Exploring what IoT can do across the food chain

Have you ever imagined how IoT transforms agriculture? Well, here are some examples and ideas to help you better understand this space.
27 August 2018 | 145 Shares

IoT can do a lot for food and agriculture. Source: Shutterstock.

When you think of agriculture in the digital age, you think of satellite-based weather forecast and maybe some AI-powered number crunching on production data.

However, imagining and understanding what the internet of things (IoT) can offer to agriculture and the food chain take a little help.

The truth is, away from the eyes of the common industrialist, agriculture has gone through quite a digital transformation already and adopted quite a few technology-powered solutions.

Among all those solutions, IoT seems to have made a huge dent in how food is produced, processed, and provided to people in today’s world. Here are some examples:

Primary production

Producing crops for human consumption is not an easy task. It takes a lot of effort and diligence. Each crop has a different set of requirements and requires a specific environment that facilitates growth.

Whether you’re thinking of spinach, avocados, coffee, or even sugar, everything requires a specific climate and atmosphere to grow. Cattle and other livestock too, need specific feed and medicines for optimal growth.

However, with weather changes more frequent than ever before, and with advancements in agricultural and veterinary sciences, it’s important to take care of the primary production process.

IoT, through sensors and drones, makes it possible to better monitor the soil and livestock, in real time — which enables them to take better care of their crops and animals — ensuring they’re always at optimal health.

Some examples of such agriculture IoT devices are allMETEO, Smart Elements, and Pycno.

A monitoring device by Pycno.

A monitoring device by Pycno. Source: Twitter / pycno

Logistics and storage

The logistics and storage arena is outside the farmland but is one of the most critical to the health of crops and livestock. Do it wrong and you’ll undo all the work that farmers have put into their agricultural produce.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to logistics and storage is that the crops, once harvested, need to be maintained at certain temperatures and in certain specific conditions. Failing to do so can cause them to spoil, attract insects, grow molds, or accelerate rotting.

IoT, in logistics and storage, primarily comprises of sensors and helps make sure that the produce stays fresh, while it is moved from the origin to the destination where it will be processed or consumed.

In essence, IoT turbocharges port management, warehouse management, temperature regulation, and fleet management to optimize for final consumption.

The World Bank, for example, recently showcased the SmartMoo IoT platform which can acquire data via sensors that are embedded in milking systems, animal wearables, milk chilling equipment, and milk procurement peripherals.

The data is transmitted back to the platform to be analyzed and disseminated to various stakeholders over low-end and smart mobile devices.

Wholesale

Finally, the first point of commerce for farmers, the wholesale market brings together buyers and sellers of all sizes. It is at the wholesale market that farmers typically hand over their goods to a buyer for a price.

However, the buyer is usually not the end consumer — making the purchase in order to trade further or use the produce as raw materials (or ingredients) for something else.

Similar to the logistics and storage market, in wholesaling, IoT powered sensors power warehouse management, cold chain management, inventory control, and origin traceability.

In essence, they help make sure that the optimal temperature and conditions are maintained for the storage of each crop, and that each batch purchased or sold can be traced back to its origins in case of abnormalities or other issues encountered.

Manufacturing

There’s a lot of use for IoT in manufacturing food products. Not only does it help maintain quality but also ensures the production facility produces safer food, automated maintenance, fleet management, and inventory control.

Using IoT, manufacturers can improve the quality of the product they create and make sure that the raw materials they use are at their optimum.

IoT can also help bring down the cost of production by reducing one of the biggest items of cost — wastage. Being able to monitor, in real time, the weather conditions and the environment in a production facility ensure that no raw materials are wasted.

IoT also helps manufacturers comply with prevailing regulations. To meet stipulations of the FDA FSMA (food safety modernization act) manufacturers can set up proactive plans to prevent quality and safety issues. In order to do so, it can collect data that could give insight into potential issues before they occur.

Retail

Finally, food manufacturers send over their products to the retail store for sale. Whether it is something as simple as ‘polished rice’ or something as complex as cookies, the retail store contains a mix of products from farms across the world.

In some cases, the retail store also houses food products that come directly from the farm.

The primary role of IoT in the retail space is to minimize spoilage. Sensors and chips in different form factors and performing different functions – from tracking the position and location of foods to analyzing the conditions a certain food product is subjected to, sensors can help collect data in real-time and keep produce safe, preserving taste and nutrition in whatever is sold.