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How Sensor Technologies are Transforming Agriculture

By David Ryan for America's Backbone Weekly

Remote sensing technology is changing the world as we know it. In the world of agriculture, remote sensors are appearing in devices worn by farm animals and in greenhouses and barns. They provide essential information to farmers about plant and animal health and can even help automate many tasks that traditionally have been done by hand, such as feeding and milking. Here's a look at some of the remarkable technologies on the rise in the agriculture industry.

Wearables for livestock

One of the hottest trends in agriculture is wearable tech for livestock. Farm animals such as cows, sheep and pigs are now being equipped with smart tags, e-collars and even e-pills. These devices employ remote sensors to do remarkable things. E-tags, such as those provided by Nebraska company Quantified Ag, are the most basic livestock wearables. Clipped to a cow or sheep's ear, they allow farmers to track location through GPS, and can even monitor body temperature, the first sign of illness in an animal.

E-collars provide GPS tracking but also use an array of sensors to monitor vital health data, including body temperature, breath and heart rate. Some models include microphones that can detect cud chewing, and some include sensors that can detect estrus in cows. Cud chewing is yet another measure of health, and by knowing when cows are in estrus, farmers can maximize breeding potential.

There are even e-pills on the market now. Swallowed by cows, e-pills from companies like Vital Herd are stored in the rumen (one of the cow's stomachs) and remain there for the lifetime of the animal, transmitting data on heart and respiration rates as well as pH levels.

In all, livestock wearables are a great tool for tracking the location of your animals, as well as critical health metrics. They alert farmers to the first signs of illness, allowing them to segregate and treat animals, preventing widespread infection. There are lots of products on the market, and prices are negotiated with vendors. According to Sensors magazine, the wearable tech market for livestock is currently worth around $1 billion, and may grow to $2.5 billion by 2025, making it one of the hottest trends to watch.

Smart greenhouses and barns

Thanks to incredible remote sensing technologies, farmers don't need to walk out to their greenhouses every time they want to check on their crops. Smart greenhouses track temperature, ventilation, carbon dioxide levels, humidity and more, ensuring that plants stay healthy. There are a number of products to choose from on the market. For example, Sensaphone makes a series of remote monitoring systems (like the FGD-0400) that track vital greenhouse data and transmit it to cloud servers, where farmers can access the information from their computers or mobile devices. Sensaphone can even provide voice alerts and alarms over the phone, should the sensors detect abnormalities. Quotes can be obtained by contacting the vendor.

Smart barns are also changing the agricultural world. Barns equipped with sensors allow farmers to monitor temperature, humidity, water pressure and ventilation. Some configurations even provide automated feeding and milking stations. DeLaval is a company that provides customized setups, including milking and feeding machines and sensor arrays that monitor barn lighting, ventilation, temperature and the like. Their products are sold through authorized dealers across the country. Milking and feeding machines work in tandem with smart collars – detecting when a cow has been fed or milked last and directing them through automated gateways to feed or milking stations. These automated systems are doing the work that was once done by hand, enabling farmers to save substantial money on labor.

It's time to connect

If you're a farmer, the time to start looking at remote sensing technology is now. Smart barns and greenhouses can save you time and labor by monitoring your animals and plants for you, and in some cases, by automating feeding and milking. Wearables for livestock let you monitor your animals' health while providing GPS tracking data. According to Vital Herd, $5 billion is lost overall each year in America due to livestock illness. And while there aren't any statistics yet to demonstrate how much money wearables can save a farm, early detection of illness is known to be the most critical factor in protecting a herd.

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David Ryan has many years of experience as a freelance writer and is active covering science and technology stories in the United States. He also enjoys writing short stories and traveling. 



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