Smart farming and technology: Moving beyond marrying mobile with mud
Worrying about being able to embed delicate technology into a rugged environment, or whether a data network will be able to handle the load placed on it by an interconnected, industrial ecosystem are the least of your worries. Rest-assured, we’ve got these issues covered. It’s time for you to start focusing on how you’ll build a digital agriculture business that can stop any investor in their (muddy) tracks.
Regardless of the crop, or beast, there’s one thing all farming operations have in common – mud. Mud and very little signal.
The big, open spaces, coupled with the act of growing and nurturing a life-form of sorts surrounded and guided by the natural elements, means there will, at some point, be soil of some kind and it will, inevitably, soak through the pores of damn near everything. You, and all that mud, will also most likely be in an environment where connectivity is temperamental, at best.
Ruggedised to suit an industrial environment, designed to endure even the harshest condition and proven effective in the fields, the IoT.nxt technology stack is the answer to ensuring competitiveness, and relevance, in the years to come.
Nico Steyn, CEO and founder of IoT.nxt and an avid farmer himself, noted the importance placed on durability during the development of their technology stack. Overcoming the struggles faced by farmers wanting to embrace technology continues to be of the utmost importance.
“It’s important to us that not only is hardware rugged enough to survive and thrive in extremely tough environments or ecosystems, but that connectivity is robust, regardless of what mother nature is throwing your way. That was step one for us.
Step two was bringing data processing to the edge so that machine learning and threshold-driven insights can be actioned in real time, without data needing to be pushed into the cloud and back down before changes can take place,” said Steyn.
As any farmer will know, it’s not just mud or the natural elements that pose a threat to the interconnected, smart farm. It’s also the latency issues that stem from their isolated nature. How could data from an operations-worth of sensors communicate effectively without placing a data network under immense pressure or, worse, rendering it completely ineffective?
By being able to overlay technology without interruption, digitalise and optimise an operation to create true interconnectivity without ripping out and replacing any legacy elements and bringing data processing to the edge, risk is negated and the potential of precision farming is unlocked. Central to this process is ensuring that narrow band technologies are used to open previously closed doors and allow data to pass through.
For IoT.nxt, bringing localised gateways into the mix to filter and aggregate data at the edge before it is sent up to the cloud is the sweet spot – and a true point of difference. For agricultural operations deploying IoT.nxt technology, it’s the key to unlocking true precision farming capabilities.
Precision farming – don’t wait until the cows come home
In 2018, unless you farm purely for pleasure, precision in farming is non-negotiable. It is, after all, a science, requiring not just data but real-time analysis and, most importantly, action.
Opportunity identification and resource management (and saving) are probably the most obvious benefits of running a smart farm. Remote monitoring and threshold-driven machine learning means that your farm can effectively manage itself, only alerting you to severe problems or supply changes. If supply or reserve levels, machinery and process bottlenecks are catered to well in advance, downtime can be pre-empted and used more effectively. That’s if it isn’t avoided altogether!
Smart greenhouses, enhancing profitability on a yield by marrying irrigation with topography and soil variability and accurate reporting for off-site suppliers – these are all in action already. Don’t believe us? Take a look at this.
Alerts to your mobile, meaning you can deploy changes without needing to trek to a specific device or location, and progress tracking cut out the need for manual counting, freeing up your time for quality control or business development substantiated by accurate data. We’re not talking about CSI-style, delicate, futuristic data dashboards, either. Rather, an easy to navigate dashboard of relevant data aimed at aiding rather than confusing or overwhelming users.
Another little-discussed benefit of having all this data in your pocket is the ability to identify the risk of diseases and downtime. Changes in soil moisture levels through moisture probes or growth rates, picking up pest-infected crops and only deploying pesticides where necessary, logging nutrient deficits and adjusting soil temperatures all suddenly become plausible realities that don’t require excessive manpower. All this leads to reduced risk and, ultimately, greater ROI.
Suddenly, farming moves from relying on what’s provided by the heavens and earth to a precise environment that can be controlled and manipulated to deliver optimal conditions for growth, in all definitions of the word.
In fact, it almost becomes possible to remove the threat of mother nature keeping you up at night fending off her wicked weather – barring hail, of course.
Case in point
To help unmuddy the waters, let’s look at an example.
If you consider water pumps – a common feature on many farms – the first thing that your mind might drift to is how a faulty or flawed water management system can wreak havoc across an entire ecosystem with severe knock-on effects.
Lengthy operational downtimes while you wait for technicians, unnoticeable wear and tear, inaccurate reporting on water consumption and over or under supply of water to crops are all big problems.
In a project last year, IoT.nxt aided in the development of a pump that enabled:
- Remote monitoring of activity, showing data and analytics on pumps operation-wide, with no need to drive or walk to the pump station;
- Visibility into real-time, cloud-based data from anywhere on any mobile device;
- Remote adjustment of the various modes pumps are operating on for optimal performance;
- Remote monitoring, adjustment and control of water levels and the rate at which the levels change;
- Visibility of status levels of pumps on mobile phones or tablets;
- Remote access pumps to reduce the need for technician call outs;
- Setting of proactive warning triggers for when water levels drop below set thresholds;
- Proactive maintenance of all pumps, issuing automatic warnings to technicians.
- Conversion of existing pumps with little to no disruption to operations by plugging into existing din rails;
- Adherence to water management tables and maintenance of usage records for compliance purposes;
- Lower operational costs and improved efficiency.
Taking it a step further
Steyn went on to note that an IoT-enabled operation isn’t new, nor is it the future. “This is the new normal. The 4th Industrial Revolution isn’t coming, it’s already here. Adapt or die, as they say!”
“I anticipate that, over the next few months, we’ll start to hear more about farming operations moving beyond focusing on what and how the land is producing towards tying in with Big Data to meet supply, demand and commodity prices to unlock the economic potential of digital agriculture.”
Globally, things are rapidly moving beyond imagining a world using drones to deliver seeds, mobiles measuring moisture control in orchards or even pest pressure and disease risk mitigation.
Australian Farmers recently wrote about the move from precision agriculture to decision agriculture, “whereby data from precision agriculture technologies and other data sets are seamlessly connected and used in big data analytics for improved decision-making both on farms and along supply chains to markets and consumers.”
“This vision is attracting a whole new range of players into agriculture and agribusiness, excited by the commercial opportunities for applying IoT technologies to the food system.”
If you’re interested in going beyond just turning systems on and off remotely, moving in the direction of adjusting flow rates, shifting the course of pivots and tapping into predictive maintenance, it’s time for us to chat.
It’s time for you to get IoT.nxt on your team. No amount of mud can stop us.
See it for yourself
If you’d like to find out how IoT.nxt can catapult your organisation, get in touch with us here.
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