Big Ticket Items: IoT’s True Value Emerging Through Farm Machinery

Farms need to do more with less than ever before to remain competitive. This is especially true when it comes to big ticket items like agricultural machinery. We’re now seeing the implementation of new Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to track, analyze and act on data from machines like tractors, combines, planters and pickers. When paired specifically with ag machinery, these technologies will unlock the true value of unused data sources to drive new efficiencies in an increasingly resource-constrained world.

IoT technologies are much more than smart doorbells or smartphone-controlled lighting. It’s the industrial applications of IoT, rather than the consumer, that stand to make the greatest impact on how business is done, and agriculture will be a big part of that. While we’ve seen internet connected technologies in ag for over a decade, these applications have generally utilized what I like to call IoT 1.0, meaning: sensor + datalogger + cell modem = website with data. Now we’re seeing something new. By taking advantage of lower costs in both sensor and computing hardware and applying layers of analytical software, we’re poised for an explosion of new connected solutions. This explosion will be felt, in terms of adoption and value created, nowhere in ag as strongly as farm machinery.

Benefits of IoT tech for farm machinery

The emergence of IoT technologies for heavy machinery makes sense for a number of reasons. To start, a tractor and attachment are the largest capital goods a farmer will buy. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, tractors and equipment accounted for roughly 65 percent of a farmer’s capital expenditures in 2013. As a result, it’s vital to put this capital to work by driving up efficiency and driving down idle time. New IoT solutions are aimed at exactly that. By pulling harvested crop data via machine embedded sensors in real-time, a farm manager who is miles away can see how certain crews are doing relative to others. This also enables them to more effectively manage downstream operations such as transportation, distribution and storage by diverting more resources to high performing crews. Going one step further, we’re seeing applications developed to automate asset dispatch so that trucks are diverted to a soon-to-be-full harvester.

Source: Agricultural Economic Insights

Another reason for the close relationship between IoT and machinery is the sheer amount of data produced. According to Monsanto, sensors deployed on harvesters can collect up to 7GB of data per acre. Tractor manufacturers themselves are already gathering massive amounts of data on everything from engine performance to operator seat positions. OEM’s of attachments like harvesters are also starting to do the same with sensors and software that can measure the weight of harvested product in real-time (Figure 1). Another example is a tiller attachment calculating clay content of soil based on resistance sensors that, coupled with GPS feeds, can compile detailed soil composition maps. While upwards of 80 percent of a machine’s data might go unused today, don’t expect it to go to waste for long. As advanced analytics at the tractor level and in the cloud catch up to the data produced, it’s expected that value will be there sooner rather than later.

Example IoT Data Flow for Machinery

This data has the potential to change how business is done. Most of the data captured from these devices can be used to directly affect the farmer’s decisions, but a growing set of data can also drive new revenue streams, new services and entirely new products. One of the most common of these new revenue streams for big machinery OEMs is preventative maintenance. While a farmer might not be aware of an issue during operation, multiple sensors can measure vibration, noise, stress and resistance of vital parts within the machine. This data can predict when parts might fail before they actually do, thus opening up a new service opportunity for machinery vendors. Other downstream sectors can also benefit from data collected by machinery. For example, a packing/cooling facility might be open to paying for access to real-time harvest data so they could be better prepared to receive product.

Lastly, we have recently heard a lot about farm labor shortages affecting all sectors of ag. Between 2002 and 2012 the number of new field and crop workers immigrating to the United States fell by roughly 75 percent, according to the New American Economy Organization. IoT technology for machinery can help solve the labor shortage problem by driving operational efficiencies with mechanized harvesting of crops that once had to be hand-picked. In my agricultural backyard of the Salinas Valley, lettuce producers are starting to deploy new harvesters that slice off heads of lettuce using supersonic jets of water, and strawberry growers are testing robotic picking machines that utilize IoT and edge (field level) computing power to scan for red, ripe berries for harvest by robotic arms. An interesting byproduct of this automation technology has actually been more interest in harvest related jobs. In fact, according to Taylor Farms – one of the nation’s largest lettuce producers – they have recorded a larger number of new workers in their 20s and 30s applying specifically to work on the new automated machine crews due to interest in this technology.

