IoT-based Solutions: Only for Technologically Advanced Farms?

Sebastian-Hydrangea-Farm
Juan Sebastián Restrepo grows hydrangeas on Blue Mountain, a 5-acre farm on a hillside in Colombia. While its production process is fully manual, the farm would benefit greatly by adding IOT-based soil and plant sensors.

As the development of precision agriculture technology progresses, hardware and software products seem to be getting more complicated so they can provide more and better data or improve the ability to solve increasingly complicated issues. Newly developed products such as IoT sensors, apps, and the networking solutions that come with it, can often appear to be focused more on high-tech producers, working with high-value crops, needing very detailed information. Up until recently I would have agreed that “high tech producers” seem to have the best suited for adopting these tools, but a visit to a friend’s flower farm in Colombia gave me another perspective on this.

I have spent the last few months in Medellin, Colombia and last week I went for a drive to my friend Juan Sebastián Restrepo’s farm, Blue Mountain, an hour north of Medellin where he grows hydrangeas, mainly destined for export to the U.S. He started his 5-acre hydrangea farm two years ago on a hillside that had previously not been cropped. With close to 50,000 hydrangeas planted and in production now, six full-time staff employed, and plans for expansion, it certainly was exciting to spend the day here. As everything is planted on steep hillsides, the whole hydrangea production process is fully manual and no machines whatsoever are used. Staff is occupied with pruning plants, cutting flowers, getting them ready for transport, insect control, and a range of other tasks.

Hydrangea-Farm-Colombia
Hydrangeas are grown under shade-cloth and on a steep hillside, presenting several production challenges including irrigation.

While it was very interesting to see how hydrangeas are grown in Colombia, Sebastián also had some challenges he wanted to discuss. As his hydrangeas are grown under shade-cloth only and on a hillside, precipitation, for example, is a major challenge. As the department of Antioquia had a prolonged drought up until two years ago, the first job done on the farm was to create irrigation infrastructure. As soon as this was finished, the drought broke and they are still waiting to use their irrigation system for the first time. Due to the large amounts of rain experienced in the last two years, there have been landslides on the farm, but a lack of drainage systems means that the excess moisture is affecting production as well. In those spots where the hillside seems to level out a bit, the clay-like red soil holds on to moisture for a long time and the plants in these areas barely produce any flowers. This issue was not detected by the farm’s local agronomist and therefore he has been unable to work on a solution up to this point.

At this moment the farm’s production is at 10% of where it should be and Sebastián does not know why. An agronomist visits once per week but he is not a flower expert, as there isn’t one locally available, although there are a lot of other hydrangea producers in the same area. Currently, they are experimenting with spreading some calcium on the plants (by hand) as they feel that a calcium deficiency is hampering production. There is no local laboratory that can perform leaf and tissue tests – so everything is done at a guess. I could also, by eye, find at least three distinctly different soil types; none of which have been tested in a laboratory and so this adds another big unknown factor to the equation.

Between drainage issues, unknown soils, unknown issues with the hydrangeas, and a lack of local knowledge, it really felt to me that technology could play an important role here. Surely, a grower in this situation would have a lot to gain by adding some sort of IoT-based soil and plant sensors to his operation that can provide simple information via a smartphone app that shows exactly what the grower needs to know. Furthermore, this also allows growers in remote areas all over the world to access expertise in other regions or even other countries that can help them analyse the data and work on solutions.

The hydrangea farm I visited operates 100% manually with no technical aides whatsoever; but I really can’t think of a better example where advanced IoT-based technology could make a big difference. I have recently seen companies like The Yield, Multitech, and Myriota announce new products and service in this sphere and I can’t wait to see what kind of fully integrated solutions will become available in the near future that deal with the collection of data, transmission of this data to the cloud, data storage, analyses, and the support service back to the grower. Small flower farms in central Colombia might not be what most developers have in mind when working on their products, but they sure are looking forward to joining the digital agriculture revolution.

