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Smart Farming – Next Agricultural Revolution

Smart farming or precision farming is a buzz word in the agriculture sector and is paving way for next agricultural revolution. This is becoming the necessity of the hour to feed the everyday growing world population. UN predicts that by 2050, 9.6 billion people will have to be fed. It means a 70% increase in availability of arable land and fresh water and limited manpower.

Few recent software projects we got involved in at SequoiaAT were with companies focusing in on Farming or related sector like  smart devices for leak detection to cattle tracking for an organic farm to  infrastructure solutions for field management.   Seeing so much traction in this field I got curious the explore the impact of smart/connected devices in Farming.

I was impressed to find that farming sector is already deploying M2M/IoT solutions. Smart farming opens up an unprecedented amount of opportunities and services like Imaging & sensing technologies, software applications, telematics, unmanned drones and analytics

The highest dependency a farm has apart from nature/natural resources is the Farming equipment. Today manufacturers and farmers get to monitor live the status of the equipment and their usage and also help troubleshoot to reduce downtime of the equipment using remote monitoring technologies. Apart from equipment manufacturers, companies like Titan and Avid wireless are working on monitoring solutions for the infrastructure /equipments.

Advances do not stop at equipment level but have been going down right into the soil used for cultivation. Cloud-connected systems being designed and deployed today from companies like Topcon and FarmX help in yield maximization. Systems also help in automating agriculture operations and providing real-time monitoring and data analysis. Few companies are working on developing and deploying smarter pest control solutions. One such company- Semios has developed a Wireless sensor network to monitor pest counts, and though its smart systems releases metered pheromone when it detects that the pest population is too high. This is helping reduce/replace use of pesticides

In states like California which has been drought struck for many years deploying IoT solutions along with data-analytics is helping minimize the waste of water and also reduce the cost of farming. Many farms in California which grow water-hungry products like almonds and pistachios have implemented wireless systems for Soil monitoring from companies like Ranchio, Skydrop etc. Farms are also looking at reducing water waste and deploying leak detection systems from companies like FlowLabs  and also using tools to efficiently manage energy usage, all in real-time.

Although not part of smart devices, advances in Genomics is also helping the smart farming revolution. Today we have a very good understanding of DNA of a plant/cattle. Although it is still controversial but with the help of genome editing, we can change a crop or stock animal’s genome and we just need to look at its genome tells us if it will have the required characteristics.

But all is not rosy and there are many challenges and concerns which are associated with smart farming. The first being that agricultural sector is extremely low margin so investments in innovation are difficult. I am seeing that Venture capitalists are starting to make investments this sector which should hopefully address part of the concern.  Also, the amount of data which will get generated is so high that if not having right legislation could lead to price discrimination and commodity price manipulations

To summarize although the early adopters of smart farming are trying to reduce costs, time and wastage. The scope of smart farming applications is growing fast, including yield measurement , remote monitoring, disease monitoring, livestock monitoring. Personally, I see only two options to continue to feed the ever growing human population – either colonize Mars/Moon or smart farming.

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