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May. 24, 2018

Connecting Intelligent Devices, Sensing Techs, IOTs and Big Data to Enhance the Productivity Among Agricultural Production, Marketing and Consumption



Chih-Kai Yang1, Jyh-Rong Tsay2, Junne-Jih Chen2

1Agricultural Engineering Division,

Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute (TARI),

Wufeng, Taichung, Taiwan

2 Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute (TARI),

Wufeng, Taichung, Taiwan




In recent years, the Taiwan agricultural sector has faced some considerable challenges; farmers' income is relatively low; the rural population is aging; arable land becomes scarce; it is difficult to reach economies of scale; labor is in short supply, and there are food safety problems. Further, there are factors occurring outside of Taiwan that have a detrimental effect on the farming sector, such as climate change and trade liberalization.

Due to restrictions from the natural environment and high production costs, Taiwan’s agricultural industry is less competitive compared with other countries in the world. In order to boost agricultural productivity, it is necessary to adjust industrial structures to take advantage of technological innovation. “Smart Agriculture 4.0 (SA 4.0)”, a new proposed pilot project based on sensor/sensing technology, Intelligence Robot, Internet of Things (IoTs), and Big Data analysis, is expected to build a smart production, marketing, and digital service system to efficiently elevate the whole agricultural productivity and capacity. Furthermore, this project will construct an active, all-purpose agricultural consumption/service platform to increase customer’s trust for safe produce. We had prioritized ten industries for promotion: moth orchid; seedlings; mushroom; rice, agricultural facility; aquaculture; water fowl; traceable agricultural products; dairy, and offshore fishery.


Keyword: Smart agriculture, Digital service, Big data, IOTs, Common information platform


Nowadays, the global agricultural issues consist of global warming, climate change, arable land scarcity, water shortage and food security. The temperatures will continue to rise, rainfall patterns have changed, droughts and heat waves happen more often, typhoons become stronger and more intense. Population growth and changing consumption habits will create a considerable degree of additional demand which will in turn place pressure on arable land resources. Under the joint pressure of population growth and changes in dietary habits, food consumption is increasing in most regions of the world.

The current world population is 7.4 billion. Because of increasing population up to 9.1 billion in 2050, food demand need to be raised by 70% beyond today’s level. We have to think how to cultivate sufficient agricultural products in the limited arable land to feed all the people. In other words, the urgent topic is how to promote agricultural productivity and supply good quality of maize, rice, wheat, vegetables, fruits and other crops.

Being a net food import country, Taiwan has a relatively low calorie-based food self-sufficiency ratio and is therefore very sensitive to factors affecting food production and supply. Food shortage due to extreme weather events caused by rapid climate change would lead to higher food prices occasionally. Like all developed countries worldwide, Taiwan faces the problems of aging population and a declining birth rate. To improve this situation of agriculture and environment, modification of industry structure and innovation of technological development are necessary to increase agricultural productivity.

In Taiwan, an increasing number of young people with a passion for farming are moving to the countryside. Yet far from simply following traditional farming techniques, they are instead incorporating advanced technology into their work. This can help Taiwan's agricultural industry become more advanced.  The Smart Agriculture 4.0 Program was launched by the Council of Agriculture (COA) from 2017. It introduces Intelligent devices, sensing techs, Internet of Things (IoTs) and big data analysis to help digitize knowledge, automate production, optimize products and simplify operations. The advanced technology also allows products to be traced through computerized systems for the purposes of intelligent production and digital marketing.

Because of the new technologies involved, we have to think about developing cross-industry alliances and innovative marketing models in addition to integrating value chains within the agricultural industry itself. This will transform the industrial structure and turn the small-scale farming economy to one dominated by internationally competitive agribusinesses. And as new products and technologies become more widely available, they will trickle down the value chain to drive a new agricultural economy.

To promote the Smart Agriculture 4.0 project, we had prioritized ten industries for promotion: moth orchid, seedling, mushroom, rice, agricultural facility, aquaculture, water fowl, traceable agricultural products, dairy, and offshore fishery.


