Fields, food or wine, for increasingly connected farms

Farm equipment maker John Deere’s new sprayer, unveiled at the big CES electronics show in Las Vegas, sprays only the weeds its cameras detect (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP)

A farmer can now monitor the health of his fields, the nutrient levels in his silos, or the ripening of the wine in his barrels on increasingly connected farms from his phone.

At the major electronics show in Las Vegas from January 5 to 8, startups and agricultural giants are offering numerous tools to collect data, analyze it and help operators make decisions.

Olivier Lépine, head of the French start-up company Brad, has thus developed a sensor for planting in plots of land that provides real-time information about temperature, humidity and light.

Based on the collected data, farmers can decide when to irrigate, how to reduce crop usage, how to care for the soil, and more.

It’s also a way to save them time because they no longer have to go around all over their area.

Olivier Lépine points out that farmers, especially the youngest, “want to make an impact, but they also want to have a quality of life”.

South Korean startup AimbeLab looked at animal feed silos.

Sein Kwon says farmers often “hit their silo with a hammer to find out how much noise is left.” “Not very accurate.”

The survey offered by the company evaluates the quantity of stocks as well as their conservation status, which allows the operator and his food company to better predict supplies and thus reduce trips.

Conservation of herbicides

American startup Simple Labs offers a sensor that measures the temperature, humidity, pH and phenolic content (an organic substance that can change the taste) of wine in a barrel to monitor its maturation.

SentiV, a robot developed by French startup Meropy to detect weeds, pests or diseases
SentiV, a robot developed by French startup Meropy to detect weeds, pests or diseases (Robyn BECK / AFP)

French company Meropy is showing off a multi-legged wheel that moves through fields to detect the presence of weeds, pests or diseases thanks to cameras that take pictures above and below the leaves.

Amit Dhingra, a professor of horticulture at Texas A&M University, notes that new technologies in agriculture often “stem from either an urgent need, such as responding to a disease, or a search for the most efficient practices.”

For David Friedberg, head of a California investment firm specializing in agricultural technologies, The Production Board, thanks to genetics, automation or data mining, it takes “more calories per hectare with fewer inputs” like fertilizers or pesticides.

What does the agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere strive for?

The huge arms of the American agricultural giant’s sprayers are equipped with cameras every meter and very powerful processors that can detect weeds while driving at a speed of 20 km/h and send weed killer only when necessary. “You only spray a third of the field and you save on herbicides,” says Jorge Heraud, automation manager at John Deere.

Overwhelmed with data

The group has also developed an “Operations Center” available on a computer or phone, which allows the farmer to get real-time information about locations, engine performance or weedy corners thanks to data collected by the numerous sensors on the tractors. also to compare the yield between two different seeds.

“A farmer can look at a map and figure out which part of the field he needs to manage differently,” explains product designer Lane Arthur. “It’s good for saving money, it’s good for the environment.”

“Agriculture, like all sectors, is going digital,” says Vonnie Estes, innovation specialist at the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA).

The exploitation of data, together with the automation of certain tasks, can solve problems related to labor shortages, which are associated with waste, by knowing how workers are distributed in the farm, for example, by following the traces of food sent to stores. or those related to climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s not flawless,” Vonnie Estes said, referring to the sometimes-broken internet network in rural areas that prevents real-time data analysis.

Another risk, he says, is that too much data spread over applications that don’t communicate much with each other could overwhelm farmers.

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