinia, where a social cooperative has created an Agriculture 4.0 project. Through the integration of IoT sensors and actuators connected to a Wi-Fi network, this organic farming plant has reduced costs, increased production quality, and contributed to the Sustainable Development Goals.
This cooperative owns vast land and greenhouses totaling approximately 6,000 square meters for cultivation. The objective was to implement precision agriculture techniques to optimize resource utilization and enhance the overall productivity of organic crops.
The integration of IoT, machine learning, and artificial intelligence with irrigation actuators holds the key to resolving the paradox of traditional agriculture powered by cutting-edge technology. While traditional agriculture has long relied on manual intervention and experience, modern technology offers unprecedented capabilities to optimize and enhance agricultural practices.
By leveraging IoT sensors to gather real-time data on soil moisture levels, weather conditions, water quality, and crop health in general, farmers gain valuable insights into their fields’ specific needs. Machine learning algorithms can analyze this data and create predictive models, enabling farmers to make informed decisions regarding irrigation schedules and precise water allocation. This data-driven approach ensures that crops receive the right amount of water at the right time, reducing water wastage and increasing overall efficiency.
Moreover, the integration of artificial intelligence further enhances the automation of irrigation systems. AI-powered actuators can respond dynamically to changing conditions, adjusting water delivery based on immediate environmental factors and historical patterns. The result is a more intelligent, adaptable, and sustainable irrigation system that optimizes water usage, minimizes environmental impact, and ultimately boosts agricultural productivity.
The synergy of traditional farming knowledge with state-of-the-art technology creates a harmonious balance, resolving the paradox of integrating time-honored practices with the most advanced tools available in modern agriculture.
Three Perspectives on Data Utilization
The data collected from the IoT sensors serve three different perspectives in this organic farming endeavor:
- Data for the Farmer: Real-time data enables remote monitoring, displaying the trend of various parameters in personalized graphs. This empowers farmers to schedule alerts and make informed decisions based on the information received.
- Data for Actuators: The system automatically activates solenoid valves for soil irrigation and other systems based on established threshold values. This is achieved by sending relevant data to the greenhouse Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs).
- Data for the Algorithm: The Biots platform uses the data to create predictive models through machine learning algorithms. These models are shared with farmers and actuators to optimize greenhouse resources for maximum efficiency.
This way, the organic farming process has resulted in multiple benefits:
- Time Savings: Farmers no longer need to visit the greenhouse or crop daily. Remote monitoring allows them to access real-time plant performance data from their phones and computers, and even activate remote controls without being physically present.
- Cost Savings: Smart management decisions based on in-situ data collection led to cost savings. For instance, precision irrigation can be applied, preventing water wastage, and predictive models help prevent common plant diseases, thus reducing losses.
- Increased Productivity: By adopting precision agriculture methods, organic farming has achieved higher crop yields. On a global scale, organic agriculture can produce approximately 30 percent more food per hectare compared to conventional agriculture.
The story shared here is a remarkable example of how innovative solutions in agriculture can combat the complex challenges faced by our planet. By utilizing precision farming techniques and advanced machine learning algorithms, organic farming can achieve greater profitability while promoting environmental sustainability and social responsibility. As we aim for a sustainable future, integrating IoT technology in agriculture will be crucial for improving food production and ensuring responsible resource utilization.