Smart Agriculture 4.0, or called Agriculture 4.0, is a new idea for the next generation agriculture. With drones flying over fields scanning and monitoring crop growth status and transmitting the collected information to a cloud computing platform, farmers could simply connect their mobile phones or tablet computers to the cloud computing system to obtain information of the most accurate dosage of agro-chemicals, fertilizers and water, which are cost effective and less harmful to the environment by analyzing crop growth information collected by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). By analyzing the collected field data in conjunction with Big Data, farmers could adjust macro- and micro-elements of soil, irrigation schedule, tillage, and other factors affecting crop growth. They could measure water stress in plants by using leaf wetness sensor; they could know how water flows and track soil humidity, soil temperature and carbon components by various soil sensing devices; they could regulate irrigation patterns to avoid crop drought injury; they could also photograph their crops and upload the photos to the database as well as obtain and compare daily prices of produce and then get informed when their agricultural produce is sold. In such a systematic way, a large number of farming and marketing activities can be well planned and managed. Farmers could participate in global economic activities without leaving their farms. Consumers could understand how king oyster mushroom was produced and harvested in plant factories by scanning the QR Code printed on the package at home. Distributors overseas could rapidly distribute agricultural products from Taiwan to diversified chain stores by the so-called “Agriculture Cloud Supply System” and order fresh mushrooms in advance that will be sold and marketed seven months later while farm workers would prepare these pre-ordered mushrooms through RFID-based production systems. All these scenarios would come true if the work plan of Smart Agriculture 4.0 (SA 4.0) is realized.

Smart Agriculture 4.0 Project

SA 4.0 is an era of smart agriculture in Taiwan, a conceptual agricultural system incorporating sensors, intelligent devices, IoTs (Internet of Things) and big data to digitalize knowledge, automate production, produce quality products, facilitate operations, and promote cloud-based source-tracing. The goals are to build up an intelligent system for agricultural production and selling as well as a digital service system for smart agriculture. Such smart production and management could overcome the predicament of small farmers struggling singly, increase efficiency and capability of agricultural production, and create agricultural consumption and service platforms to strengthen consumers’ confidence on agricultural products through big data analyses on production, supply and demand. By ways of strategic marketing, business model consulting and industry internationalization promotion, customized agriculture 4.0 technologies and services are expected to be exported to establish international brands, release agricultural technologies with turnkey projects, and extend high-quality agricultural products from Taiwan to the world. The main strategies of the Smart Agriculture 4.0 project are:

  • Forming smart agriculture alliances to develop intelligent production technologies and applications;

  • Forging digital agri-services and value chain integration and application models; and

  • Using friendly interactive technologies to create new communication models between producers and consumers.

These three strategies aim to transform the focused ten target industries with a view to boost Taiwan’s economy and strengthen its competitiveness. The ten industries register a total output value of NT$247.4 billion (US$7.54 billion).

Smart Agriculture 4.0 scope and application objective

In order to execute the program of SA 4.0, the Council of Agriculture (COA) emphasizes three focal areas (bio-agriculture, quality agriculture and precision agriculture) and divides them into two classes of bottom-building and top-notching. Ten priority categories, namely, Phalaenopsis orchid, seedling, mushroom, rice, agricultural facilities, aquaculture, poultry, traceable agricultural products, dairy and offshore fishery, are selected as pilot industries in the first stage of promotion.

Phalaenopsis Industry

The current cultural system of Phalaenopsis, using sphagnum moss as medium, can tolerate long distance marine transportation to the whole world market. The goals of this category are to develop appropriate automatic equipment for transplanting, fertigating and chemical spraying, as well as production models, to reduce manpower requirements for the Phalaenopsis industry. The systems of plant physiological sensing, intelligent production monitoring, image identification for plant growth and pest infestations and the alternate cultural medium will be introduced to maintain a stable high quality production of Phalaenopsis plants as well as to increase commerce orders for growers. An intelligent logistics management system will be built up based on tissue culture, which will be implemented by using tissue culture smart marketing services to develop new service models. A smart production process management and an IoT-based logistics service system will be incorporated as the main infrastructure to integrate actual producing factories and virtual marketing shops. A digital management system will be the interface for connecting plant tissue culture and seedling production. Lastly, an expert system for relay production and technical diagnostic services will be established to assist the industry to upgrade the after-sale service in the established European markets and move forward to Brazil and other emerging markets.

Seedling Industry

With seedling nurseries, production and marketing groups, and agribusinesses as targets, the objectives of this category are to develop a seedling production and marketing scheduling network for the nursery industry to establish intelligent commercial management models and promote the accuracy of seedling supply. A smart and common nursery platform based on big data of operational parameters will be set up, which will reduce the labor requirement and increase the quality and managing accuracy of seedlings. Others include the completion of the efficacy promotion of automated trans-planter for the tray seedlings of staple vegetables, the development of labor saving and intelligent transplanting devices for small leafy vegetables via the improved automation of trans-planter for tray seedlings, and the development or improvement of customized machines.

Mushroom Industry

Smart production in the mushroom industry based on all-computer-controlled environment and automatic harvest will be the future trend in Agriculture 4.0 project. By developing production facilities, integrating software and hardware, introducing energy-saving devices, and conducting related research, it is expected to meet requirements for producers, suppliers and consumers and to improve the international competitiveness of Taiwan’s mushroom industry.

