Farmers can benefit from granular data provided by the Internet of Things

County tests IoT for local farmers

Montgomery County, Md., is using its Thingstitute to see how actionable, granular data can  help farmers improve their businesses.

The agriculture data initiative is the second project for the county’s Thingstitute, an Internet of Things technology test bed for start-ups, established companies and research institutions alike. Its first major project, the Safe Community Alert Network, created a sensor system that could provide situational awareness to residents of public housing.

Agriculture is big business for Montgomery County, in which a third of the  land area is set aside for farming, and the industry employs more than 10,000 county residents on 540 farms and 350 horticultural businesses.

The IoT initiative is led by Montgomery County’s Chief Innovation Officer Dan Hoffman, who explained in a Microsoft Internet of Things blog that this approach will “allow us to better understand how IoT operates in a real-world, integrated setting as opposed to [addressing] one specific solution.”

The agriculture testbed plans to provide county farmers with technology to measure farm-specific data, like ground temperatures and hyper-local weather conditions, which could ultimately help them improve the efficiency of pesticides and implement more precise nutrient management practices. Additionally, the project will explore ways to help farmers more quickly and efficiently collect the compliance data they need to meet federal and state reporting requirements.

While the project is still in planning phases, four farms have already volunteered to install sensors this coming winter and early spring. The farms vary in operations, experience levels and use of technology  -- the operations include traditional pumpkin and squash farming, a persimmon orchard, a company that recycles unused shipping containers into greenhouses and a dairy that uses robotic milking technology.

As a testbed partner, Microsoft will provide the county with its IoT knowledge and Azure Government cloud platform to help explore the technologies' potential in the agriculture industry.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.

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