IoT monitoring technology is helping the global agricultural sector to meet strict global import requirements and accelerate the production of food, according to research from satellite communications company Inmarsat.
By 2050, the world’s population is set to be a third larger than it is today, reaching 9.7 billion people, the United Nations World Population Prospects report suggests. To meet this growth and properly feed the population, global food production must increase by 70 percent.
However, with 46 percent of the world’s land surface already in use for food production, and climate change predicted to cut crop yields by more than 25 percent, the problem of food poverty is not insignificant. In fact, global drought and food shortages are already affecting 70 million globally.
Writing in a company blog post, Inmarsat says: “If agriculture is going to continue to feed the world adequately, it needs to find new ways to increase its yields produce more food using fewer resources, and to limit its impact on the environment.”
Smarter, leaner, faster farming
Part of the answer to the problem of how food producers become “smarter, leaner and faster” could lie in new technology, and particularly IoT. In its report, The Future of IoT in Enterprise 2017, Inmarsat finds that agritech businesses, which are using technology to improve the precision of farming, believe IoT is crucial to the future of food production.
“Without accurate data, other technologies like automation, machine learning and robotics become either redundant or at least far less effective than they could be,” the report claims. “The IoT functions as the eyes and ears for all other technology in the era of digital transformation.”
In particular, IoT monitoring technology is helping producers to meet very strict import regulations. Both the United States and the European Union (EU) have been raising import standards as concerns about sustainable and safe food production gather pace by, for example, imposing new traceability standards on fish imports.
Inmarsat says that IoT sensors can help the industry to keep track of their produce “from farm to fork”, ensuring that producers stick to import standards. Taking the example of fish farms, the company notes that, “The largest operational cost for these farms is the feed that they need to provide to maximize growth in their livestock. By placing sensors above and below the waterline in fish pens, they can monitor water temperature, oxygen levels, and water currents. These three data sets are then analysed for the optimum time for feeding, minimizing food wastage.”
The benefits of this technology are reflected in the replies to Inmarsat’s survey. As many as 49 percent of agritech respondents rank monitoring and improving health and safety due to industry and government regulation requirements as the main priority in the deployment of IoT applications for the agricultural sector, while environmental monitoring was the second most important priority.
Read more: Farming industry ‘already embracing IoT’
Food producers “rising to the challenge”
For Paul Gudonis, president of Inmarsat Enterprise, IoT is significant in agriculture because “consumers are becoming more conscious of where their food is coming from and how this is impacting their environment and carbon footprint, whilst also developing a taste for organic and ethically sourced produce.
“With government environmental standards reinforcing these trends and becoming more stringent, environmental, social and financial sustainability is now at the top of the agricultural agenda. This creates a framework of complex standards and regulations, many of which present logistical and operational challenges for the agritech industry.
“We are seeing food producers rising to the challenge by deploying technology to improve traceability and increase visibility over their operations, leading to access into the richest food markets as they are able to easily demonstrate compliance with these standards. Not only will this stand to enrich developing economies, it will also increase competition and lower prices in developed markets, while importantly conserving our precious natural resources,” concludes Gudonis.