Rice Industry

The goals for the rice industry are to develop a smart rice direct-seeding system, a human-machine jointed smart rice cultivation and management system, and an allied business model. Through the smart rice cultivation and management system based on labor and strength saving, new style agricultural service industries can be brought about to improve production efficiency and competitiveness in the rice industry. Serial synchronized information between producers and consumers via big data analysis is expected to build up an active rice consumption and service platform as well as to increase the consumers’ sense of trust on domestic rice food safety.

Agricultural Facilities Industry

The goals for agricultural facilities industry are to introduce the key technologies of Industry 4.0 into the industry, from manufacturing to sales and services in facets of design and planning, control mode and management system. Through the cross-domain binding, modular design systems, IoT-based environmental control modules, labor saving/carrying equipment, and human-machine aids will be developed and a parameterized intelligent marketing management information platform will be set up. It is expected to facilitate the upgrade of simple greenhouses, reduce the labor demand by half, and control the optimum crop cultivation environment effectively so as to produce good quality agricultural products and develop an industry with standardized high efficiency agricultural facilities. It will also promote agricultural facility design and integrated technology in Taiwan to fulfill the industrialization of agricultural facilities and reach the goal of turnkey export.

Aquaculture Industry

With the application of integrated IoTs and big data analysis technology connected in series with market demand of leading companies, the goals of this category for aquaculture industry are to develop smart aquaculture environment sensing elements, a fish disease perception and forecast decision support system, and a smart energy saving aquaculture system as automatic control auxiliaries, as well as to construct a breeding and cultivation facility with quarantine function to breed healthy fries. It is expected to assist the traditional aquaculture to move towards a technologized development in automatic production and intelligent management and improve production efficiency. At the same time, the effects of water saving, labor reducing, production capacity regulating and production planning could be achieved.

Finally, modular turnkey technologies would propagate to the private sectors empowering intelligent aquaculture to be the mainstream of aquaculture fisheries in Taiwan.

Poultry Industry

The goals for poultry industry are to develop an intelligent IoT-based contract poultry production/management system and establish an authentication platform mechanism to meet the international food safety standard from the breeding source to sales end, which is expected to promote export benefit. It is also expected to export the peripheral technologies of intelligent IoT-based poultry breeding and management as well as consulting services. Hopefully, the developed technologies would extend to other livestock industries, such as pig and cattle industries, via the establishment and modification of smart poultry and egg production mode.

Traceable Agricultural Products Industry

In the beginning stage, the goals for traceable agricultural products industry are to establish the interfacing mechanism of traceable agricultural products (including organic products) with food cloud and reinforce the connectivity of information within traceable agricultural products to promote consumers’ confidence on domestic agricultural products. Focused items include eggs, seafood, and agricultural products such as mushrooms, bee products and coffee. Information exchange of traceable agricultural products and a disclosure platform will also be enclosed. The key research and development items include establishing a traceable agricultural products system with information exchange platform, collecting and applying value-added big data analysis, building supply chains of traceable agricultural products, and promoting quality of traceable agricultural products. Export vegetables including lettuce, green soy bean, tea and fruits are to be focused in the near future.

Dairy Industry

The goals for the dairy industry are to introduce robotic milking system to dairy farms with high yield and quality or with rotary milking systems and to assist relevant dairy farmers to establish five modes of major daily work lines, including daily moving lines of milking cows, daily feeding lines of cows, periodic moving lines for cow health monitoring, moving lines for periodic management of cow delivery and calves rearing, and moving lines for cleaning daily manure and environment. With the intelligent dairy robots on-site, the human labor will be relieved and the promotion of unmanned dairy operations could be completed. It would also facilitate the development of dairy application system integrated with all-weather smart milking robot elements.

Offshore Fishery Industry

With the deployment of Industry 4.0 key technologies, the goals for offshore fishery industry are to establish a support system for fish production and marine facies service, develop energy and labor saving equipment through crossfield integration of mechatronics engineering technologies, and monitor the traceability demand of systems. Through smart monitoring and sensing, the logistics of catches can be more transparent to the consumers for selection. Also, tracking the logistics of catches via big data analysis can adjust stock and export sales to avoid the imbalance and keep its industrial competitiveness at the same time.

