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John Deere opens farm data to agri suppliers

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John Deere has developed an innovative private permission-based platform that allows third-party suppliers of agricultural services to use farm data to help farmers make decisions better. Blended with their own data and insights, artificial intelligence is allowing agricultural service providers to conceive and deliver bespoke services – remotely – tailor-made for each field and farm.

The ability to, “blend data from each farmer’s operational and supplier universe is, for the first time, unleashing the power of artificial intelligence on South African farms,” says Wayne Spaumer, Product Specialist for Precision Agriculture, Sub-Sahara Africa at John Deere. The impact of artificial intelligence for individual farmers – in terms of increased yields, dramatically cut costs and, ultimately, higher incomes per hectare – is set to, “transform South African agriculture by radically increasing the accuracy with which farmers make decisions,” stated Spaumer.

Increasing the range of data points – available instantly and electronically – will also, “speed up decision-making, allowing the farmer to focus on income-generating functions and tasks,” added Spaumer.

To ensure that farmers maximise the yield impact of their machines by leveraging technology, John Deere has developed a platform, called Operations Center. Operations Center enables farmers to combine data produced by any agricultural machine fitted with basic guidance and monitoring packages – with supplier data from, say, soil analysts or fertiliser and seed companies.

Since, however, John Deere knows that farmers have a lot of decisions to make in a day and that they don’t farm alone, “choices on which third-party suppliers and services to work with are critically important – especially because of the information that these suppliers can provide,” said Spaumer.

In response, John Deere recently added a function, called More Tools to its Operations Center. More Tools provides the ability to combine a farmer’s existing data with data from companies like AgStudio, GeoFarm or T3RRA Tools, producing a much broader view of the farmer’s universe. This much richer data set enables each farmer to, “plan and manage activities, monitor progress and analyse results – informed by accurate reports compiled using his or her own operational and broader supplier and service data,” says Spaumer. 

By simply registering a farm as an organisation on MyJohnDeere.com, “South African farmers can build a one-stop artificial intelligence-driven information, decision-making and guidance shop – providing advice, in real time, based on their own farm data,” says Spaumer.

For example, by sending a soil analysis shape file to one of the soil analysers appearing in the More Tools function on a farmer’s Operations Center, results can then be shared with, say, a tillage adviser and then a seed supplier. Once blended and analysed, all this data can be relayed back to a farmer’s planter, guiding the machine on how best to till the field, what seed to plant, at what depth and in which frequency. “The fuel, time, seed and reduced compacting savings that information like this can achieve, not to mention the yield increases, is set to transform how South Africans farm,” predicts Spaumer.

Third-party service providers that have already joined the John Deere More Tools platform include; Agritask Agronomic management platform, AgStudio, Cropsat, Delair.ai, Ecosat, Farm Dog Scout, Farm shots, Fieldclimate by Pessl Instruments, Fieldmargin, GeoFarm, Landscout Mobile app, Mavrx, Meteobot Local Weather & Soil, Next Farming Office, SoilOptix, and T3RRA Tools.  

To expand the third-party supplier universe available to farmers on the More Tools option of its Operations Center, John Deere recently hosted a seminar promoting the advantages of listing on More Tools. Companies attending included; Aerobotics, RPAS consulting, Geoterra, Carrus fleet Management Services, Multi green, SGS, Agrisol, Agritechnovations, Mezzanine, BCS connect, Yara, Sion Agri, Nulandis, Axioteq, Novon retail.

The ‘Develop with Deere 2019’ seminar demonstrated how third-party suppliers can, “register on More Tools, by adopting available API`s and work through a ‘sand box’ testing period,” explained Spaumer. Once registered, South African farmers will be able to work with these companies, “by selecting them as trusted partners and granting them specific access to their data,” he added.  The suppliers listed on More Tools can then rework the farmers data on their own software programs, returning information to the farmer based on their agreement.

John Deere, “encourages all firms working with farmers to join our More Tools function so that, together, we empower South Africa’s agricultural hardware with autonomous decision-making capabilities,” said Spaumer.

John Deere has plans for more seminars in 2020 aimed at attracting additional relevant third-party suppliers to register on More Tools. In the meantime, companies considering registering on More Tools can explore the function and make contact with John Deere at https://developer.deere.com/#!help&doc=HELPoverview.htm .

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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