How can we bring Internet of Things to the rural world?

Miguel Maroto    13 October, 2022
Photo: Paz Arando / Unsplash

This article examines the barriers to IoT entering the rural world with solutions that help farmers maximise the productivity of their farms.

It all started from a conversation I had a few days ago with my father, a small olive oil producer, and several of his friends, who are also small producers.

The conversation centred on the problems they are having with the irrigation systems on their farms. These problems were the most important ones:

  1. When it comes to irrigating olive groves in the irrigation community that manages all these farms, the farmer has no power to decide when it is the best time to irrigate, as the decision is taken centrally. As a result, there are farms where olive trees are drying up due to an excess of water rather than a lack of water.
  2. On the other hand, the costs associated with irrigation are very high, which means that many producers are not as profitable as they would like to be.

As an IoT expert, I explained that there are solutions on the market that can help solve both problems. On the one hand, to make a better decision on the best time to irrigate, and on the other hand, to improve the overall cost.

After having this conversation, I had the impression that, although the audience I was addressing was interested, there was a certain mistrust among them that led to reluctance to change.

Companies that provide IoT solutions must consider the agri-food sector in general, since, according to the Cajamar report on the Spanish agri-food sector in the European context, its weight in the Spanish GDP has increased to 9.7% in 2020. Moreover, according to Caixabank Research, this industry has surpassed its pre-crisis production level.

Despite the above, this industry is still facing two major problems, which were reflected in my conversation, where IoT solutions can provide a great help to mitigate them:

  • Climate change: in the case of Spain, one of the consequences is a reduction in the water available for irrigation in the different river basins. According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers study on the future of the agri-food sector, two thirds of the country is at risk of desertification.
  • Cost efficiency: in a scenario in which the price paid to the farmer of origin of some crops is increasingly lower, due to, among other things, competition from emerging countries where the cost of labour is much lower (PricewaterhouseCoopers), it is very important for the farmer to be cost efficient in order to maintain the profitability of the farm.

What kind of agriculture oriented IoT solutions are on the market?

These solutions currently focus on monitoring farms with the help of sensors (light, humidity, temperature, soil moisture, crop health, etc.) and using this information to automate certain farm components such as irrigation.

The final goals are:

  • To improve crop yields
  • To increase crop productivity
  • To reduce the consumption of agricultural inputs such as fertilisers, copper, etc.
  • To reduce water consumption

The benefits that this type of solution brings to the farmer include:

  • Improved crop yields
  • Help in planning activities
  • Increased product quality
  • Reduced costs for the farmer
  • Improved control of crop growth and yield factors
  • Increased food security
  • Climate change mitigation

What is Telefónica Tech doing in the Agro world?

Telefónica Tech team, led by Andrés Escribano, is working on smart farming solutions offering products and services that contribute to improve productivity, sustainability, as well as reducing costs in the use of resources.

Smart agriculture solutions combine different technologies such as IoT devices, Cloud platform, Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain. These solutions are focused on several product lines: digitalisation of the field either through IoT devices or by flying drones; management platform for decision support and automation of agricultural tasks; smart irrigation management; product for industrial agriculture based on indoor vertical farming systems; and solutions for traceability of production and certification of origin of agricultural products.

In short, I believe that companies that market IoT solutions and help farmers to solve their problems need to build a simple yet powerful message so that this profile, which does not usually have a technological background, understands and identifies what these types of solutions can do for their farm.

There must also be collaboration with the public administration to get this message across to all rural areas.

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