Three ways to improve agricultural efficiency and sustainability with digital transformation

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At Schneider Electric we talk a lot about the importance of IIoT, Industry 4.0, Digital Twin and Digital Transformation for the food and beverage manufacturing industry. But what about the farms where that food is grown? Global demand for food is expected to double by 2050, and farms across the world will need to scale up production to accommodate this demand. Farmers must also operate with increased sustainability – agriculture already accounts for nearly 70 percent of the world’s water consumption, and with water demand expected to grow by 55 percent to meet these growing food needs, efficient and effective use of this finite resource is critical.

The cloud, IIoT and Industry 4.0 offer the same benefits to the agriculture industry that they offer to food and beverage manufacturers. Farmers can optimize their operations by implementing digital transformation, enabling our agricultural sector to feed the world more efficiently and sustainably.

In this blog post I’ll outline three keys to success in digitally transforming agriculture.

To learn more about the benefits of the IoT in agriculture, read our case study on WaterForce

1. Implement lightweight cloud deployments

One traditional barrier to entry for digital transformation in agriculture is lack of capital investment and existing infrastructure, as the average farm is 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 easily build on top of existing hardware, without worrying about interoperability issues.

2. 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 may be miles distant from each other, which means conducting accurate on-site assessments requires extensive travel time. Farmers can realize 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 not only view the status of critical equipment such as irrigation pivots, but 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.

As an example, Blackhills Farm in New Zealand implemented WaterForce’s SCADAfarm solution, built by Schneider Electric on Microsoft Azure, to monitor and control their irrigation pivots. This cloud-based IoT solution allowed Director Farm Manager Craig Blackburn to monitor and control his irrigation system directly from his mobile phone. Now Craig checks the irrigation system about 15 times a day directly from his phone, rather than spending hours driving around the farm.

3. 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. Digitized solutions provide extensive archived data stores, enabling fast retrieval of key information for improved regulatory compliance.

To learn more about the benefits digital transformation can bring to agriculture, download our WaterForce success story.


Are you a farmer considering implementing digital transformation? Let us know your experiences in the comments section.

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