How B.I. and Data Make a More Efficient Farm

B.I. has come to agribusiness, with farmers and cattle ranchers using many of the same tools found in numerous corporate cubicles. Thanks to everything from sophisticated tractor instruments to automated milking machines, farmers can collect all sorts of operational data in order to improve efficiency and keep production levels high. Here are just a few examples of how B.I. is being used in more rural areas.

Traditional dairy operations are labor-intensive operations, requiring consistent milking regimens several times a day and seven days a week. That burden has changed somewhat in recent years due to the introduction of a number of automatic milking machines. These devices have various arms that handle different tasks such as sterilization, the actual milking process, and tracking the RFID tags placed in each cow’s ear. They come with optical sensors that assist in placing milking collectors at just the right place on the cow (we’ll let you imagine the anatomical details on your own).

There are more than eight million Holstein dairy cows in the United States (at least according to the USDA), which translates into a huge market for automatic milking machines, as well as the data derived from them. As we mentioned in our story on B.I. case studies earlier this summer, an average dairy cow has gone from producing less than 5,000 pounds of milk in its lifetime back in the 1940’s to more than 21,000 pounds of milk, and these automatic machines can probably boost that even further.

“I’m able to learn more about my herd in ten minutes through reading the tracking reports than what I could learn from a full day in the barn,” said Paul Meyer, a small diary farmer of 170 cows who has bought four of these machines. “As long as I have my laptop or iPad, I can pull up the tracking reports on my cows anywhere and identify potential problems before they occur.” He milks his cows 24 hours a day, when they want to—which is less stressful on him and on the cow.

Machines (such as this one from DeLaval) keep track of all kinds of data about each cow, including the chemical properties of its milk, and flag when a particular cow is having problems or could be sick. The software can compare current data with historical patterns for the entire herd, and relate to weather conditions and other seasonal variations. Now a farmer can track his herd on his iPad without having to get out of bed, or even from another state.

Farm-related B.I. vendor Farmeron attempts to aggregate all farm-related data in a single Web portal. The company was started by Matija Kopić, the CEO who calls himself the “Main Cowboy in the Saddle” and Marko Dukmenić, the CTO who is their Chief Tractor Hacker. They offer monthly accounts (starting at 25 cents per animal per month) to track animal physical characteristics along with milk production, medical treatments, and even particular feeding group schedules. As soon as your animal is born or enters your farm, you can track all these details in their database. For example, you can view how the weight of animals has changed based on certain feedlot procedures or keep up with the particulars of your animals’ breeding schedules. Call it tracking cows in the cloud.

Remote Vehicle

But B.I. on the farm isn’t just about tracking farm animals. What Google and others are attempting to do with autonomous vehicles is already happening out in America’s cornfields with the various agricultural vehicles used in crop planting and harvesting.

“We have many machines using GPS technology that add to the productivity of farmers in tractors and combines,” said Ken Golden, the director of Global Public Relations for Deere & Company. Deere is the leading vendor of farm and construction equipment, and today’s tractor is a pretty high-tech affair. “A farmer can operate the machine without having hands on the steering wheel because the product is driven according to GPS coordinates. This improves precision in seeding, fertilizing, and allows for improved harvesting.”

Deere’s farming machines can collect significant data about what crops are planted, how they are fertilized and how much yield any portion of the field produces. “All of this helps improve productivity and profitability of the farmer,” Golden added. There are various programs under the umbrella of the company’s FarmSight technology, including a wireless communication feature that works over cellular data networks called JD Link. This allows the equipment owner and his dealer to virtually peer into the operations of each machine. The software can track location, when the machine is actually running and when it is idle, what parts might be failing, what maintenance is needed, how much fuel is being used, and other parameters.

Dealers can remotely read the equipment’s diagnostic codes and flag a failing part much the way the HAL9000 was supposed to work in the movie 2001. (And hopefully with much better results, too!) A handful of iOS and Android apps can access this information across the Internet.

Deere’s JDLink even will track a stolen tractor, or let the user draw an area for machines to operate within—providing alerts when they move outside this “geofence.” You can input curfew hours when you don’t expect machinery to be operating. For expensive machinery, this improves uptime and keeps things running smoothly.

Whether down on the farm or in the corner executive suite of some downtown high-rise, clearly B.I. has a place in a lot of different business operations.


Image: smereka/

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