In combination with government environmental regulations and pressure exerted by shareholders environmental, social and financial sustainability has been pushed to the top of the agricultural agenda. The net result is a framework of complex standards and regulations, many of which present logistical and operational challenges for the industry.

The need for sustainability has been one of the core drivers of IoT in the agricultural sector; technology that makes it possible to gain a clear picture of the journey that food takes from ‘seed to bin’ and from ‘farm to fork’

— Ayan Jobse-Alkemade, Director, Agritech

When we asked agritech respondents what their priorities for IoT deployments were, the highest responses were for monitoring and improving the health and safety of the workforce, and monitoring the environment.

49%

of agritech respondents are exploring IoT in order to address industry and government regulatory challenges

As stewards of the environment, agricultural businesses face the need to comply with standards designed to protect against agricultural damage. The pressure on the environment created by agriculture is well known in developed economies and there has been a steady growth in regulation over the last 40 years. Moreover, this pressure is rapidly growing, and as food production becomes increasingly globalised, developed country standards are being transferred to developing countries as a pre-condition of agricultural businesses exporting into western markets.

 

What are your organisation's priority areas for the deployment of its IoT-based solutions?

49%

49%

Monitoring health and safety

48%

48%

Monitoring environmental changes

45%

45%

Identifying cost saving opportunities

41%

41%

Greater automation

40%

40%

Monitoring customer engagement

26%

26%

Developing awareness of trends

17%

17%

Decreasing problem resolution times

15%

15%

Speeding up time to market

For example, Indonesia faces restrictions on its ability to export fish into both the United States and the European Union due to standards in traceability now required by the United States Department of Agriculture, for all fish entering these markets. In recent years, both markets have been more relaxed about enforcing traceability standards but pressure is increasing. The Indonesian fishing fleet – one of the largest in the world – needs to show the location of where fish have been caught, and prove that they have been caught in a sustainable way.

A key part of this is the installation of IoT sensors into the fishing fleet to track fishing activity and prove that fish are not being caught in overfished regions. Additionally the monitoring makes the lives of fishermen safer, as they are tracked combatting piracy and making them easier to insure.

Farmers also need to become better at resource efficiency. As the global population increases so will their demand for water and it is likely that the need for drinking water will come into direct competition with the need for water in agricultural production. This is already happening – California has suffered a drought since 2011, with the Governor of the state, Jerry Brown, only declaring it over in April 2017. This protracted period created huge strains on agricultural production and led to clashes between farmers and environmental groups.

Water in food production is unavoidable but to meet existing regulations, and to prevent heavier restrictions in future, farmers need to adopt the most efficient use of water possible. Farmers in the US state have taken proactive measures to limit their use of water where they can. At present, 80 per cent of the world’s production of almonds happens in California and a single nut consumes about a gallon of water before it reaches the supermarket according to the Almond Board of California.

IoT moisture sensors have been successfully deployed in many farms in the region – sending data to drip feed taps in the fields so water is only delivered to plants when they need it. This has reduced water output by about 20 per cent in successful deployments.

Environmental protection is not the only regulatory phenomenon happening in the agricultural sector. According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), agriculture, forestry and fishing are the riskiest sectors to work in and have one of the highest fatality rates of any area of employment. The most common forms of injury or death come from being struck by moving vehicles or objects, falls from height and contact with machinery. Agri-businesses are constantly trying to find new ways to keep their workers safe from the many risks that they face. Technology can play an important role in these areas by limiting or removing the source of risk to workers or by removing the need for humans to be present at all in some of the most hazardous areas. Automation and robotics – both enabled by the use of IoT can play a significant factor in reducing the incidence of injury to workers.

Number of fatal injuries to workers in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector in the UK (2010/11-2015/16) SOURCE: HSE

19.9% Struck by moving vehicle - 37 cases
15.6% Struck by object - 29 cases
14.5% Fall from height - 27 cases
12.4% Injured by an animal - 23 cases
10.2% Contact with machinery - 19 cases
27.4% Other - 51 cases

Looking globally, without the greater use of technology, there will likely be a ‘health and safety squeeze’ in the coming decades. Most of the population increase over the next half century will occur in the developing world meaning the pressure to increase food production will be higher here than anywhere else. Economies in these areas also stand to expand the most, diversifying into more areas and stretching a more educated workforce into different jobs. There will therefore likely be a drop in the available labour workforce for agricultural production, placing a premium on workers and a need to use them as efficiently as possible, while increasing the need to keep them safe.

In both regulatory spheres, IoT, combined with other elements of digital transformation, are essential to minimise the burden and costs of new regulations. IoT can boost the globalisation of food production, enable access to new markets and create greater prosperity in the developing world. It can also create a safer working environment in what is currently one of the most dangerous places to work. No wonder it is such a focus for agritech businesses today.

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