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High-tech in organic agriculture: the Internet of Things

by Jochen Bettzieche (comments: 0)

A tractor working on a field.
In addition to tractors, robots and other high-tech helpers are also used in agriculture today. © Pixabay

Robots, sensors and artificial intelligence: The Internet of Things is becoming more and more involved in agriculture. This also presents opportunities for the organic sector.

Agriculture has also arrived in the age of Industry 4.0. Robotics, sensor technology and artificial intelligence move into Germany's farms. The technology not only saves money, it also helps to work more precisely and to conserve resources. It is just as interesting for the organic sector as it is for conventional agriculture. A lot is still in development. So, for instance, robots shall be harvesting fruit and vegetables in the future. But while people can tell whether a fruit is ripe by its colour and firmness, machines find it more difficult to do so. Besides, they have to find the fruit first. To recognize green cucumbers between green foliage, they need infrared detectors.

High-tech and organic farming

So far, there is no reason against the combination of high-tech and organic farming. Farmers do not risk losing their organic label just by upgrading their operations with sensors, internet and robots. Even Demeter has not developed any guidelines as to which requirements the technology must meet in order to maintain the seal, a spokesperson explained on request. Demeter milk can also be produced with milking robots, for example.

Drones track down fawns

A drone above a field track. © Pixabay/LaurentSchmid
Before the combine harvester takes off, drones equipped with infrared cameras fly across the field. © Pixabay/LaurentSchmid

For a few years now, drones have been increasingly used in agriculture. They use infrared cameras to track down fawns and other animals before the combine harvester passes through the field. Or an artificial intelligence uses aerial photographs of drones to detect where nutrients are missing or where a disease is developing. In addition, the technology is able to react precisely, for example by spreading ichneumon wasps against the larvae of the corn borer. Until now, this was time-consuming manual work. According to the Swiss Farmers' Union, it now only takes five minutes per hectare by multicopter.

Sensors provide data from the cow's stomach




"Temperature and acceleration sensors
report early, if the animal gets sick.
Then the veterinarian can intervene in time."

– Lars Abraham


Cows nowadays not only deliver milk, they also send data. This is made possible by a capsule slightly larger than a tube for vitamin tablets that the cow takes in with the feed. This capsule then stays in the paunch, the rumen. The capsule is full of sensors that transmit data via radio to the farmer's computer system. So, for example, farmers know when the animal is ready to conceive. Then it can be fertilized and deliver milk after the birth of the calf. With conventional methods there is always an error rate - and fertilizing a cycle later costs the farmer money. But the technology can do even more: "Temperature and acceleration sensors report early, if the animal gets sick, then the veterinarian can intervene in time," explains Lars Abraham. He is managing director of the start-up Dropnostix, which developed the technology.

Artificial intelligence controls irrigation

Olive branch.
Data on the internal pressure in the cells of the leaves are used to determine a plant's water requirements. © Pixabay/vpzotova

Sensors, such as these Dropnostix applies, provide further possibilities. For Spanish olive farmers, for example. The sensors measure the internal pressure in the cells of the leaves. This provides data on the water requirements of each individual plant. An artificial intelligence then controls the irrigation precisely, includes the weather forecast and thus helps to save water. Emma Nogueira, expert for smart agriculture at Bosch, speaks of the “Internet of trees”, rather than the “Internet of things”.




The Slugbot collects snails

from which biogas is made

for its own drive.

Photo © Pixabay/mininini


Robots clear of weeds and collect snails

Artificial intelligence is also used in the fight against weeds. For example by using the vehicle Bonirob, which is the result of a cooperation between Bosch, Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences and the manufacturer of Amazone Agricultural Machinery. It contains an industrial PC with an i7 processor. The four-wheeled robot moves across the field at walking pace. If it discovers a plant that is undesirable there, the robot rams it into the ground with metal bolts. This provides the crops with a growth advantage and the weed is gone without using herbicides. The Slugbot from the laboratories of the University of the West of England is pursuing an ecological concept. It collects snails and takes them to a converter. There, biogas is produced from the animals, which supplies the energy for the Slugbot via a fuel cell.


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