Can the edge help prevent global famine? 

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Edge networking, IoT, agriculture.

Did you know that the world must increase food production by up to 70% in less than 30 years, whilst we battle a growing climate crisis? This is a significant challenge, and not overcoming it will push millions into famine across the world. A large part of the solution lies in IoT and a vast web of Edge infrastructure that numerous other industries will tap into. 

We are facing an enormous climate crisis. To make things more challenging, our population continues to increase which in turn intensifies food production strains and climate concerns. Many of the tools used by the agricultural industry to battle such issues over the past 50 years are now proving redundant as farming becomes a precision activity. 

Enter data and connectivity.

There are currently several rural telcos and tech providers in the US that are installing simple applications to boost productivity in rural US farms by bringing cloud computing to the edge in rural areas. Installing simple applications and hardware such as monitors and sensors can boost productivity by 10%. Connect these applications to a distributed cloud and you can achieve precision farming through the use of sensors, monitors, drones and robots, aided by edge networking. 

We explain a little bit more about how this works, what the challenges are, and the scope for its future.

Let's recap on what edge computing/networking is

Edge computing provides intelligent services at the edge of the networks which are close to the Internet of Things or a data source. This enables each edge of the IoT to have data collection, analysis, computing, and intelligent processing capabilities. Now, they can process data, filter data, and analyse data nearby. In addition, local decision-making and processing can meet key requirements of network capabilities and resource constraints, security and privacy challenges. 

IoT in Agriculture

The application of the Internet of Things in agricultural development ordinarily occurs via a monitoring network that consists of a vast number of sensor nodes.  These sensors provide farmers with copious possibilities to make their farming more efficient, productive and environmentally conscious, such as understanding weather conditions, soil quality, crop’s growth progress or cattle’s health. Sensors allow for better control over the internal processes and lower production risks, as well. The use cases for IoT in agriculture are endless, but there have been significant challenges to overcome within this industry that has meant the IoT practices have not been extensively adopted.

Challenges of IoT in Agriculture

  • Unnecessary resource use: sensors continuously collect various sensor data which is usually constant or seldom changed. Uploading all the data to the cloud for processing will consume a lot of network resources and cloud resources.
  • Real-time performance is challenging to guarantee: data processing and decision-making are all in the cloud, and the processing is not timely.
  • Excessive reliance on the network: when the network is unstable, it cannot process data and control devices in time.
  • Data security and privacy protection: all sensor data and control data need to be transmitted through the network which puts it at higher risk of being tampered with, unregulated or lost.

These obstacles increase the cost of Agricultural IoT systems (network flow, storage, and computational costs). They decrease the stability and availability of systems and make it challenging to automate production control. 

How does Edge networking help?

Edge networking is one of the emerging technologies set to reconstruct the industry. With sensors, actuators, and real-time data-driven insights, it can help us overcome some of the greatest food production challenges and enable IoT in Agriculture to be as effective as hoped.

Simply, Edge computing shares the load of the cloud server and reduces any delays, strains or pressure on the network. Because agriculture collects data from numerous production objects across vast area coverages, the speed of response to event processing is slow because of the pressures exerted onto the central network. Edge networking distributes the load with:

  • reduced latency, 
  • more effective bandwidth utilization 
  • task off-loading 
  • Initial data processing at the local Edge whereas core Cloud services are used for activities such as second-level off-loading, storage, and alert generation.

Back to the farm - Edge computing in practice

With access to real-time data control and decision-making of connected devices/production objects, farms will significantly enhance overall productivity and yield through decreases in waste, energy costs, insurance, and human resource costs.

For example:

"Precision use of farm chemicals like fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides saves costs and protects the environment. Instead of blanket spraying these chemicals over large areas, machine vision technologies with artificial intelligence capabilities can enable autonomous vehicles to deliver the optimal amount of the chemicals at targeted locations.

Farmers also get support from manufacturers with real-time diagnostics and expert advice for their connected machinery such as tractors, seeders and harvesters." - Trilogy

Future scope

In the future, edge computing will have a wide market in the agricultural sphere. According to forecasts, 50% of the Internet of Things with more than 50 billion terminals will face network bandwidth limitations, and 40% of data will need to be analysed, processed and cached at the edge of the network. The edge computing market will become an emerging market that is equally harmonised with cloud computing. This immense market space can bring unlimited imagination and new agriculture opportunities. It may even help to prevent world famine. 




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