Leave a Reply

Americas Stories
AmericasNutrien Ag Solutions Brand, New Digital Platform Launched
July 9, 2018
Nutrien (formerly Crop Production Services) has officially rebranded its retail business to Nutrien Ag Solutions, aligning the company’s retail operations Read More
AmericasRaven Name to Grace New South Dakota State University Facility
June 27, 2018
According to a press release issued by the company, Raven Industries was recognized today in the naming of South Dakota Read More
AmericasMFA Precision Head Talks Precision Ag, Cover Crops at 2018 4R Summit
June 18, 2018
Although implicit to anyone that spends a good chunk of their career in agriculture, the link between advanced precision technology Read More
David-Perry-featured-image
AmericasIndigo Touts ‘New Approach to Agricultural R&D’
June 13, 2018
Indigo, the Boston-based microbial crop technology startup that has raised more than $400 million, announced it is expanding its research Read More
Trending Articles
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
EventsAssociation Seeks Definitive Definition of “Precision Agriculture” — What’s Your Vote?
July 2, 2018
More than two-dozen definitions of precision agriculture have been identified through the years — but which is the best and Read More
AmericasRaven Name to Grace New South Dakota State University Facility
June 27, 2018
According to a press release issued by the company, Raven Industries was recognized today in the naming of South Dakota Read More
dropcopter
DronesNew York Apple Orchard Claims World First in Pollination by Drone
June 18, 2018
Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard in LaFayette, NY, is the first orchard in the world to use drones to pollinate Read More
JDandPessl
Sensors/IoTJohn Deere, Pessl Instruments Team Up to Create Opportunities
June 18, 2018
John Deere is best known for its line of tractors, combines, sprayers, and implements. However, in an effort to help Read More
Matt-Waits-featured
Decision Support SoftwareSST’s Matt Waits: Innovative Data Solutions Key to Transforming Global Agriculture
May 31, 2018
Proagrica, part of RELX Group, earlier this year acquired U.S.-based precision agriculture solutions company, SST Software, in a move set Read More
Latest News
Industry NewsFarmobile Acquires Prime Meridian, Taps Cubbage as New …
July 13, 2018
Farmobile today announced an agreement to acquire the assets of Prime Meridian, a precision agriculture data management company based in Read More
group-photo
DronesPrecision Agriculture Takes Flight at North Carolina St…
July 13, 2018
Take a walk into the Suggs Laboratory for Precision Agriculture and Machine Systems and it’s hard not to be impressed, Read More
Skeketee-IC-Weeder
DronesAutomated Weeders Have Arrived in Vegetable Fields
July 12, 2018
The vegetable production areas of the Central Coast of California have lifted vegetable cultivation to a high art, writes Richard Read More
AgJunction, InfoAg 2014, Autosteer, GPS
Industry NewsAgJunction Settles with Raven in Patent Infringement Su…
July 12, 2018
AgJunction Inc., a leader in advanced guidance and autosteering, has settled a patent infringement lawsuit it filed against Raven Industries, Read More
Retailer-Grower-tablet
Business ManagementTaking Measure of the Precision Agriculture Program: 6 …
July 12, 2018
In the overall agriculture market, the rhetoric surrounding emerging technology over the past half-decade has been nothing short of breathless. Read More
raven-slingshot-job-generator-job-sync-1
Industry NewsNew Raven Slingshot Advancements Will Help Save Time, R…
July 11, 2018
Raven Industries, Inc. has announced several new services available on the Slingshot and Viper 4 platforms: Job Generator and Job Read More
Onsite-logo
Industry NewsAgIntegrated Acquires Exclusive Licence to Satshot’s Im…
July 11, 2018
AgIntegrated, Inc. (AGI), a leader in precision ag data integration and software development, and Satshot, a leader and pioneer in Read More
Australian Harvest
Australia/New ZealandAustralian Agritech Plants Blockchain for Efficiency
July 11, 2018
“Agritech” at one time would have meant new equipment such as tractors and combine harvesters, but today it refers to Read More
Tomato-crop-India
AsiaIndia: Using Artificial Intelligence for the Good of Fa…
July 11, 2018
After graduating from IIT-Madras, the first thing that Vivek Rajkumar did was to buy four acres near Thiruvananthapuram and start Read More
BrightFarms
Industry NewsForbes List of Innovative Ag-Tech Companies Includes Gr…
July 9, 2018
Forbes magazine recently posted a list of the 25 most innovative ag-tech startups in 2018, which includes a few companies Read More
AmericasNutrien Ag Solutions Brand, New Digital Platform Launch…
July 9, 2018
Nutrien (formerly Crop Production Services) has officially rebranded its retail business to Nutrien Ag Solutions, aligning the company’s retail operations Read More
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Pr…
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
TerrAvion
Industry NewsTerrAvion Integrates Aerial Imagery with John Deere Ope…
July 6, 2018
TerrAvion, Inc., a large volume provider of aerial imagery to agriculture, has announced an integration to allow TerrAvion’s aerial imagery Read More
Farmer-Tablet
Data ManagementAgriculture’s Next Breakthrough: New Technologies…
July 3, 2018
We live in an exciting time in agriculture. Not only is technology advancing rapidly, but the understanding and comprehension of Read More
Nebraska-Storm
Precision IrrigationNotes from the Field: A Look at Irrigation Management P…
July 2, 2018
One of the things I love most about my work is making periodic treks into the field – more often Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
EventsAssociation Seeks Definitive Definition of “Preci…
July 2, 2018
More than two-dozen definitions of precision agriculture have been identified through the years — but which is the best and Read More
Industry NewsAg Equipment Manufacturers: 3 Trends to Shape Farming G…
July 2, 2018
Bottom line instead of brand loyalty. Tractors and harvesters will look more like computers. Data will drive productivity. These are Read More
Ag Retailer and Growers with tablet WinField United
Service ProvidersPrecision Ag Technology: Act Like You’ve Been There Bef…
July 2, 2018
One of my dad’s favorite, albeit borrowed, sayings was, “Act like you’ve been there before.” He was mostly referring to Read More