Challenges to overcome with IoT machinery for ag

As with the emergence of all new technology, however, challenges do exist. Agriculture is tremendously specialized, so a particular technology applied to potatoes, for example, might not be applicable to onions. Additionally, technology providers must navigate a variety of sensor types, data interfaces and connectivity options. As a result, bringing these technologies and knowhow together into full IoT solutions is becoming just as valuable as the core technology itself. Another challenge that must be overcome is data access since data from one source is often siloed and difficult to access from outside that ecosystem. For example, a tractor with a proprietary data collection system may not allow other data to be accessed outside of their system. As a result, some parts of a farm might struggle to benefit from the data captured in others, and this should be considered when developing or evaluating IoT solutions.

The good news is that a growing number of technology providers are addressing these challenges. At Infiswift, we’re leveraging our scalable and hardware agnostic IoT platform to help OEMs and other enterprises commercialize and deploy IoT enabled technologies. What’s different is that these solutions take advantage of increasingly commoditized hardware and use any form of data connectivity (Bluetooth, ZigBee, WiFi, cellular, Low-Power WAN, etc.) based on the application requirements. On the software side, infiswift can deploy computing power and intelligence at the edge (field level) and in the cloud (server level) to gather data that is open to any user. This flexible solution is customized for each customer’s specific needs and drives costs down by minimizing cloud and data communications costs.

As we move into a future where everything is connected and the utilization of data becomes increasingly important, we need to be active in ensuring these new technologies are designed and exist to help drive value – whether that’s through increasing efficiency, decreasing failure rates or providing new levels of operational insight. Big machines will likely be where this revolution starts, but won’t be where it ends. That means that you’ll have to bring your imagination because the next round of IoT-driven technologies will only exist if people are able to connect the dots between a potential source of data and a solution that might not yet exist.

