A Brief Sketch of the Trends of Smart Agriculture
WANG YU HAN（China Productivity Center Agricultural Innovation Department）
What will become of agriculture in five or ten years? All kinds of sensors lined up in the field? Drones spraying pesticides in the air? Robots harvesting crops? Lighting and air conditioning in the greenhouse automatically adjusted by the photosensitive system in various seasons? Ventilation system activated following the composition of the atmosphere? These are some of the visions for the future of agriculture. It is hoped that one day agricultural production is no longer labor intensive, and production is easily controlled by farmers from home.
The state-of-art smart agriculture incorporates pioneering technologies such as ICT, Internet of Things (IoT), big data analysis, and block chain, as well as machinery and sensing components, in the observation of the ambient temperature, humidity, luminosity, water content in soil, nutrients, and pests and diseases. The data are sent to farmers' mobile phones so they do not need to patrol the fields all the time. With mechanical sowing, fertilization, and harvesting, even more labor is saved.
Greenhouse planting can lower the dependence of planting on weather conditions. The high temperature and high humidity in Taiwan in summer sometimes bring the temperature in the greenhouse to above 40°C., an unfavorable condition for the growth of crops, particularly the temperate fruits and vegetables. Temperature regulation in the greenhouse is therefore very important. Sensing equipment in the smart greenhouse detects the temperature and automatically adjusts the fans and air conditioners and reduces the inconvenience of manual operation. In a smart agricultural greenhouse for jujubes in Alian, the fans are turned on at 7 a.m. to prevent the fruit from the heat produced by the dew. Sensors are used to detect the indoor temperature and turn on the fans for air circulation in the hot summer afternoon. This greatly reduces the damage to the jujube trees, upgrades the fruit quality and extends the period of production. The AgriTech Strawberry Farm (光之莓草莓智慧溫室) is also dealing with the problems of heat and humidity in greenhouses in summer. In addition to using fans and shading equipment on the sides of the greenhouse, the lighting conditions in the greenhouse are monitored and LED lights are used to ensure all the plants receive equal lighting, despite the weather conditions and the different locations of the plants. Smart greenhouses not only control the indoor temperature but also detect the mineral composition of the soil, providing farmers with information of nutrients in the soil, so they can apply adequate fertilization.
With the advancement of technology, farmers, with the help of objective data analysis, will have better understanding of their field conditions. Artificial intelligence (AI) will help with the analysis of the information obtained and the decision making to achieve automated field management. Agriculture under AIoT can provide intelligent solutions to problems that may be encountered during the growth of crops. The causes of the discoloration of leaves can be judged as either a physiological disorder or a disease caused by pathogens. Solutions can then be suggested. The necessity for trimming the branches and twigs to facilitate ventilation between plants, fruit coloring... etc. can be decided by observing the changes of the wind speed and the daily light integral. Farmers need to use only their mobile phones to have a clear idea of the crop growth situation in their fields. And there is no need to often go to the fields for the heavy work, as the intelligent robots are there to help.
From IoT to AIoT, information collected by sensing components needs to go through expert analysis and guided data analysis so that it can be more rapidly transmitted and spread in conjunction with computers and 5G networks. Farmers in Taiwan have rich planting experience, and they have a good understanding of the local crops. In addition to data collection, farmers’ planting experience is invaluable. The digital data and the planting experience can be combined to decide the measures taken under different objective conditions. The research results of high education institutions can be incorporated to provide accurate and most advantageous growth conditions. Industry-academic collaboration can be further promoted in decision making by using the AI system for crop growth analysis.
Due to the huge changes in the global labor mobility and market consumption patterns brought about by the Covid19 pandemic, agriculture has received severe impact since 2020, on top of the problems of labor shortage and aging population. The impact of the pandemic on Taiwan may not be as serious as in other parts of the world, but the aging of the agricultural population is still an urgent problem. Therefore, with the aid of mechanized production and smart agriculture, farmers are relieved of the burden of frequently patrolling the fields in person. The emergence of smart agriculture can respond to problems of the extreme climate, pests and diseases, and the aging of the labor force. This is even more important in an era of the pandemic and is a new type of farming that the whole world is pursuing.