big data and smart farming : farmers are connected

After venturing into trading, banking and health industries, GAFA is now focusing on new sector- agriculture. While urban dwellers may have difficulty imagining a connected farm, it is already a reality for farmers living in continents. From Latin America to Southeast Asia through Europe, farms are already equipped with GPS guided tractors and connected irrigation infrastructures.

Managers, caregivers, operators, technicians and farmers are able to do 1000 things at once and that too often single-handedly. The contribution of technology in measuring and monitoring crops and animals has proved to be highly beneficial in producing more and better.

Talking of harvesting, installing sensors in fields and using satellite mapping allows for very accurate monitoring of moisture level in different plots of land, the state of soil and even for predicting pest attacks. And what are the benefits of these technological inputs? For the operator, it is possible to intervene ‘surgically’ by providing plants with water or pesticides at the right spot and in the right dose. This is a definite step towards protecting environment. Big data helps in herd management too. Following up with milkings, milk quality and animals’ health are a part of the connected rearing routine.

“Precision agriculture allows farmers to make interventions on their farms with surgical precision”

Triple crop production with big data

There is sometimes an ancestral wisdom which tells when it’s the right time for sowing seeds and harvesting or which are the varieties that are best suited to a particular region. But with climate changes, one can’t predict these things anymore. In Colombia, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has established a link between climate data, rice varieties and crop yield using big data predictive analytics. Between 2007 and 2012, the country experienced a significant drop in yield by one tonne per hectare and this was indeed a major challenge to revive growth. But thanks to Fedearroz (National Rice Growers Federation) that allowed sharing their historical data concerning climate, crops and agricultural practices. Because of this, CIAT has been able to highlight the varieties that are most suited to these regions or rather say, which can potentially result in three times the regular yield! Awarded by UN, the project is now rolled out in Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay.

“Predictive analysis and big data show a link climate data, rice varieties and crop yields.”

The economics of agriculture in the digital tsunami

Digital farms have a bright future: both public and private players are investing in this domain and the procedure is becoming more structured now. In France, the Ministry of Agriculture has launched its open data portal for the sector with a goal to fulfill it in 2020. At CLAAS, a tractor manufacturing company, the department of new technologies has 250 employees compared to just 50 five years ago. It is also not surprising then that the leading agricultural cooperative group, Invivo aims to gather data from the 241 members in Maferme-Neotic (the merger was taken over by Invivo few years back and it’s a specialist in IT systems for agricultural sector) and to invest 10-30 million Euros in ‘Smart farming’ by 2019. It had also bought SMAG in 2012, a start-up company that now shows 15% annual growth and just like GAFAs, aims to make a name in processing (and therefore resale) of  agricultural data and associated services.

As Thierry Blandinières, the owner of Union InVivo likes to remind us, France has a heritage and a very high potential. The third agricultural revolution is set to begin but before that, all its actors must be connected to channel the revolutionary upheavals to come.

“Invivo Group’s start-up SMAG collects data from 241 agricultural cooperatives in France and shows 15% annual growth”

Zoom on … the agri-nauts and the French agri-surfers

70% of French farmers have internet connection. French agri-naut: 47 years old; grows wine grapes and cereal; does mixed farming.
Connects online for: e-mails; updates on weather, prices & agricultural markets; bank transactions and for selling agricultural equipment.
¼ of farmers’ population is connected to forums and social networks.

Basis: The 2013 Study by training organization, Vivéa.

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