Farming’s most important crop may be the knowledge harvested by drones and the intelligent edge

Microsoft Transform, by Suzanne Choney

Since 2011, farmer Sean Stratman has grown kale, cauliflower, broccoli and squash in Carnation, Washington. Then, a few years ago, he added a new crop to his bounty: knowledge, using drones and the intelligent edge to get near-real-time information about issues like soil moisture and pests. It’s the kind of information that is not only helping him, but could benefit farmers around the world. “The more data I get, the more I can correlate it to what I’m experiencing in the field, and the greater that understanding becomes,” says Stratman, whose grandfathers were also vegetable farmers.
“I’m really optimistic and excited about how our knowledge will continue to grow. I have a feeling that it will become exponential at one point.”

A new partnership between Microsoft and leading drone maker DJI builds on the work both companies are doing with data and agriculture that could make it easier and more affordable for farmers like Stratman to quickly get the information they need to make crucial decisions about soil moisture and temperature, pesticides and fertilizer. Hours and days spent walking or driving the fields to try to detect problems can be eliminated. Microsoft’s FarmBeats program sends large amounts of data from ground-based sensors, tractors and cameras to a computer on the farm using TV white spaces, a type of internet connectivity similar to Wi-Fi but with a range of a few miles. TV white spaces are unused TV broadcast spectrum, which is plentiful in rural areas where most farms are located, and where standard internet connections are often spotty.

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