Tech Talk: Steve Cubbage

November 3, 2017 02:04 PM
Steve Cubbage

Even today, nearly 40% of all crop production worldwide is lost to insects and diseases. That’s a lot of bushels, pounds and pecks no matter how you want to measure it.

That’s why it’s exciting to see companies such as Spensa Technologies using emerging technology to tackle these persistent threats to crops.

One of their new products is putting a technology twist on a seasoned scouting tool: the insect trap. At first glance, the Z-Trap resembles any other insect trap. But look inside and you can see it’s had a high-tech makeover. The Z-Trap is equipped with sensors to electronically identify insects, cameras to visually track day-to-day infestation levels and a cellular modem to send all the information to the cloud and seamlessly deliver it to your connected mobile device via the Z-Trap app.

While one, two or three insect traps aren’t going to move the needle much when it comes to stemming crop losses to insects, hundreds and especially thousands of them would when connected via the cloud. Think of it as an early warning system, showing in real time across a large geographic area where, what, when and how big a threat farmers are facing when it comes to pests. This is just a glimpse of the power of this type of technology, dubbed the Internet of Things (IoT), can bring to today’s farm. However, leveraging the true power of the IoT will be one of the real challenges in precision agriculture during the next decade.

Unfortunately, as excited as many people are about IoT empowering tomorrow’s smart farm, that enthusiasm might need to be tempered by today’s reality. Look no further than inside today’s so-called smart home, and the challenges on the farm start to come into view.

The underlying problem of today’s smart home, just like a smart farm, is it doesn’t exist. Not yet, anyway. Nearly every company currently offering smart home technology resides in disparate and distinct silos. If you’re a techie by heart, you might already have some of these products. Invariably you’ve seen the problem: There’s an app for your LED lights, an app for your speakers, an app for your thermostat, an app for your doorbell, an app for your security system and even an app for your ceiling fans. The list is multiplying like rabbits but every company is going down their own rabbit hole.

For those who have watched the history of precision agriculture unfold this all sounds eerily familiar. Until recently, it was data siloed on individual PCs in farmers’ offices or at the local co-op or seed dealer. That was a physical technological barrier  holding us back. Cloud technology has broken through that barrier, but something I call the proprietary barrier remains. Each device has its own app controlling it. Opening up that means of control is the first step toward realizing the IoT is more than a pipe dream.

We can dream about a day when real-time pest information from an insect trap is connected to weather apps to show how future weather forecasts might spread or deter pest infestations. It also would be connected to Farmobile, which would wirelessly stream planting date and variety information thus integrating growing degree days and plant growth stage. Even a few connected devices can have exponential value when shared on a common platform.

For now, the best we can produce is an Internet of Disconnected Things. Such disconnection has been the downfall of precision agriculture of the past. That’s unacceptable. It’s not enough if we truly want a connected farm. Otherwise there’s going to be a lot of technology that ends up parked in the digital fencerow.

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