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Digital agriculture: an engineer’s perspective

October 09, 2019

By Flavia Paganelli, Director of Engineering and Co-Founder of 30MHz.

When I started working as an IT engineer in Argentina 20 years ago, I never would have guessed I would end up working on building a digital platform for agriculture. But I’m not surprised that 30MHz found its place in this industry. There’s just so much potential for growth and improvement here in terms of digital technology. It’s something I’ve become very passionate about. Why? Because we need solutions for sustainable agriculture and food production and we need them quickly.

It’s funny how things go, because 30MHz’s first entry in the world of sensors was, coincidentally, in agriculture. We started as a web monitoring tool and data platform, and we incorporated gateways and sensors to make it scalable and differentiating. Not long after we started, we came into contact with a vertical farming business, who wanted to add wireless sensors. This was also our first experience with data sourcing and management in agriculture, which definitely influenced our company’s strategic direction.

The agricultural sector is going through a technological revolution. A digital transformation is very much needed to tackle the sector’s sustainability and food production challenges. The UN warns that food production will need to rise by 70% by 2050 as the world’s population surpasses nine billion. Meanwhile, unstable weather patterns, inefficient growing practices, pests, diseases and food requirements and prices all contribute to large amounts of waste. And scientists expect crop losses to rise by up to 25% for every degree of global warming. Agriculture has a big impact on the environment. The sector is responsible for 70% of global freshwater usage and is the world’s second-largest CO2 emitter after the energy sector.

With the right technology and data, agribusinesses of any size can innovate to become more efficient and sustainable. Worldwide, agricultural and technological innovations are on the rise. But when you look at online data management and analysis, machine learning and artificial intelligence, it’s still pretty new. When it comes to monitoring, measuring and managing environments and crop cultivation, the industry has been using the same analog tools and technologies for decades.

A lot of these processes are still being done manually. Climate computers, for example, are important machines that offer key insights for growers through data logging and management tools focused on climate control. Next steps are being taken in developing ways to integrate with other monitoring and data analysis tools. Some growers spend several hours a day taking (manual) data readings from multiple locations. To then upload all this data in third party software or combine it in Excel spreadsheets, so they can use the insights to drive irrigation decisions, for example.

With big data solutions and wireless smart sensing technologies growers and farmers are now able to monitor and analyze climate, soil moisture, energy use, carbon emissions and crop levels in real-time and in one platform. For example, our data platform ZENSIE provides updates through graphs, heat maps and custom alerts on phones or tablets. At the centre of this is the grower, who will be empowered to grow more using less resources. Our customers are able to use less water, energy and fertilizer while optimising output.

30MHz is building a more collaborative data and technology structure to help digitalize the entire industry. We are a tech company, run by engineers. We know how to build data platforms and AI algorithms. We will never claim to be experts in growing food or plants. But I believe that market participants can reinforce one another by combining our skills and experience. Together, we can ensure a more sustainable future in agriculture.

How can smart sensing transform your industry?
Sensory data from physical environments is helping businesses across industries make better decisions, improving productivity and cutting costs. Let's talk about how smart sensing can work for your organization. Get in touch below.

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