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Joint venture with key partners begins roll out of IoT to Aussie farmers

By Ashton Young
Fri 16 Jun 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Discovery Ag and NNNCo have partnered to roll out the all new National Narrowband Network (NNN) for Internet of Things (IoT) to Australia’s farmers.

The venture involves the formation of a new company, Connected Country, to build and operate a nationwide rural IoT network to bring hi-tech agriculture solutions to Australian farmers.

The backbone infrastructure for secure, standards based shared networks of low-cost wireless sensors that constantly report on essential farm metrics like soil moisture, rainfall, crop health, water levels and livestock data will be provided by a Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN).

The network is all set to be rolled out immediately across one million acres in NSW, encompassing dry land crops, horticulture and livestock. According to the joint venture partners, within 18 months they hope to extend across vast areas of the nation’s farming regions.

“While hi-tech farming techniques are in use today, significant areas of Australia’s farming footprint lack adequate network coverage,” says Discovery Ag CEO, Alicia Garden.

“For those that do have coverage, existing connectivity networks can make it too expensive for farmers to network their sensors and create a truly connected smart farm.”

NNNCo founder & CEO, Rob Zagarella shares these sentiments.

“The Rural IoT Network is an extension of the NNN that we’re building nationwide and will help to solve connectivity and affordability problems for farmers,” says Zagarella.

“Together with Discovery Ag we will be providing low-cost end-to end standards based solutions comprising on-farm networks, network-ready sensors, and access to simple on-farm tools that farmers can use to monitor information and take timely action.”

The joint venture is the first of its kind in Australia’s emerging IoT market, and the company says it is dedicated to providing carrier grade networks to enable smarter, cheaper and more ubiquitous sensors by leveraging local innovation in conjunction with a global ecosystem of providers.

The end goal, according to Connected Country, is to drive productivity, efficiency and risk management solutions across rural and regional Australia and the company has already started working with key partners including Cisco and the NSW Department of Primary Industries to fast-track the network roll-out.

“Cisco has been collaborating with the NSW Department of Primary Industries to solve the digital drought in rural Australia. We see the Rural IoT Network as essential to this development,” says Cisco Australia and New Zealand’s vice-president, Ken Boal.

In terms of IoT and its future, agriculture is forecast to be one of the key industries where IoT cane truly make a significant contribution to Australia’s future growth and competitiveness.

“The future of farming is in collecting and analysing big data in order to maximise efficiency, mitigate risk and drive productivity. Connected farmers will be able to monitor and understand a broad range of specific areas of their farm without physically checking, from soil moisture, paddock specific rainfallcritical water infrastrusture, track livestock movements, and remotely control irrigation and other on-farm resources,” says Garden.

“These deep insights will then provide the basis for better production prediction and analytics, along with creating new data driven finance and insurance solutions. We see the IoT heralding a new era of productivity gains for the sector.”

The impact of the new network on current pricing structures will also be important, representing a huge opportunity for farmers keen to employ new technologies to boost profitability and efficiencies, but who up until now have been deterred by price.

"The network will significantly drive down the cost of connection for data communication and the cost of sensors using this technology. This will make the difference between isolated usage and widespread deployment of the sensors which will in turn provide more granular information and higher value to the industry,” Zagarella concludes.

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