So much digitization goes into our food before it lands on our plates.
Internet of Things

Digitization – from field to fork

Digitization is bringing fundamental changes to the agricultural and food industries, according to market analysts from PwC. The agricultural industry can significantly boost its own yields using smart farming.

Digitization affects all kinds of industries. The food industry clearly shows how cutting-edge IT is revolutionizing many processes.

It’s just before 12 noon. The caterer turns into the street with the kindergarten. Within minutes, the children have a complete meal on their plates. By this point, the seeds that became this healthy meal have come a very long way. Cutting-edge IT will revolutionize processes along this journey in future.

Sensors optimize logistics processes

A couple of days earlier at the port: Digitization begins here, where the seeds arrive in networked containers. GPS technology provides the port operators with real-time information on the position of the huge steel containers, while sensors monitor the acceleration, vibration and opening of the container at the same time. As a result, the quality of the goods can be checked at any time and logistics processes at the transshipping points are optimized.
Smart lights are used for trucks and containers that do not have an on-board communications module. Sensor-equipped streetlights register non-digitized trucks on the port grounds and report them to the dispatcher. The dispatcher thus has a full overview and is able to assign routes, trip times and free parking bays to all trucks, which prevents traffic jams and waiting times, so the seeds can be delivered on schedule.

Information on sunshine duration from the cloud

Out in the fields, soil sensors help farmers determining the right time for sowing, fertilizing and irrigating the seed. They record relevant environmental information such as sunshine duration and soil moisture levels down to a depth of 40 centimeters, and send it to the cloud in real time. The data is then processed directly and sent back to both the farmer and GPS-guided machines, which are partially automated and accurate to within a centimeter. Not a single square meter is covered twice, with the result that the farmer saves valuable resources, working time and environmentally damaging fertilizer. The PwC analysts: “In the future, agricultural machinery will work as rolling data centers and sensor technology will provide all the important information in real time. The challenge for farmers will lie in intelligently networking the technology and managing the data.”

Greater yields due to to smart farming

A quick trip to the farm shows that digitization is already well established there. Robotic milking machines have made farmers’ jobs a lot easier in the milking parlor, for example. Special systems recognize when animals are in season and can be inseminated, and inform the farmer by text message. Some farmers are already using drones to spot weeds before they spread and combine harvesters seem drive around the field on their own. The same equation applies everywhere: more technology means higher yields and greater efficiency.
This lucrative formula is the reason that nearly one in five agricultural operations was using digital applications by 2015 – even one in three large-scale operations with more than 100 employees – according to a representative survey commissioned by the digital association Bitkom, which now expects digital applications to boost value creation in agriculture by three billion euros by 2025. However, the agricultural sector has another reason for using smart farming,: the rising population. The global population is expected to rise to approximately nine billion by 2050 – and they need to eat. One way of achieving this, is to boost productivity – in other words, by generating higher yields from the same cultivated area.

Smart containers monitor temperature

The chain of digitization continues in the factory, where the cold or hot chain must not be interrupted while the harvest is being processed. Otherwise, whole batches of food can become unusable in certain conditions. Predictive maintenance solutions ensure that machines constantly transmit their status data. This extends maintenance intervals and makes it possible to identify irregularities quickly.
Before the food arrives at the kindergarten, it has one last stop – the industrial kitchen where the fresh food is processed into a complete meal that the caterers can deliver to kindergartens or retirement homes. There are strict rules that have to be followed here. The temperature of warm food must not fall below 68 degrees Celsius, for example, so as to eliminate the danger of bacteria. Smart transport containers help to monitor the food temperature and add heat when necessary.

Waste bins measure their fill level

The food waste that later ends up in the garbage forms the next link in the digitization chain. Sensor-equipped waste bins can measure their own fill levels and notify the waste disposal company when they are full. If all the bins in an area are equipped with this technology, the waste disposal routes can be optimized – saving fuel, time and money. Residents only pay for collections that have taken place. The bins communicate in the Narrow Band Internet of Things (NB-IoT), a mobile-based IoT technology. NB-IoT offers a wide range of benefits for IoT applications, such as low data rates, long battery life and long, unsupervised operating periods.

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