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Farms across America are getting smarter. 'Smart farms,' as they're referred to, are farms which employ the latest technology to maximize efficiency and their bottom line profit. Smart farms employ remote sensing technology to manage crops, livestock, barns and greenhouses. They can employ drones to monitor crops. They also take advantage of cloud software platforms which allow them to manage their entire operations from a single portal. Here is a more detailed look at the components which make up a smart farm, and how they can help the bottom line.
Wearables for livestock
Thanks to remote sensing technology, livestock can now be fitted with wearable tech that provides farmers with GPS tracking data and vital information on animal location and health. Smart collars, e-tags and e-pills relay information on body temperature, heart rate, breathing patterns and even cud chewing. For example, Quantified Ag, a company from Nebraska, manufactures e-tags that are clipped to an animal's ear. These tags monitor the animal's location and body temperature. Body temperature is the first sign of illness in an animal, and e-tags let farmers know the moment there are abnormalities so they can quarantine their livestock, thus preventing the spread of infection and preventing costly losses.
Smart greenhouses and barns
Remote sensors are also making smart greenhouses and barns a reality. Sensors, dispersed throughout a structure, relay information on ventilation, CO2 and humidity. Sensaphone is an example of a company which makes remote monitoring systems for greenhouses. Products like the FGD-0400 transmit essential environmental data to cloud servers which can be accessed by computers or mobile devices, giving farmers convenient access to the information they need, and saving them a physical trip to the greenhouse.
Barns can also be equipped with remote sensors that monitor environmental conditions like temperature, humidity and ventilation. Companies like DeLaval can wire barns with sensors that not only record environmental data, but also automate processes such as milking and feeding. Milking and feeding machines interact with smart collars or livestock tags, tracking when animals have been milked or fed and directing them through automated gateways to feed and milking stations as necessary. What does all this mean? It eliminates the need for famers to physically inspect barns and it saves on the labor that is spent feeding and milking cows on traditional farms.
Drones can now be equipped with sensors specifically designed for agriculture. The Parrot Sequoia, available for $3,500, is a multi-spectral sensor that can be used with all of Parrot's drones. It uses sunshine and multi-spectral sensors to determine crop health in foot-by-foot detail, allowing farmers to take precise action in terms of watering, pesticides and fertilization. In other words, instead of spraying or watering a whole field, they can just target areas that need help. This is a great solution for farms with significant acreage, as the cost of watering, spraying pesticides and using fertilizer adds up. By only using what they need, farmers can save money in the long run.
Cloud-based software platforms are yet another tool that helping farmers manage their operations more efficiently. Software for farms allows for the management of the entire operation from a single-entry point. Good software will allow farmers to run the business side of their operation (such as sales and supply chain management) with precision. Cloud solutions, such as those provided by San Francisco-based Granular, organize crop activities, supply chain management and farm labor, in addition to uploading data from remote sensors around the farm for analysis. Pricing for Granular can be negotiated with the company. It is subscription-based, and the actual price is based on crop mix and farm size.
Efficiency and savings
There are currently no statistics that show exactly how much money smart technologies are saving farms, but Vital Herd, a producer of e-pills for cows, has estimated that livestock death due to illness costs farms in the United States a total of $5 billion every year. The early detection of illness through wearables would seem to make the technology worthwhile. By providing constant, real-time data on environmental conditions, smart barns and greenhouses can save farms money on labor, since humans aren't required to physically monitor buildings. Milking and feeding machines also save money on labor, for obvious reasons. Drone sensors can provide detailed data on crops at a micro-crop level, meaning farmers can allocate resources (water, fertilizer, etc.) only as needed, rather than blanketing entire fields on a regular schedule. Finally, cloud-based software can save farmers time by providing a single platform from which to manage a farm's operations. This means they can monitor the location of their livestock and the environmental conditions of their barns from one application, and then switch over to look at purchasing spreadsheets, all in the same software suite. Cloud platforms have the additional advantage of being accessible from computers and mobile devices, and by as many people as necessary. And, because it's in the cloud, software like Granular will keep working on remote servers even if your local servers get knocked out, which gives you constant, year-round access to your business management tools.
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David Ryan has many years of experience as a freelance writer and is active covering science and technology stories in the United States. He also enjoys writing short stories and traveling.