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Smart farming: leveraging digitalization and the Internet of Things

Farmer using smart farming techniques to optimize his yield

Farmers around the world are realizing how important digital technology, robotics, image recognition, sensors, precision farming, big data and analytics are to ensuring the future profitability of their industry, addressing sustainability issues, and improving resilience in the face of climate change. As someone who grew up on a farm, the role of technology in agriculture is of particular interest to me. In my own experience over the years I have found farmers to be incredible entrepreneurs who are always looking for ways to improve resource efficiency. For example, my father was an early adopter of automation technology to help feed the pigs and to increase crop yield. He also used technology as much as possible to optimize the economic administration of the business. At 87, he is now retired, but he still uses the internet every day.

Embracing smart farming solutions

In many ways, farming is a business like any other, with profitability being one of the key priorities. Achieving long-term, stable profitability in an agricultural context requires reliable yields. One of the main benefits of a smart farming approach from the farmers’ perspective is that it helps them increase their yields while simultaneously optimizing the inputs required, thereby reducing costs. The ability to adapt more quickly to new weather conditions is also of great value to farmers. From a societal perspective, one of the main benefits of smart farming solutions beyond improved food security is the positive environmental and climate impact due to reduced leakage and waste.

Understanding the needs of farmers

In recent months my colleagues and I have attended a number of agriculture-themed events in different parts of the world to better understand the needs of farmers. We have also taken the opportunity to share our perspective on the ways in which our Internet of Things (IoT) technology can support farmers to increase their yields, minimize negative environmental impacts and improve resilience in the face of climate change.

Connected devices make it possible to gather large amounts of data that can be used to optimize processes and increase understanding of relevant agricultural parameters such as humidity, local rainfall and temperature variations. Another benefit is that they help farmers to minimize (or even eliminate) the use of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals, thereby reducing the amounts that make their way into lakes and waterways.

The digitalization of agriculture can also help make farming more attractive to young people. In some parts of the world, farmers are approaching retirement age, and there is a need to attract younger people into the industry. The ability to use a phone or tablet to remotely control processes and devices increases the speed of decision making as well as offering more flexibility to farmers and their employees.

Providing IoT support to remote locations

One of the key enablers of smart farming solutions is cellular network operators’ ability to deliver reliable support for IoT devices in locations where it is currently difficult to get cellular phone coverage. One example of how we are working to address this is our recent project in Australia where we worked with the operator Telstra to deploy and test narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) data connections up to 100km from a base station in Telstra’s commercial network. This is the longest-range NB-IoT connection of its kind, and a key milestone towards increasing Telstra’s LTE footprint in rural and regional Australia.

Leveraging NB-IoT

NB-IoT is a standards-based low power wide area (LPWA) technology developed to enable a wide range of new IoT devices and services. It significantly improves the power consumption of user devices, system capacity and spectrum efficiency, especially in deep coverage. Battery life of more than 10 years can be supported for a wide range of use cases. It also benefits from all the security and privacy features of mobile networks, such as support for user identity confidentiality, entity authentication, confidentiality, data integrity, and mobile equipment identification.

Incorporating eSIM cards into farming equipment

eSIM cards will play a crucial role in the smart farming solutions of the future. Integrating them into different kinds of farming equipment makes it much easier to manage a product throughout its lifecycle, which makes it easier for farming equipment providers to deploy smart farming solutions. Equipment that contains eSIM cards automatically senses its location via the cellular network and can receive its own software updates.

Benefits of NB-IoT and Cat M1

In industries around the globe, the IoT is supporting digital transformation and development of new business models and offerings. By building on existing cellular networks, billions of IoT devices can be connected. To learn more about the role that connectivity plays in the IoT, check out the IoT connectivity page and the on our website. More information about the benefits of NB-IoT and Cat-M1 (for LTE standard) is available on the massive IoT page.

Written by Matilda Gennvi-Gustafsson

Matilda's early career was in the area of environmental and production management in the food industry. Since joining Ericsson in 1997 she has focused on sustainability, business and change management. From 2009-17 she served as a sustainability director at group level focusing on strategy, climate action and how ICT can accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). As of 2018 she works within the Internet of Things (IoT) unit, integrating business and doing good.

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