Of Technology and Tomatoes: The Digital Transformation of Farming
I remember my sister explaining to my niece that grapes grow on vines. The look on my niece’s face was priceless; can you say, “Yeah, right mom!” While most of us past a certain age know that food doesn’t originate in the grocery store, we’re largely disconnected from the farms and fields where it comes from or what goes on there. We might be surprised to find out that digital transformation, a common term for business enterprises, is happening—and even entrenched—on farms around the globe. Farms, in fact, might actually be farther down the path of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the use of drones and big-data analytics than many other businesses.
Precision farming, digital farming, and digital ag, or agriculture, these are some of the terms used to describe the use of technology in farming. That use is massive. The precision farming market is expected to go from $3.20 billion in 2015 to $7.87 billion in 2022.[i] That’s not small potatoes. It’s a significant example of digital transformation that focuses not on better customer experiences or new services, but on improving production and yield.
Move over Farmers’ Almanac, in agriculture, IoT sensors aren’t just used to monitor for equipment failures, but for opportunities and determination about the precise time to plant and when to water, fertilize, or spray—and how much of each is needed. Farmers can also, of course, monitor fuel use and equipment along with crops and even livestock.
Taking Tractors High Tech
On the service side of precision farming is John Deere. Long known for making tractors, John Deere has gone high tech with tractors using IoT to gather data that can be used for greater yields, lower costs, and better resource utilization for farming. Sensors built in to the equipment can enable famers to find and secure equipment, monitor resource use, and ensure proper maintenance. John Deere is also taking the smart car concept to farming tractors.
Similarly, a Brazilian company, Stara S/A, is earning 21 percent of its revenue from hardware and software for precision farming solutions.[ii] The company has historically made farming equipment, not farming technology. That’s a true example of digital transformation and of being a disruptor in the digital economy. Stara’s solutions use the SAP HANA platform for real-time analytics, such as on a seed spreader to determine how much seed to plant. The company estimates that its precision farming solution can save 15 percent on seed application.
Out Sensoring in the Field
IoT sensors aren’t just being used on equipment, however. They’re being used right in the field to monitor weather and water, fertilizer, and pesticide use and need. Sensors can actually monitor how plants are losing water in order to water more effectively for optimum plant health rather than on a cyclic schedule that might not match actual water needs.
Drones are also being used for precision farming in one of Prowess Consulting’s home states, Utah. At the Utah Water Research Laboratory at Utah State University, a beta drone, AggieAir, can capture up to 200 gigabytes of images in an hour. Those images can help a farmer estimate water needs and trouble spots. This role is also being fulfilled by images captured by satellites and planes. Images are run through analysis software to help identify problem areas, such as crops with poor health, and what the cause might be.
In one real-world example, a farmer discovered an area of poor drainage that was causing the loss of 40 bushels of corn per acre. The drainage was corrected, and the farmer stopped losing crops and revenue.
Imagine a farmer, not out walking his field, but sitting in a control center or even on the beach monitoring data with his smartphone. The result is precise watering, less water wasted, and healthier, higher-yielding crops.
Precision Farming at Home
Farmers aren’t the only beneficiaries of digital transformation though. Precision farming is available to the home gardener too. With the FarmBot, a home gardener can plan a garden bed on a computer, program care regimens, plant the bed, and take advantage of real-time weather data for water and care for the bed using the bot.
[i] Markets and Markets. “Precision Farming Market by Technology (Guidance System, Remote Sensing, Variable Rate Technology), Offering (Hardware Automation & Control System, Sensor & Monitoring Device, Software, Services), Application, and Geography – Global Forecast to 2022.” January 2017. www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/precision-farming-market-1243.html.
[ii] Forbes. “Precision Farming Provides the Best Example of a Digital Transformation.” August 2017. www.forbes.com/sites/stevebanker/2017/08/04/precision-farming-provides-the-best-example-of-a-digital-transformation/#25dbafff5556.