Kyle Riordan | Research Analyst
April 16, 2014

Smart Farms: Planting the Seeds of the Future


It seems that the Internet of Things (IOT) is infiltrating every industry (and in this blogger’s humble opinion, that’s a good thing).  We have seen this concept take hold in some familiar places, our homes, our cars, our cities and our factories; but what about our farms?  That’s right farming, one of the few industries that many of us probably assumed to be relatively stagnant in terms of technology is seeing its own revolution in what Forbes has dubbed the “Internet of Cows.”  As a people we have moved from the agrarian age to the industrial age to the digital age, and no longer shall our farms be left behind.

You may be asking yourself, “How can two so seemingly different concepts, digital technology and agriculture, find synergy in the ordinary moocow?”  The answer is of course data.  Data that can be derived from the fields, the water, the air and yes even the livestock to keep farmers better informed of their land, crops and animals. There are soil monitors, atmospheric monitors, aerial drones and animal tags being deployed on farms around the world to help farmers make better decisions.  Soil monitors can detect variables like ground temperature and moisture levels.  Atmospheric monitors can detect weather conditions in pinpointed locations.  Flyover drones can indicate if seeds have sprouted and animal monitors can track not just location but also provide indicators of potential illness.

At an industry wide level, the goals and benefits of all this is substantial.  Smart farming is actively trying to make our farms less detrimental to the environment by increasing crop yields, reducing water consumption, and streamlining farming processes.  Lofty and noble endeavors no doubt, but it can also help farms improve the bottom line. 

Let’s take the example of the connected cow.  A study conducted by the Cow Tracking Project found that each case of mastitis (a potentially fatal infection of the udder) costs farmers somewhere around £300.  With a smart tagging system used to monitor individual cows and their behavior farmers can be alerted to early indicators, make adjustments and hopefully avoid the illness.  This not only saves the farmer some money but also keeps the cow healthier and happier.  Multiply this out across a herd and the savings (in terms of both money and suffering) really start to add up.

The key is connecting all this data and delivering it to farmers in a manner that is both easily consumable and actionable.  The connectivity is precisely the area where telcos can fit in (and some already have with Verizon very much leading the charge through its Powerful Answers initiative).  There is an abundance of monitoring tools out there but not all of them offer the same level of connectivity.  Some require specific transmitters to transfer data, others require farmers to physically check stations, and some even require farmers to call in to toll free numbers to get current readings.  This lattermost instance is one where the telco use case fits in two fold.  Firstly providing the connectivity to transmit the data over the carriers cellular network and secondly by offering SMS and MMS APIs to deliver useful messages and alerts to farmers on any of their connected devices.  With the proper analytics tools evaluating the collected data the messages that are delivered can go beyond mere data readouts to active alerts warning farmers of potential problems. 

Like so many other industries, farms are getting smarter.  There are more tools than ever at farmers’ disposal to help them monitor their fields, and track their animals.  But just harvesting the data is not enough, it needs to be delivered in a time and manner that is actionable to help farmers make better decisions about their land and livestock.  With both their networks and APIs telcos can be a key enabler here helping the agricultural industry join the IOT.  Moo-ve over (sorry had to do it) old farms, the connected cows are coming home.