Buzzword Breakdown - IoT

As new innovations continue to propel the growth of Australian agriculture, one of the key technologies shaping this development is ‘IoT’.

So, what is IoT?

The Internet of Things, commonly shortened to IoT, is a term that is used across sectors to refer to a system in which devices, sensors or machinery (i.e. “Things”) can be wirelessly connected to each other via the internet. Whilst a relatively simple concept, the benefits and applications of these connected devices are immense, and many expect that we have only just scratched the surface on the potential uses of IoT.

An example of one way in which IoT may revolutionise our food system in a post-farm gate environment is in the retail and consumer goods sector. Here, businesses can and will look to use IoT in order to derive new insights generated by the growing number of digital "Things" involved in the food shopping process. These digital tools may include mobile shopping apps, robotic warehouse pickers, autonomous vehicles, new ‘smart’ fridges equipped with cameras and in-built sensors, etc.

In an IoT-enabled future where these things are digitally connected, a typical shopping experience might look like: As you cook and consume food, your smart fridge will communicate with the mobile shopping app to inform it what products have been used, if any are running low or if others are nearing their expiration date. In real-time, the app will then be able to place an order for these items online. Once received, the new items may be autonomously will be picked from the shelves, packed at the warehouse and sent for distribution. The bundle of replenished food items may then be delivered to your doorstep, all in time for breakfast the next morning.

Why is it relevant for the future?

IoT lets humans interact with the world around us in brand new ways, all fueled by the power of data:

  1. Better sensing technologies will be able to collect and store more comprehensive data sets

  2. Innovative analytics software will then be able to transform this raw data into new insights and information

  3. Gathering and sharing this information will lead to improved and/or automated decision making

  4. Improved decision making will lead to greater profitability and efficiency outcomes, and may reduce the stresses of human interaction within highly complex systems (such as those found in agriculture).

You’ll note that each of these benefits flow neatly into the next (1 -> 4). Ultimately, IoT is all about using data in ways that have never before been available; leading to new ways of working and new perspectives on the future of our planet.

What does it have to offer agriculture?

Australian agriculture comprises some of the most complex and volatile systems of anywhere in the world. Our farming systems involve highly dynamic and diverse interactions, both within the natural ecosystems that we operate, and between the humans, technology and markets that determine our industry's profitability and long-term viability. Prior to IoT, these relationships have proven very difficult to quantify, measure, and improve upon.

In an agricultural IoT utopia, operations may take place in much the same way as our fridges will be restocked – just on a much larger and more commercial scale.

As you’ll find via a simple search of ‘IoT’ on AgTech Finder, there is an ever-increasing array of use cases for IoT technology in on-farm equipment and management tools. These solutions will typically span across the whole ‘technology stack’ (from physical sensors, to farm software, to cloud-based storage and communications):

Trying to summarise the value of these technologies into a paragraph is a difficult task, however to borrow from AgriFutures’ Emerging Technologies in Agriculture Report (2018), here are three benefits provided by IoT in agriculture:

  • Precision agriculture: IoT devices collect data that can help improve grower decision making, including the ability to cut costs, improve yields, monitor crops, and generally increase situational awareness across cropping enterprises.

  • Livestock monitoring: Wireless IoT applications can be used to monitor health, well-being, reproductive cycles and location of livestock. 

  • Improved supply chains: IoT is being utilised to monitor commodities as they move along value chains to ensure quality, safety, and efficiency, as well as enable traceability for consumers and regulators.

How do I get started with IoT? 

As with any new solution, the best first step to take when exploring the suitability of IoT for your business is to get inquisitive about it and to ask as many questions as possible (see below for suggestions). When in doubt, reach out to your own network. While IoT may sound like a buzzword, it is already widely and enthusiastically being used across the Australian agriculture sector. 

The best way to understand how IoT may be beneficial to your enterprise is to speak directly with vendors. AgTech Finder will help you narrow down which solutions may be well suited to your farm, then by contacting the providers directly they will be able to provide more targeted advice on how and where IoT may add the most value to your farm. 

If you find yourself getting caught up in marketing jargon or struggling to get to the crux of IoT’s value for you, here are a few questions that may help guide your search: 

  • So what is the problem I'm experiencing that this technology is designed to solve?

  • What will be the initial and ongoing costs of this solution? 

  • What sort of technical capability is required to operate this solution? 

  • How well can this solution integrate with other technology I currently use on my farm? 

  • What level of connectivity does this solution require to be effective? Would it work in my region? 

  • What is your customer support like? If the technology doesn’t work or it breaks down, who can I contact and how quickly will they respond? 

  • Have you serviced any other customers who are in a similar position to me? 

Above all else, it is our belief that IoT will be a critical technology for the future of agriculture and we are here to help make the transition as smooth as possible. If you have had experiences to-date with IoT (good or bad) we would love to know about them. Please shoot through all feedback to us at agtechfinder@foodagility.com.

Also, if you would like to know more about IoT and be involved in a free monthly discussion with members of the community working at the forefront of IoT in agrifood – please email ashley.rootsey@foodagility.com to join the IoTAA Agrifood Workstream.