The Industrial Application Framework of Cross-field Key Technologies

To apply the relevant technologies in the above-mentioned industries, cross-field key technologies would be used for constructing the application framework for smart production and digital service. Take the agricultural facilities industry for instance (Fig.1), four conceptual building components in terms of facility design, site operation, production-marketing regulation and consumption service will be integrated to form a circular operating loop from sensing, monitoring, decision making to automation (feedback). Based on the supporting of big data analysis platform, tremendous amount of information will be collected from monitoring environment and crop physiology sensing systems. Crop quality management, pest control, risk warning, facility environment harmony, nutrition management, production period and quantity prediction could be done by integrating bidirectional information between IoT-based control modules and human-machine collaborative devices as well as by calculating and comparing data from an expert system based on agricultural technological parameter managing modules. By such an IoT-based production and marketing network, production/marketing planning, flexible supply and sale, cold chain logistics, and cross outlet traceability could be realized. The consumption service is further divided into traceability service and information notification service. The traceability service provides complete traceable information from vertical digitalized production details to relate with horizontal digitalized logistics contents. Through well-designed and friendly interfaces, the information push and notification service effectively reveals all the information of agricultural products, including production, transportation, nutrients, and so on to consumers. It also gathers consumption preference and trends of consumers for agricultural products and feeds them back to producers.

As shown in Fig. 1, the left side of the cycle is the smart production, including sensing for temperature & humidity, soil condition, nutrition monitoring, pest image identification. They are collected by Integrating IoT modules with the agricultural technology management module, which is consulted and established by experts of quality control, environment control, safety control, nutrition management, risk evaluation and yield prediction. Right side of the cycle is about digit service. By the IoT integrated system, the production side can be connected to the marketing side to conduct the flexible supply mechanism through its cold chain and logistics. The consumers can get all the information about what they eat through the traceability service and consumption behaviors are collected into the big data platform interactively.

By connecting the production management at the left half portion to the marketing and consumption at the right half portion based on collection, analysis and application of big data, the decision mechanism of balance between supply and demand could be realized by smart and flexible production scheduling to develop a whole new business model.

The concept of smart production and digital service will be practiced step by step in our project. We hope to encourage some smart farmer unions to joint to develop new business models of farm service.

Fig. 1. The application framework of cross-field key technologies for smart production and digital service (take the agricultural facilities industry for instance)


The Common Information Platform

By deploying the next generation of agricultural production with a common information platform supporting sales and tracking services, the platform will raise the efficiency and predictability of agricultural production while also create comprehensive production, consumption, and service platforms to raise consumer confidence on the safety of agricultural products.

There are seven main layers in the architecture of common platform, from data sources to applications. The common information platform has three major groups, namely big data lake, big data analytics, and big data exchange, to support the collection and analysis of heterogeneous agro-data.

Fig. 2. The Architecture of Common Platform


Big Data Lake group includes data integration and data storage layers. The major technical components are HDFS (Hadoop Distributed File System), RDB (Relational Database), and NRDB (Non- Relational Database), which preserve cross-domain agriculture data (such as IoT data) in this common platform. Big Data Lake includes agricultural structured data, semi-structured data and unstructured data.

Big Data Analytics group is the analysis layer, which is comprised of technical components (such as R) to help the process of examining large and varied data to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, trends, and other useful information that can help related organizations and make more-informed decisions. Big Data Analytics is to take advantage of Apache Hadoop framework for reliable, scalable, distributed computing in the agricultural domain.

Big Data Exchange group, which is also known as Open API, is an access interface layer, including mainly the technical components APIM (Application Programming Interface Management). APIM manages APIs and is actually the interface enabling data scientists, predictive modelers, statisticians and other analytics professionals to analyze growing volumes of structured transaction data through APIs. The purpose of developing various APIs is to make data exchange easier between different systems to develop new applications easily.

Achievement of the pilot project

The pilot project firstly focused on traceable agricultural products industry, poultry industry and development of common information platform.

For food safety, many developed countries have been devoting to establish and expand the traceability system on agro-products. In traceable agro-products industry project, an integrated system in particular areas was established. The system consists an intelligent processing management subsystem, a POS (point of sales) subsystem and a traceability management subsystem. Through an applicable standard for cross-system information and an exchangeable service among traceable agro-products and a Food Traceability Cloud database, we could integrate and apply the big data from cross-agency and system. By the end of November 2016, the coverage of traceability of the system had extended to over 1,805 layer farms, accounting for 95% of the domestic facilities; moreover, a total of 140 aquaculture farmers were guided to apply for traceability certification, and the total area of traceable crop cultivation had reached 18,034 hectares.

The objective of poultry industry project is to develop an integrated intelligent breeding, product processing, and e-commercialized marketing and service system for domestic poultry. In addition to the improvement of the breeding environment and meat and egg products quality through upgrading intelligent breeding, product processing and packaging technologies, the enhancement of service quality in order to create added values for the products is also expected to be achieved through the incorporation of e-commercialized marketing and service strategy planning according to the big data collecting and analysis in this project.

