"In God we trust...all others bring data."
- W Deming & M Bloomberg
Agriculture and ranching are important aspects of the Upper Yellowstone Watershed. Farmers and ranchers create wide open spaces. They also produce food. We strive to do this in a sustainable way - i.e. managing the quality of life in our community in such a way that the economic, social and environmental systems that make up our community are providing a healthy, productive, meaningful life for all residents, present and future. We call this the triple bottom line: people, profit, and planet.
FarmBeats is a collaborative effort between the Upper Yellowstone Watershed Group, Microsoft and Arrow Electronics to help farmers and livestock producers across the world to increase their productivity and profitability in sustainable and reusable ways.
A farmer who knows the temperature, pH, and moisture level of his or her soil can make all sorts of informed decisions that save money and boost yield. For example, fertilizer works better when it’s applied to moist soil. But how do you know when to fertilize? Soil that feels dry is often still damp below the surface. You’ll end up fertilizing more often than necessary if you go by touch alone. But if you know exactly how much moisture is in your soil at any given moment, you can fertilize only when you need to. You use less and save money.
A livestock producer who knows the location and movement patterns of his or her herd can better know their health and welfare, and even better prevent predator and prey conflict that helps manage and protect wildlife such as grizzly bears.
The problem is that most existing digital platforms that provide this kind of information are expensive. Sensors can cost hundreds of dollars each, and each one only covers 10 meters. The cost is so prohibitive that only the very richest farmers can afford them.
The main innovation is in how FarmBeats sensors transmit data. Most farms have poor or no access to the Internet. In the United States, 20 percent of people living in rural areas don’t have access to even the slowest broadband speeds. Most farm data systems require expensive transmitters to connect, but FarmBeats relies on a clever workaround: it uses TV white space.
White spaces are unused TV broadcast spectrum. If you’ve ever watched an old TV, you’ve seen white spaces before. They’re the “snow” you’ll sometimes see while flipping through channels. These gaps in spectrum are plentiful in the remote areas where most farms are located, so data can be sent over them the same way that data gets transmitted via broadband.
We are currently building a commercial-ready version of the technology and will be trialing it on various ranches around the Greater Yellowstone area in 2019.
For more on FarmBeats, check out Microsoft's Research website.