A recent report from the Cleantech Group paints a broad picture of the corporate arms race for big data investments, the ever-evolving data technology, and the challenges involved in harnessing sophisticated data trends. To give you the gist of Cleantech’s “Agriculture Gets Smart: The Rise of Data and Electronics” report, we put together the takeaways.
The Report Rundown
As big data, or multiple and massive sets of complex information streamed into one platform, has swept across industries, Ag giants have also rushed to reap the benefits. Big data tech like robots, drones and smart-data-platforms all could revolutionize the farming industry by increasing crop yields and revenue come harvest time.
A pinnacle point for the big data and Ag fusion was in late 2013, when Monsanto acquired The Climate Corporation, a provider of agriculture insurance and climate-based data analytics. Monsanto claims that data science could be a $20 billion opportunity beyond its core focus. This move triggered other large corporations to dip into the market, and i3 has recently tracked partnerships and investments from Syngenta, DuPont, and Cargill, as well as Google, BP, GE, and Mitsui.
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The Cleantech Group found that while mega corporations are honing in on the precision agtech market, startups are at the epicenter of industry innovation, creating infrastructures and data-managing software to optimize precision on farms. Corporations are especially interested in sensor technology and positioning systems, which are now being added to drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and robotics, as well as global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and global positioning systems (GPS), allowing farmers to assess and program fertilizer, water, and pesticide inputs for each plant.
Companies like PrecisionHawk, Aerial Precision, Ceres Imaging, and Honey Comb are currently at the forefront of UAV technology, manufacturing drones fully equipped with photo and video, mapping capabilities, and artificial intelligence. Blue River Technology is taking it a step further, designing robotic equipment complete with computer vision and learning algorithms.
Plugging It All In
With the emergence of these multifunctional technologies, the challenge is combining the data into one simple system that farmers can access. The solution is finding a universal wireless infrastructure to transfer data from sensors to a central software system. Intelligent Wireless Networks is developing specialized WiFi networks for rural areas that may not be covered by major carriers, making it easier for farmers to gather data. Once the data is localized, cloud-based platforms, developed by companies like OnFarm and Granular, integrate the data so farmers can put it into practice in the fields.
This brings about a new challenge: gaining the trust of farmers. “Farmers are becoming increasingly concerned about who owns the data generated on their farms, who can access it, and for what reason,” said Lance Donny, CEO of OnFarm.
According to Cleantech, it’s not likely that growers will eschew new technologies and fail to adapt. However, as big data continues to extend into the Ag industry, companies need to define clear guidelines with farmers about confidentially and data ownership.
With new companies and technologies sprouting up all the time, corporations are looking to invest in the ones that will set them above competitors in the market. While we can only speculate over which industry giant — Monsanto, Google, or perhaps an unexpected player — will seize the next billion-dollar big data and ag company, Cleantech says that is it these major partnerships, investments, and acquisitions that will shape the industry in the coming years.
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