The common information platform project has completed the establishment of a common platform, which uses the Open APIs to interface a range of existing application databases. Its application on a demonstration field of agricultural facilities (include 2 sites and 6 greenhouses) has been successfully built. Additionally, the service of campus food ingredients registration system of “4M1Q: 4 Marks and one QR code” has been included in the platform, thus resulting progress of food safety in the future. Furthermore, the benefits of the platform in the near future will be demonstrated by employing the Smart Agriculture 4.0 Common Platform for all aspects of agriculture information, including: data collection and analysis, supporting operation in the fields, facilities design, production decision support, production forecasting, risk warning and production, marketing and consumer services. The project will provide a source of digitized vertical production information, horizontal logistics information, agricultural value-added digital services, thus heralding a new era of innovation in agriculture. The common information platform is applied to connect "Campus Food Ingredients Registration Platform (C.F.I.R.P.)" (Fig. 3). By queries on line it provides immediate, transparent school food information to the community, teachers, students, and parents. It also jointly supervises the quality of school food and beverage management by combined with the campus food safety management system to increase the peace of mind and trust. The common platform provides unique entrance of food safety certifications information for the C.F.I.R.P., especially for food safety certifications information from different Agriculture agencies or departments.


Fig. 3.  Big Data Exchange through Open API in food safety


Complementary facilitating measures of SA 4.0

In addition to the technological aspect, international connections are also involved in this program. The goals for international connections are to shorten the time for the required R&D by collaborating with international research organizations and institutions. It includes activities of introducing external research capacity and innovative machines, developing advanced technologies and facilities with Taiwan’s unique strength and export potential, building up standardized and integrated platforms and databases, and establishing international and cross-domain cooperation among industry, academy and research entities to strengthen the capacity of turnkey export. Based on a nurturing strategy for new generation agricultural workers and combined with the development framework and important tasks of SA 4.0, human resources for elite industries would be planned in advance. The talent nursing project is to train on job human resources for industries and human resources for international practices as well as to recruit professional experts internationally. To speed up the dissemination of Agriculture 4.0 impact and provide technical consultation, experts and researchers from industries, government agencies and universities have already been organized to form ‘SA 4.0 industry service team’ for each pilot industry. Also, three facilitating groups or special interest groups in terms of “Smart production and development of human-machine collaborative devices”, “Expert system construction based on agricultural technologies” and “Digital service and exchange and implementation of traceability information”, as well as a supportive technology facilitating team entitled as “Operation management and running support” are set to function. To take advantage of different viewpoints from industry service teams for decision-making and strengthen the function of industry service teams, the developing targets of every elite industry would be confirmed by cross-field experts from the related industrial service teams to focus the inputs of practical resources and technologies. Appropriate enterprises will be selected as cooperation partners to implement smart agricultural technologies and build demonstration sites. The industrial service teams will visit and diagnose the sites and offer tailored-services for the pilot industries by giving technical consultation and management suggestions. Also, by visiting the demonstration sites and exchanging experience of interest, it not only showcases technology inventory, examples of development planning, tailored services and consultation, but also disseminates technologies of Agriculture 4.0 to targeted industries, thereby pouring new impetus to Taiwan’s agriculture and facilitating sustainable and smart agriculture.


The motivation of Smart Agriculture 4.0 is to innovate by using science and technology. Diversified model and concept of smart agriculture are being developing to promote productivity.

In the near future, through the introduction of Agriculture 4.0/Smart Agriculture, innovative integration technology and new business model will be developed. Agricultural activities in Taiwan will then be no longer restricted by weather and climate but bring forth labor-saving production with maximum production potential of crops. With a safe and convenient farming environment, more young generations are attracted to go into farming thus making Taiwan’s agriculture a young, dynamic and highly competitive industry. In addition to safe, healthy and stable supply of food for local consumers, it will also promote the production of high-value processed agricultural products to the international markets.


Tsay, J.R., L.D. Huarng, Y.S. Hsieh. (2016). Towards a Taiwan Agriculture 4.0 Era with Smart Science and Technologies. ICOIAM-2016TAIWAN, 1st International Conference on Intelligent Agricultural Machinery in Taiwan.

Yang, C. K., Y. Y. Shih and S. H., Yang. (2016). Moving towards Agricultural 4.0 in Taiwan with Smart Technology. Agriculture Policy & Review. 289: 6-11. (in Chinese)

Yang, C. K., Y. Y. Shih and S. H., Yang. (2016). Moving towards Agricultural 4.0 in Taiwan with Smart Technology. (




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