When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), there is a lot of excitement around connected factories and cities, but what about more remote parts of the world? How could connected devices help those communities?
Farming is a great example of a rural industry already benefitting hugely from implementing this technology.
By using various digital tools, farmers are able to gain better control over processes such as raising livestock and growing crops, improving overall productivity and efficiency.
For German dairy farmer Philipp Ellerbrock, IoT means that his smartphone is his new office.
Thanks to sensors monitoring his cows, even when he’s on the go, Philipp always knows exactly how his cows are doing, whether they are healthy and even when they are going to calve.
Created by smaXtec and connected through the Vodafone internet of things platform, these sensors are swallowed by the animal and lie in the rumen – one of the cow’s four stomachs – for around four years.
Measuring the body’s internal temperature, detecting movement patterns and analysing the animals’ drinking and feeding behaviour, this data is all sent straight to the farmer’s mobile phone. The mobile app can then make recommendations for intervention where necessary.
This way, farmers know exactly when a cow is too hot or needs more water; if it’s suffering from a fever or when it needs help during the birthing process. This information could be vital in ensuring the animal’s safety, especially in the instance of calving where human assistance is vital.
The connected milk can
Image: Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO of Vodafone Germany and dairy farmer Philipp Ellerbrock
Connected devices don’t just track livestock, they can also be hugely beneficial with production too.
To help monitor and refine milk production, Vodafone worked with Philipp design a prototype connected milk can.
A fixed infrared sensor in the can continuously monitor its location, liquid level and the temperature of the milk.
All information is then transmitted to the farmer at regular intervals via a specific low power, wide area network called Narrowband IoT. Devices on this network require significantly less maintenance, with the average battery life lasting up to ten years or more.
This means that farmers, and any business that needs to connect devices in difficult to access places, can see a significant return on their investment before any upgrades are required.
Elevating the basics
Ensuring cows deliver high volumes of quality milk requires a good, balanced diet, and technology can help with this too.
Working with an award-winning feed management company, Alltech, we have been able to enhance its Intouch solution. Intouch provides farmers with around-the-clock support and personalised nutritional advice to help them maximise performance.
Using IoT and cloud, the organisation is now able to analyse its machines on a global scale, spotting anomalies such as too much feed going into the machine, feed being mixed for too long or not enough feed being delivered to the pen.
Any detection of such instances alerts one of Alltech’s nutritionists, who calls the farmer directly to discuss the problem and recommend a response. An instruction can then be sent back to the machine remotely to amend the issue.
By easily tracking feed costs and usage levels, with accurate inventory management, farmers can fine tune the process to be more efficient, delivering a positive impact production and overall animal health.
This consistent rationing of food to more than 1,000 herds in the UK and France showed that using the InTouch system increased feed efficiency by 10%, while milk yields increased by 1.75kg per cow per day.
Milking the success
We believe that in the future, sensors and IoT will become just as important to farming as a pitchfork and tractor – giving a level of precision and control that has never before been possible.
Innovations such as smart agricultural vehicles, drones and autonomous robots are on the increase and smart agricultural spaces such as vertical farming are allowing new players to enter the market.
If businesses are to survive in what is already a tough industry, digitalisation is key and adoption might be easier than you think.
We’re proud to have recently launched Vodafone Business App Invent, a platform which enables more businesses to take advantage of the benefits of digitalisation, enabling them to achieve better business outcomes and keep growing.
IoT and the data it yields represents a huge opportunity for the agriculture industry, and we predict that many more leaders in the field will soon take advantage.