Farm Progress

LEAD Comment: The trend toward remote connectivity, low-cost devices, nearly unlimited data storage and cloud computing is expected to cater to the farmer.

January 3, 2018

3 Min Read
INTERNET OF AG: The increasing availability of low-cost, near real-time, remote monitoring solutions is believed to drive the proliferation of IoT sensing devices in agriculture over the next decade.

By Steve Tippery

Nebraska is among several states that are part of what's known collectively as the "Silicon Prairie," for its innovative startup culture — and that includes a number of ag-related tech startups. What innovations are coming to light in ag technology, and what opportunities are there for entrepreneurs to enter the ag tech world?

Smart devices are in high demand. Devices like smartphones have been around for years, but new connected smart devices are likely to become prominent in the very near future to remotely monitor, in near real-time, "Things" such as the soil, individual plants, animals and inventory levels.

The trend toward remote connectivity, low-cost electronics, nearly unlimited data storage, cloud computing and artificial intelligence is expected to lead to the development of new remote monitoring and control technologies that cater to the needs of the farmer. Farmers expect work devices to provide the same functionality as their personally owned smartphones and tablets. These consumer electronic devices contain a high number of sensors that capture the environment. The agricultural industry has recently embraced the potential of these mass-produced, circuit-board-level sensors, particularly because of the potential positive impacts to yield and efficiency improvements. Currently, when multiple sensors are installed at scale across a typical farm, cost and ease of installation are fundamental issues.

Management of agricultural operations is expected to change significantly in the next decade, finally benefited by data-enabled insights that operators can trust. The increasing availability of low-cost, near real-time, remote monitoring solutions is believed to drive the proliferation of IoT (Internet of Things) sensing devices in agriculture. Accurate low-cost data from these devices will be analyzed for providing recommendations to farmers to assist in making informed decisions about operations, application amounts, timing, etc. The promise of low-cost IoT remote monitoring and control technologies is expected to allow many more data points to be gathered from disparate "Things."

These additional data points will help to inform operators about operational trends and more accurately manage costs and tasks in their operations. Data from the disparate sensing devices will be automatically captured, sent to the cloud and paired, eliminating much of the busy work that currently occupies a farm manager's time.

Today, much of the big data from farm machines is being captured from major original equipment manufacturers (OEM), but much of the small data is being ignored or captured using costly proprietary technology. Proprietary electronics technology is not only very expensive; it is typically limited in its connections.

For example, tractor data is typically not visible together with irrigation data. Water usage is typically not visible together with fertilization prescriptions. Finding the big data relationships between the many variables in agriculture will help farmers to reduce recurring labor costs, allow for more proactive decision-making, increase overall productivity and become more efficient with inputs.

IntelliFarm believes that agriculture will soon benefit from an open suite of many types of low-cost, near real-time, remote sensing devices for automatically measuring agronomic, operational and agricultural applications. These sensing devices will wirelessly capture and transmit measured data using long-range, in-field communications, and be transferred to the cloud via cost-effective telemetry. A variety of existing and new sensors will be added to the open EcoSystem, allowing farmers and farm managers to remotely view the happenings of their operation via a single virtual dashboard.

As a result of these emerging technologies, IntelliFarm believes that significant opportunities exist for entrepreneurs to add value to such an open EcoSystem of sensing and data products. Much like the value that was created when independent software developers created new apps for the iPhone and distributed them via the AppStore, AgTech entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to create new electronics devices, data products and smart machine attachments that will add significant value to the agricultural industry and allow for new and more customized farming practices.

Tippery is a LEAD 28 fellow. He is CEO of IntelliFarm Inc., an agricultural technology company based in a Lincoln, Neb.

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