If we’re to achieve the government’s goal of doubling the value of our primary sector exports by 2025, we cannot continue as we have done to date.
Our exports are dominated by commodities, and what added value there is largely comes from exploiting consumer preference rather than any true product transformation.
Our most successful farmers, growers and agribusinesses are taking advantage of new mobile, cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to collect data that lets them understand the state of their operation in real-time and provides insights for the day-to-day decisions that drive their business.
Being connected also gives them long-term trend data that helps shape new products and experiences for customers, while allowing traceability for food provenance.
It’s that ability to create a truly customer-centric approach that provides the biggest opportunity for people and businesses that make their living from food, farming and the environment.
Mobility as an enabler
So what’s holding back our farmers and growers from investing in new tools, technologies and apps? It’s often the very thing that should be driving them forward – mobility.
In the past, our primary industries were constrained by connectivity issues – patchy coverage, slow and intermittent speeds, limited bandwidth and frequent outages.
KPMG’s 2015 survey of the agribusiness industry showed connectivity was the second priority for agribusiness leaders, just behind biosecurity.
However, investments by the major ICT providers are putting the rural sector increasingly on a par with urban centres. These investments will ensure that many thousands of residents, farmers and businesses, especially in smaller communities and rural areas, have access to much better and faster mobile and broadband services.
What mobility services are available right now?
The Rural Broadband Initiative has improved broadband and mobile coverage from 38 percent to 50 percent of the country by area, increased mobile coverage on state highways from 67 percent to 77 percent and installed fibre connectivity to 97 percent of rural schools and 39 rural hospitals.
Some regions have launched specific initiatives to deliver urban broadband performance at close to urban broadband pricing levels, such as Spark’s partnership with the Canterbury Mayoral Forum announced last year to fast-track its rollout of fast 4G wireless technology and enable fast broadband services across rural Canterbury.
Mobile speeds, latency and energy efficiency have improved with 4G and new variants such as 4.5G, which effectively doubles the bandwidth of today’s 4G services, and LTE-M, which supports low power, low bandwidth M2M networks.
The 700Mhz spectrum purchase and rollout is making data connectivity an option where previously no or slow fixed services existed. 700 MHz spectrum is key to economically offering high performing 4G to rural and regional areas - delivering greater reach and better in-building coverage than other frequencies.
Wireless broadband products are delivering speeds up to 10 times faster than those currently experienced and helping farmers create a communications platform for IoT solutions.
Mobility in the future
Mobile networks are in for a major boost with 5G - the next generation of mobile communications standards.
10-100x higher data transfer speeds are expected to make big data transfers simple. A 5x reduction in latency is expected to make voice and video apps incredibly smooth. A 10x improvement in device battery life is expected to make mobile and IoT applications much more scalable.
And better distribution of loads and redundancies mean 99.99999% reliability should be possible.
While it’ll be a few years before the deployment of 5G (with pilots in 2018 and commercial deployments starting in 2020), there will be a plethora of new use cases that rely on its ultra-reliable and very fast communication.
You’ll see more of the ‘tactile internet’ – technology that gives us the ability to manipulate objects remotely, with fine-grained control. For this to work, network performance is crucial. The feedback needs to be fast and consistent enough for the user to feel like the object’s right in front of them. Here in New Zealand, we’ve already seen new autonomous vehicles, such as the robotic tree chopper launched by the forestry industry last year to boost production and cut deaths and injuries.
5G will support augmented reality, which uses visual enterprise 3D models, voice recognition and gesture control to allow workers to access business processes and information, hands-free from a wearable device. And drones, wearables and digital assistants will provide workers with safe and flexible tools to allow better and more timely business decisions.
How mobility is enabling the primary sector to achieve its goals
Now that it has become less about how you’re connected, whether wired or wireless, it’s more about what you can do once you have the bandwidth at your disposal. It’s the content of the data that drives the business value for you.
The biggest opportunity for the primary sector is the use of cloud, mobile and IoT technologies to capture, share and view information that will enhance knowledge transfer within the industry.
It’s the one big requirement that we hear about from everyone in the sector, from the board members of our largest organisations, through to my son on his Bluff oyster farm.
1. Devices and sensors: At the beginning of the primary sector value chain is the collection of on-farm data via remote sensors and mobile devices across the farm, called telemetry. Every entity contributing to the efficient and profitable operation of your operation should be captured and saved in on-farm management systems, spanning livestock conditions, vehicle and asset status, soil moisture and temperature and much more.
2. Hyper-connectivity: To provide comprehensive farm-wide connectivity, multiple forms of cost-effective communications technologies are required. This is what we refer to as the ‘hyper-connectivity’ or Internet of Things, where things that need to communicate will and do communicate. Today we have 4G LTE and WiFi, and are investigating new LPWA (Low Power Wide Area) wireless technology to provide you with comprehensive on-farm connectivity.
3. Information exchange: Once the on-farm data becomes available in back-office applications and software repositories, you then need to manage and share it with your wider ecosystem community, including service providers. The goal is to pull together the business data you've already got and supplement it with more data from other, often complementary, sources. That allows you to obtain a more comprehensive picture of your customers, not just the activities related to your own business.
Data sets will be ‘glued’ together using application programming interfaces (APIs) and published to an ecosystem for subsequent ‘subscription’ by interested parties. Together with standards like the New Zealand Farm Data Standards and farm data code of practice, they form the foundation of a future vibrant agritech digital marketplace.
4. Analytics: Analytics and data science will help you to cleanse and model the data. This is where you will start to see the true value of on-farm information - where information becomes available for you to make positive decisions about tactical operational changes and improvements, and longer term strategic farming decisions.
5 Visibility and insights: Once you have established trust in the quality of on-farm information, visibility into patterns and trends becomes available, and insights can then lead to decisions and actions that have real material outcomes for your operation.
This becomes an iterative process, where changes on the farm are reflected through near real-time telemetry acquisition back into the models, and future insights confirm whether or not the changes were supportive of a desired strategy. As the timeframes between each of these iterations becomes shorter and shorter, we are now working in the fully digital domain.
As analytics technologies mature, we also see the opportunity to move from descriptive analytics (such as reporting, dashboards, KPIs), to predictive analytics (predicting farm machinery breakdowns, yield), and on to prescriptive analytics that answer the strategic question: “What should I do for a desired outcome that will better serve my customers?”
Where should you focus?
With faster and more affordable mobile and internet connections, you’re able to take advantage of the latest devices, sensors, apps and online tools to capture, store and record on-farm information. It's then about gaining a better understanding of what the data's actually telling you and using it to observe trends and identify when, where and why things are different to the norm.
These insights will revolutionise the way you make business decisions, capture market opportunities and serve your customers.