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  • Cloud based solutions enable 50% savings
  • Sensors can transmit vital information over 50 kilometres
  • Digital data speeds up compliance reports

The implementation of the cloud, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 can offer benefits to the agriculture industry by enabling farmers to optimise their operations through digital transformation, thus feeding the world more efficiently and sustainably.

Global demand for food is expected to double by 2050 and farms will need to scale up production to accommodate this demand. Farmers must also increase their sustainability efforts – around two-thirds of South Africa’s water is used for agricultural purposes, specifically irrigation and, as South Africa is ranked as the 30th driest country in the world and a high water-stressed country, efficient and effective use of this finite resource is critical.

“Schneider Electric foresees three trends that will digitally transform agriculture,” explains Marc Ramsay, ‎Vice President Anglophone Africa Industry Business Unit at Schneider Electric.  “These are cloud based deployment, improved visibility and control of equipment and the need to be sustainable and compliant.”

Implement lightweight cloud deployments

One traditional barrier to adoption for digital transformation in agriculture is the mismatched capital investment and existing infrastructure, as the average farm was not built to handle large, on-premises software installations. Cloud-based solutions are crucial to expanding digital capabilities to farms – a cloud-based solution allows farmers to experience the benefits of digital transformation without extensive capital investment or large IT overhead. Selecting a scalable, hardware-agnostic cloud solution allows farmers to build on top of existing hardware easily, without worrying about interoperability issues.

Focus on improved visibility and control

Farmers operate in a very time-sensitive environment, where they need to be responsive to quickly shifting weather, crop and market conditions. Furthermore, fields and equipment are kilometres apart, which means that conducting accurate, on-site assessments requires extensive travel time. Farmers can realise significant benefit from digital transformation solutions that allow them to see how their equipment is performing, whenever and wherever they are. Advanced cloud and mobility capabilities mean farmers can view the status of critical equipment such as irrigation pivots, AND they can control it – directly from their smartphones, tablets or other mobile devices – so pivots can be turned on or off, water delivery adjusted, or pumps started or stopped.

Enhance sustainability, efficiency and regulatory compliance

The enhanced visibility and control provided by digital transformation allows farmers to use their resources more efficiently, reducing costs and increasing sustainability. For instance, a cloud-based IoT system allows users to adjust their irrigation pivots based on rain levels, allowing farmers to reduce water and energy costs. One farmer has reported a 50% reduction in energy costs and up to 50% reduction in water flowing through his meters – attributed entirely to the increased visibility the cloud IoT solution has provided.

Another major cost that farmers face is their regulatory burden, with increasing environmental regulations requiring extensive documentation to show compliance. Digitised solutions provide extensive archived data stores, enabling fast retrieval of key information for improved regulatory compliance.

New technologies breach distance

New low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) wireless technologies have broken through the 100-metre ceiling and now reach up to a 50-kilometre distance. This allows new LPWAN enabled sensors to detect and respond to environmental inputs (such as position, pressure, or other event-driven state changes) and then send a signal to a remote transmission station and then on to the cloud.

“The sensors connect to the cloud using antennas similar to mobile phone antennas that access traditional wireless networks via cell phone towers. Once transmitted to the cloud, the sensor data is interpreted by applications that reside on our servers and then transmitted to a laptop, or to an application on a tablet or cell phone,” continues Ramsay.

“Schneider Electric demonstrated these sensor-based applications at the IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona Spain in late 2017. One of the test beds demonstrated an irrigation system that provides water to crops. Until now, irrigation ramps were not able to support any type of sensor because the data created was not retrievable. The new technology enables global sharing of information as it pertains to water pressure so that efficiency and energy can both be optimised.

The second test bed illustrated how a distant valve can be monitored so that accidental release of wastewater and harmful chemicals into a river or lake can be avoided. If the valve is open, information is sent to an operator via an alarm on a mobile device.

“Schneider Electric has collaborated with Microsoft to provide the Azure cloud infrastructure, which enables irrigation monitoring and control from mobile devices, improving operational agility, efficiency and sustainability. The cloud management technology ensures that information can be shared quickly and conveniently with key stakeholders. We look forward to assisting the South African agricultural industry into a digitised future,” concludes Ramsay.

Media release by Schneider Electric

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