The future of ‘Smart’ farming – leveraging digital technology to farm more efficiently – is inextricably linked to our ability to ‘connect’ farms via the internet. ‘Smart’ farming depends on exchanging data with, within and between farms. The speed of connection is critical and if we don’t have adequate bandwidth in regional Australia we will miss out on the third wave of the internet.
‘Wave 1’ of the internet was connecting people to data via the World Wide Web (1990s); ‘Wave 2’ was about connecting people to people, via, email, Facebook and Twitter (2000s); and ‘Wave 3’ is connecting people to ‘things’ and ‘things to things’ without people necessarily getting involved in the transaction. The technology industry calls this wave “the Internet of Things” or more dryly, “machine to machine” communications.
The potential applications are endless: exchanging speed and proximity data, cars could automatically avoid or moderate collisions; a wrist-worn heat monitor could continuously communicate with your doctor’s system only alerting you and your doctor if needed; a farm irrigation control system could communicate with a local weather station to automatically save water prior to a rain event.
Analysts have projected that the Internet of Things (IoT), may contribute $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030 (‘industrial internet’) and $6.5 billion to Australian economy in next 4 years. These projections focus on the automotive industry, intelligent buildings and mining but have not factored in the massive potential gains in farming!
The recent review of NBN Co’s satellite and fixed-wireless programs estimated the demand for high-speed internet in rural and regional Australia to be three times greater than originally anticipated only six years earlier.
Advances in wireless sensor networks (WSNs) coupled with in-situ, low-cost sensors of soil moisture, plant biomass and local climate conditions means our fields and even our livestock are set to become sources of high quality, real-time, biophysical data. Add to this intelligent and autonomous systems both on ground and in the air to meet the needs of surveillance, timely resource management and improving work flow.
Smart farming now, and certainly in the next 5 -10 years will be about our ability to communicate with, within and between farms. Connection and communication is the key.