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How ‘smart farm’ technology is helping farmers to get more out of their land while reducing inputs and environmental impact

‘Smart farm’ technology is helping farmers to get more out of their land while reducing inputs and environmental impact. But without good digital connectivity in rural areas, it’s a revolution that could pass many by.

I read a report the other day that the global market for ‘smart agriculture’ will be worth around $18.7 billion dollars by 2027, evidence of the growing influx of new technologies into the farming industry.

It’s not hard to see why. Connected tech can perform a myriad of on-farm tasks at a time when farmers are under increasing pressure to deliver better yields, with less wastage and less environmental impact.

The Government’s new agricultural payments system, ELM (Environmental Land Management) scheme, will reward farmers for taking steps to improve the environment, animal health and welfare, and reduce carbon emissions. It is expected to be fully up and running by 2025.

Meanwhile the Coronavirus pandemic has also exposed the fragility of global supply chains, prompting what appears to be something of a renaissance in buying local as people discover farm shops and local produce hubs. They’re also taking more of an interest in how their food is produced and where it comes from.

Meanwhile we’ve seen the impact that Brexit has had on the supply of overseas migrant labour, with flowers in Cornwall, where I’m based, literally left to rot in the fields for want of people to pick them.

So, for all sorts of reasons, farmers are embracing new technology as a means to boost efficiency, reduce inputs like fertilisers and water, increase yields and improve the environment.

One company in Cornwall hoping to make a difference is a young start-up called Kernow Robotics. It has just been awarded a grant to help develop a self-driving agricultural robot called a mini tractor with a set of interchangeable tools.

These might assist with flower picking, precision planting or even using cameras to identify a weed and zap it on the spot without the need for large-scale spraying. The company is also researching whether a robot can monitor livestock for calving and lambing, then alert the farmer if an animal is in labour. Their plan is that farmers could hire fleets of robots when required to perform different tasks in the field without the farmer even having to be there.

Drones are also being used more and more on farms, with drone flights in the agriculture industry up 32% in 2018-19 for tasks like seeding, surveying and spraying.

But it’s remote sensor technology that is arguably having the biggest impact on smart agriculture. These small hardy devices can be attached to almost anything around the farm and by using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, report back to a PC, tablet or even a mobile phone in real time.

The applications are endless. Examples include temperature probes, gas sensors (like methane or ammonia), level indicators (for storage tanks, feeds and grain), soil moisture sensors, rain and wind speed monitors, livestock counters, access controls, humidity sensors, leakage detection, light and power management, CCTV – the list goes on. We’ve even heard of a Bovine TB sensor for water courses being developed.

One farming customer in Cornwall lost 90,000 gallons of water on a metered supply before they realised, to their cost, what had happened. An IoT water meter and annual data plan would have cost less than £200 and can be set to trigger an alert to your mobile phone if it detects abnormal water usage.

Many of these IoT sensors have very long life batteries and don’t need a wired connection. Instead they use a low power, wide area, low frequency wireless network called LoRaWAN, through which they can transmit data at regular intervals, giving farmers a whole-farm snapshot of different metrics.

That real-time visibility across a range of assets allows farmers to take control of their environment and achieve significant savings, not just in terms of staff time but also in reducing waste and maximising performance. This can reduce production costs and increase productivity.

It’s important for compliance and environmental monitoring too, and can play a vital role in establishing baseline data against which environmental performance can be managed and evidenced, with an eye to the new ELM scheme.

What binds all of this together is data. But to collect, analyse and interpret that data you need to be able to move it around. And for that you need decent internet, properly integrated with your WiFi and LoRaWAN networks. That’s where Wildanet can help.

How Wildanet is helping farmers and rural communities

Wildanet is building a fibre broadband network across Cornwall capable of delivering gigabit speeds. That’s roughly 40 times faster than average download speeds in Cornwall.

And we’re going to the places that the major providers have ignored, which is mainly rural areas with small communities who risk being left behind by the digital revolution.

At Wildanet we are committed to helping rural communities across Cornwall to bridge that digital divide. We know that fast, reliable rural broadband is essential to modern agriculture and will only increase in importance as technology becomes more and more integrated with everyday farming life.

Our roll-out timetable is ambitious so if you hear from one of our wayleave officers that we’re coming your way, we’ll work with you to make the process as quick and simple as possible, and of course there is a return for you.

We’re committed to helping rural communities across Cornwall bridge the digital divide, and we know that rural broadband is essential to modern agriculture. By enabling technological innovations we can help Cornish farms become more efficient, increase environmental sustainability and meet the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.

We don’t want anyone digitally left behind.

For more information, email us at hello@wildanet.com or call 0800 069 9906.

Ian Calvert
CEO, Wildanet

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