As the world’s population continues to explode, we have been talking about the increasing importance of building connected societies that can support the growing number of people who need access to food. For the agriculture industry, this means that enabling an integrated, sustainable ecosystem–one that connects all information and companies across the food value chain–is more important than ever before.
Today, this data is disconnected, indecipherable or none existent at all. According to McKinsey & Company, about a third of food produced is lost or wasted every year at a cost of $940 billion a year globally.1 Starting with farmers all the way through export, processing, distribution and retail, there is a great need to close the agriculture industry infrastructure gap in order to improve food safety, security, traceability and sustainability, while reducing food waste, loss and regulatory risks.
Key to transforming the food value chain in the agriculture industry is data. Advanced analytics tools and techniques like machine learning and streamed analytics are now accessible to small or big players to integrate data from various systems across the entire ecosystem. Chemical and agrochemical manufacturers that can quickly analyze end-to-end operational data to smartly address business issues can optimize their supply chains to stay ahead of their competition and provide this value-added insight to farmers as new digitally-enabled services.
But just how are companies using advanced technologies, and the data they provide, to not only transform their businesses, but also the agriculture industry at large? Today we share six examples across livestock management, pre- and in-season decisions, and food transport and safety. Let’s look at how Microsoft and our partners are helping these businesses re-write the future of agriculture with IoT, data and the latest precision farming tools.
Rather than reaching for their boots in the morning, today’s farmers are also reaching for their mobile phones to check for alerts on everything from their farm equipment, soil, crops and waterways or monitor whether their livestock could possibly be sick or in heat. Checking alerts is exactly how dairy farmer Steffen Hake starts his day and even he’s surprised at how technology has changed how they work.
Helping to manage 240 cows on his parents’ co-op farm in Wagenfeld-Ströhen, Germany, Hake relies on HealthyCow24, a solution by SCR Dairy based on Microsoft Azure cloud technology to boost milk production and ensure healthier cows. The solution includes necklace tags with motion sensors and microphones that monitor the cows’ activity and rumination levels. Using an application that can run both on-premises or in the cloud, the system alerts farmers of increased activity that often means an animal is in heat or decreased rumination, which can indicate a health problem. The system aggregates data from the sensors and conveys it to the farm’s office, and it’s available through a mobile application so farmers have access to data about cows’ heat cycles and health from anywhere at any time. SCR Dairy now has about four million tags connected to cows around the world, monitoring their activity and wellbeing 24 hours a day. The data generated from the tags is transferred to management solutions that help farmers make better decisions, as well as providing alerts.
Now that I’ve told you about connected cows, let’s travel to Istanbul, Turkey to learn about connected chickens. Microsoft partner, PeakUp Information Technologies, developed an IoT solution using Azure services that will enable the central monitoring and better control of conditions in poultry farms. They are working with one of the biggest poultry products manufacturers in Turkey, Banvit, to increase work efficiency and service quality, while also giving them a deeper understanding of chicken nurturing. Specifically, they want to help Banvit prevent chicken infertility due to problems such as CO2 levels and maintain the luminosity level in the poultry houses, which can affect productivity.
Food safety and traceability
As our global food supply chain continues to grow and become more complex, agriculture industry capabilities such as food traceability are becoming increasingly more important as a way to avoid potential food safety problems, as well as minimize disruption to trade and potential public health risks. Logging every hand-off and transaction provides companies with the assurance they need without inhibiting their value chain innovation. Blockchain is an emerging way for manufacturers to very securely make and verify transactions using an irrefutable distributed digital transaction ledger. Companies can use blockchain technology to create a more transparent system for exchanging value and assets, enforcing contracts, and sharing data across the food value chain.
One great example of this is the work we are doing with Transparency-One on a blockchain service for supply chain transparency. Transparency-One customers now have the option to add an additional layer of security to their data by storing critical supply chain information, captured in Transparency-One, in Microsoft Azure’s Blockchain Services. This solution is being used by companies like Mars Food and will help the company realize its 2020 ambition of sourcing UNCLE BEN’S® rice from sustainable sources.
The system, in partnership with Transparency-One, SGS, and Blippar, allows Mars Food to examine all the recorded facilities in their supply chain and ensure individual suppliers are compliant with recognized social auditing and certification schemes. It can also be used to detect non-certified suppliers, alerting customers to potential business risks and triggering remediation plans. This helps to reduce the possibility of food fraud, unsafe food practices and forced labor, while enhancing supply chain efficiency, building consumer confidence and helping to improve trust in brands.
Another business that’s using technology to ensure food quality is Kagome. The country’s largest tomato processing company produces from 35,000 to 40,000 tons of tomato paste each year. Kagome is using the power of IoT and Microsoft Azure to manage all aspects of the tomato product supply chain—from field harvesting, to factory delivery, to in-plant processing and shipment to its customers. RFID tags and GPS technology on the farm equipment and collection bins help the company track activity in the field, including the amount of produce collected. Bins are weighed and then matched to one of many product lines, and then shipped to customers. All of the data tracked is fed into Azure, where key stakeholders, including farm owners, factory staff, end customers and food safety authorities, can access the data. This level of traceability means Kagome can track the entire history of any packet of its tomato paste – down to where and when the tomatoes were harvested.
Jason Fritsch, CEO of Kagome, calculated a return on investment to be approximately 500% in the first season alone. In the below video, he estimated a 90 percent reduction in daily phone calls to collaborate with employees on processes while ensuring delivery of the highest quality products to its customers.
Optimized decision-making through advanced technologies
Using technology-driven insights to increase revenue and profitability is a growing driver for farmers everywhere. In the United States, Microsoft is partnering with Costa Farms—a third-generation, family-owned group of companies that sells to big box stores such as Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowe’s—to create a better way to measure and regulate pH throughout the day and across the lifecycle of its plant. Based on the Azure IoT system with pH sensor devices, the solution is designed to help Costa Farms increase revenue and profitability in using modern technology in agriculture/farming. Recalling optimal pH levels is essential for nutrient uptake. Increased nutrient uptake directly effects yields, in turn driving improved revenue per plant harvested. On the cost side, this system will allow growers to be more productive and utilized across all growing activities as they spend less time manually checking pH values by hand.
Farmers Edge, a global leader in decision agriculture, is also revolutionizing how technology can drive optimized decision-making and better outcomes for farmers. By combining hardware, software, agronomy, and support, Farmers Edge provides growers with the right data to inform farm management decisions that maximize productivity and profitability. With thousands of IoT devices on the Microsoft Azure platform, Farmers Edge combines cutting edge machine learning and artificial intelligence to create a new type of grower in the agriculture industry; one driven by years’ worth of aggregated field-centric data. Data-driven insights give Farmers Edge invaluable strategies around the optimum day to seed, the exact crop type that should be used to maximize ROI based on market conditions, or potential crop performance based on current soil conditions.
No matter where your business fits into the food value chain, digital transformation—and the data it enables—will forever change the agriculture industry’s journey from farm to fork.
1McKinsey&Company, “How big data will revolutionize the global food chain,” August 2016