The agriculture industry is one of the most important and perhaps impactful industries in the world and Micorosoft Azure is already planting the seeds sensing the needs for a more connected future in the IoT (Internet of Things).
Interestingly the ag industry currently employs 30% of all workers globally and drives more than $4.8 trillion in global revenue. Even more, it contributes between 10-30% of the global GDP (gross domestic product). What’s even more interesting, ag consumes 70% of our global water resources while producing 24% of all global greenhouse emissions.
There is no question it is an industry that cries out for automation and technology. That is why advanced technologies can readily assist in so many ways. Perhaps the greatest contribution as of late to ag has come in the form of sensors. Sensors provide a host of tasks enabling realtime tracking and diagnostics on soil moisture and crop monitoring. It can report back on the health of farm animals. Even more important, it has been able to perform telematics capabilities on farm equipment providing maintenance and other essential machine stats to ensure the truck is running at its best capacity when and where it is needed.
Couple that with the emergence of robotics, drones, and other technologies and the IoT is providing companies with the tools to leverage experiences for what Sam George, director of Azure, Microsoft, refers to as the “digital feedback loop.”
With the digital feedback loop, data is empowering the next evolution of IoT where companies are continuing to capitalize on data, AI (artificial intelligence), and continuous product improvement, deeper customer relationships, deliver greater products, increase product usage and even, customer interactions. This all leads to better service and greater monitezation and more efficient and productive methods that are all data driven.
What’s more, taking a closer look Microsoft has a unique focus on precision agriculture and edge intelligence solutions, which includes a very strong commitment to sustainability. This is evident in its policies and low-carbon business practices. The company has been operating as carbon neutral since 2012. And it reduces its waste each year and diverted 90% of operational waste from landfills. In addition, Microsoft also has an artificial intelligence for its earth program. This provides researchers and outside organizations with AI tools to drive new data insights.
All of this data helps with global issues related to water, agriculture, biodiversity, and climate change. Looking at the challenge of water scarcity the numbers reveal that agriculture consumes 70% of the world’s available fresh water, which is contributing to the shrinking supply with a growing demand.
This is how the IoT can help. In New Zealand for instance, Craig Blackburn is addressing water conservation on his 990-acre farm. He is using SCADA-farm. This is an industrial IoT solution. It helps monitor and manage his farm’s irrigation system from his mobile phone. The technology was developed with Schneider Electric on Microsoft’s Azure IoT platform by Waterforce.
And it offers remote controls and advanced analytics to help Blackburn save time, use less water and electricity, reduce costs, and increase yields. Studies are showing the need to increase the world’s food production by 2050.
Today, farmers can receive alerts on everything from the farm equipment, to soil crops, and monitoring livestock. This is just one trend we have discussed and is illustrated in the articles on our Website. Let’s look at another example. Steffen Hake, a German farmer is using technology to manage cows on his parents‘ co-op farm. The solution is called Healthy Cow24.
And it is built on Microsoft Azure. It includes necklace tags with motion sensors and microphones that monitor the cows‘ activity. It alerts farmers of increased activity. And that often means an animal is in heat. The data generated from the tags can then be transferred to management solutions that help farmers make better decisions. This can help boost milk production and ensure healthier cows.
Going even a step further with precision ag, farming management allows the observation and responsiveness crop yields and field variations. Using satellite imagery and advanced sensors, farmers and agronomists now have the ability to optimize returns on inputs while preserving greater soil resources on a much larger scale than ever imagined. Through the application of weather data and sensors, farmers are now able to make advanced decisionmaking to help determine future crop yields.
At Microsoft Build it was good to see Microsoft and DJI announcing a partnership that would really extend their working relationship in precision farming and drones, making Azure a preferred cloud computing partner for AI and machine training. If you are a radio listener, you would have heard me talk about FarmBeats this past Tuesday in which the two are already working on together.
With all the moving parts, this new announcement will now strengthen the partnership and all data will be analyzed through Azure IoT edge via the FarmBeats solution.
With the advent of advanced technologies, sensors, and even small, self-contained microcontrollers that are now being used on a single integrated circuit, companies are being able to leverage the IoT on devices in the field they never dreamed possible, proving that the sky is the limit for just about any connected device.
Spending a few days at Microsoft Build in Seattle made it abundantly clear that the folks in Redmond have put the pedal to the metal when it comes to the IoT. And if you thought Microsoft wasn’t serious about its focus on the IoT—think again. The IoT folks I interviewed with for hours proved they get the importance of taking a deep drive into key verticals like ag, manufacturing, oil and gas, HVAC services, connected home, healthcare, and more. But they also understand addressing customer pain points, rather than addressing vertical issues.
As Vikram Dendi, chief product officer, AI+R NExT, Healthcare NExT, sees the future of IoT opening endless opportunities as we continue to connect billons of devices that will surely help solve global issues.
And as a result, agriculture can not continue operating as it has traditionally done in the past. It needs to recognize and rediscover how to manage water conservation, monitor livestock, and ensure food safety. This too will inspire other industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, and the like. As the world runs out of resources, creative minds will need to tap into the IoT to find ways to leverage data and connected devices to maximize what the world already has. Perhaps that means thinking and acting differently.
The Microsoft Build was an event that developers see the future of IoT, and what Microsoft is offering through Azure and Azure Sphere as an opportunity to address some of these challenges and optimize food logistics and methods; to conserve water, and improve efficiencies from farm to fork. Only time will tell what great new developer Microsoft inspired at Microsoft Build 2018.
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