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FarmBeats: Microsoft makes a play for the precision agriculture market

The global population is expected to increase by 2.2 billion by 2050, and the world’s farmers will have to grow about 70% more food than is now produced.

If you ask Microsoft, the solution lies in technology, writes Kyle Wiggers in an article published in VentureBeat The tech giant’s FarmBeats program, which launched in preview late last year on Azure Marketplace, is a multi-year effort to bring robust data analytics to the agriculture sector.

With a backend built on Azure and compatibility with hardware from a range of top manufacturers, it aims to promote what Ranveer Chandra, FarmBeats project lead and chief scientist at Azure Global, calls “data-driven” farming techniques. The International Food Policy Research Institute claims these can boost farm productivity by as much as 67% while reducing resource usage.

“[We’re capturing] large amounts of data from farm[s] and then us[ing] AI and machine learning to translate that data into insights for the growers … When we talk to growers, a lot of the decisions they make are based on guesswork, and we want to replace that guesswork with data,” Chandra told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “It’s not just about growing more food. We need to grow more nutritious food, good food, and we need to grow that increased good food without harming the environment.”

FarmBeats kicked off in 2015 with a prototype for an internet of things (IoT) platform for agriculture — a platform that enabled “seamless” data collection from sensors, cameras, and drones. Chandra drew personal inspiration from his grandparents’ farm in India and insight from an Accenture survey that found fewer than 20% of farmers use sensors, drones, and other tech for crop planning, owing to costs and flaky connectivity.

Within two and a half years, Chandra and colleagues had a production-ready system within Microsoft’s AI for Earth, a program that provides tools to organizations for environmental solutions development.

FarmBeats leverages unlicensed TV white spaces — the radio frequencies allocated to broadcasting services — to establish a high-bandwidth link from a farmer’s home internet connection to a base station, sometimes supplemented by the open source long-range IoT protocol LoRa. Sensors, drones, and the like connect to the base station, which draws power from a battery-backed solar panel pack.

Read the full article by Kyle Wiegers in VentureBeats here.
Related article (published March 11, 2020) – How Microsoft is building new tech to bring precision agriculture to the world’s poorest farmers.
More on FarmBeats here

The video about FarmBeats below can also be found on YouTube here.
Related video on Microsoft’s website here

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