Leave a Reply

International Stories
InternationalUsing Precision Agriculture to Control Herbicide-Resistant Weeds in Brazil
July 24, 2017
The occurrence of weeds in agricultural fields of grain and fiber production has caused losses to farmers for a long Read More
Yield Data Image
Data ManagementYield Data: More Than a Pretty Picture
July 13, 2017
It is mid-July, which, for the Australian cotton industry, means that picking is still going on for some growers. A Read More
InternationalLAP and ABPSAP: Advancing Precision Agriculture in Brazil
July 5, 2017
In this article, I would like to highlight two important entities of precision agriculture in Brazil. The first of these Read More
Cotton closeup
Imagery/SensingCotton Growth Management with Precision Agriculture
June 20, 2017
A cotton crop presents some important differences to other commodities that are widely produced in Brazil, such as soybean and Read More
Trending Articles
InternationalUsing Precision Agriculture to Control Herbicide-Resistant Weeds in Brazil
July 24, 2017
The occurrence of weeds in agricultural fields of grain and fiber production has caused losses to farmers for a long Read More
Yield Data Image
Data ManagementYield Data: More Than a Pretty Picture
July 13, 2017
It is mid-July, which, for the Australian cotton industry, means that picking is still going on for some growers. A Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
ProfessionalsPatience Needed: Lessons for Getting New Tech onto the Farm
July 6, 2017
A popular joke within the tech industry was trotted out at GAI AgTech Week in Boston, MA, speaking volumes about Read More
PrecisionAg Vision Conference
EventsPrecisionAg® Vision Conference: Focused on the Future
June 13, 2017
PrecisionAg® is pleased to announce the return of its PrecisionAg Vision Conference, October 10-12, 2017. Based on overwhelmingly positive response Read More
Gavin Newsom Forbes AgTech-Summit
ProfessionalsAgTech Summit Aiming High for Modern Farming Solutions
June 12, 2017
THRIVE AgTech, in partnership with SVG Partners and Forbes, is hosting the third annual Forbes AgTech Summit June 28-29 in Read More
Quantix Drone Farmer
DronesTop 10 Most Intriguing Technologies in Agriculture
June 3, 2017
This may be a bit of stating the obvious here, but we’ll throw it out there anyways: as much as Read More
Latest News
John Deere Headquarters Reuters Eric Thayer
Data ManagementAnother Integration: Deere, Granular Link Up
July 26, 2017
John Deere and Granular announced today a product development and co-marketing agreement that gives John Deere customers more tools to Read More
Senet Network
Sensors/IoTSenet, Sensoterra to Deliver Real-Time Soil Moisture Mo…
July 26, 2017
Senet, a provider of global connectivity and network management for the Internet of Things, and Sensoterra BV, a provider of Read More
AGCO White planter 9800VE
Systems ManagementAGCO to Acquire Precision Planting
July 26, 2017
AGCO and The Climate Corp. announced today that a definitive agreement has been signed for AGCO to acquire the Precision Read More
Data ManagementTrimble, CNH Collaborate on Data Sharing Connectivity
July 26, 2017
Trimble and CNH Industrial, a global leader in agricultural equipment, have announced they are enabling wireless connectivity between Trimble Ag Read More
Imagery/SensingEFC Systems Announces Imagery Delivery Integration with…
July 25, 2017
EFC Systems, Inc. has announced a new integration between its FieldAlytics product and Geosys Bridge API for direct delivery of Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementProspera Raises $15 Million to Transform Farms with Dat…
July 25, 2017
Digital farming company Prospera has announced a $15 million Series B funding round. Qualcomm Ventures, the investment arm of Qualcomm Read More
InternationalUsing Precision Agriculture to Control Herbicide-Resist…
July 24, 2017
The occurrence of weeds in agricultural fields of grain and fiber production has caused losses to farmers for a long Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsFarm Dog Strengthens its Integration with John Deere Op…
July 24, 2017
Farm Dog, the leading pest and disease management platform for growers and agronomists, has completed the second stage of its Read More
Industry NewsLindsay Corp. Names Dow’s Timothy Hassinger New C…
July 19, 2017
Lindsay Corp. has  announced the appointment of Timothy Hassinger as president and CEO and a member of its board of Read More
InfoAg 2015
Events2017 Awards of Excellence Winners Announced
July 18, 2017
PrecisionAg Institute is pleased to announce its Awards of Excellence winners for 2017. Honorees of this year’s prestigious award are Read More
Interseeding Cover Crops
ProfessionalsA 3-Step Approach to Interseeding Cover Crops
July 18, 2017
As growers continue to search for opportunities to create healthier soils and increase yields, more trusted advisors and farmers are Read More
Rod Weimer and Paul Schrimpf
Excellence AwardsPast Recipients Of The PrecisionAg Awards Of Excellence
July 18, 2017
Since 2007, the PrecisionAg Insititute has sponsored the annual Awards of Excellence program. Here's a list of the past winners. Read More
Data ManagementEFC Announces FieldAlytics, Adapt-N Expanded Integratio…
July 17, 2017
EFC Systems is pleased to announce an expanded integration between its FieldAlytics product and Agronomic Technology Corp’s Adapt-N nitrogen recommendations Read More
Data ManagementOpinion: Benchmarking in Precision Agriculture is Big S…
July 17, 2017
Benchmarking has become a buzzword in precision agriculture recently and before we get too excited with all of the profound Read More
Yield Data Image
Data ManagementYield Data: More Than a Pretty Picture
July 13, 2017
It is mid-July, which, for the Australian cotton industry, means that picking is still going on for some growers. A Read More
Industry NewsQuick Rewind: Ohio Dealer Talks Deere-Precision Plantin…
July 12, 2017
A few weeks ago I took a quick trip south down I-71 to Central Ohio (for you non-Buckeyes, I-71 runs Read More
DronesSentera Launches Versatile Quad Sensor for Drones
July 12, 2017
Fully Customizable Filters on Sentera Quad Sensor Allow for Unique Crop Health Detection Capabilities Sentera introduces the latest update to Read More
Hortau Irrigation Management Software
Sensors/IoTHortau Named Finalist for CogX Artificial Intelligence …
July 10, 2017
Hortau was recently named a CogX Award finalist in the Best Artificial Intelligence Product in Agriculture category. The awards were Read More