How might innovations from Google and Salesforce bring an ocean of agricultural data to a farmer’s smartphone?
Farming might be the world’s most complex manufacturing environment, working within an intricate interplay between soil, sun, and moisture to produce food. The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to track more of that complexity and boil it down to insights that will drive yield and profitability. But first, farmers must harness the ocean of data. “We all know weather trumps everything,” notes Climate Corporation’s Chief Science Officer Sam Eathington. However, he estimates that 70% of yield is “a result of decisions made by farmers such as what to plant, how to fertilize the crop and how to protect it.”
Over the last 18 months, some of the giants in agriculture have accelerated their data services offerings. Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto, states that it is “on track to hit 50 million acres” with its FieldView product this year. FieldView brings in nine years of yield data on 2000 seed hybrids to provide recommendations for farmers. Today, the combination of more accurate GPS and autonomous vehicle control has made precision farming economical, at least for large farms. According to John Deere, self-guided systems now farm approximately 60 to 70 percent of the crop acreage in North America, 30 to 50 percent in Europe, and more than 90 percent in Australia.
Serving up farm data is emerging decisive opportunity that will define the rural market in North America. The winners here might be set to engage the millions of farmers worldwide. As a vibrant crop of young agtech startups strikes out into a North American market long dominated by ag giants, they are increasingly looking beyond the few thousand $1M family farms which have been the mainstay of precision agriculture. Tools that can process massive farm data streams into actionable insights and deliver them to mobile devices will unlock a US market of more than two million additional farms and define rural markets around the world.
Watch for innovations from the broader mobile market. Here are two examples.
Radar-Based Gesture Sensing and Data Transmission
Google is looking to integrate its smart devices into a single platform, spanning all of its devices, notes Rachel Binder from CB Insights. It has filed a patent for “radar-based gesture sensing and data transmission.” (See image above.) The technology would allow users to control a suite of devices using gestures in addition to voice control and handheld devices. Could it be applied to a grower, workers, and equipment- pivots and sprayers in the field?
Data integration on the fly
AI-powered data integration from companies like Datorama (recently acquired by Salesforce (CRM.N)) turns any data reporting source in the form of a feed or file into a continuous data connection that leverages email, FTP or other storage locations to maintain continual updates. Data for marketing professionals, like data for farmers, comes from many sources across devices leading to a data source explosion that can quickly move from dozens to hundreds or more. In today’s world of social media and real-time logistics, the average marketer uses up to 70 data sources to assess marketing performance. Systems like Datorama help marketers access more niche channels for data on specific neighborhoods instead of entire cities. These systems take mountains of data and facilitate new advertising and pricing strategies tailored to niche markets. What if growers could dynamically switch in different irrigation monitoring solutions and remote imaging systems, receiving data insights on their fields and crop status from mobile devices?
Organizing data to mirror the way you farm
An automated data source integration engine like Datorama modified for farm data might provide the ability for small farmers to use data the way big farms with IT staffs do today. AI-driven data integration would process farm data and deliver insights directly to mobile devices.
Agtech has been a sleepy corner of the technology world over the last few decades, both because of the speed of change, but only a tiny fraction of the 2 million US farms have the staff to manage data. The mounting pressures on smaller farms are forcing farmers to change to survive. With cheaper hardware and the new stretch of advanced communications networks, smaller farmers might have the opportunity to drive their profits with data.