IoT For Agribusiness: The Quadcopter Cowboys

Although cattle farming has evolved since the 1800’s when cowboys drove cattle along the open ranges of the American West, ranchers still lose sleep over the same questions: Where are my cattle? Are they healthy? How many calves were born last week? Do my animals have enough grass and water? Which predators are in the area? All of these factors can influence the rancher’s bottom line.

The economics of cattle farming increasingly favors big herds requiring ever-larger grazing areas managed by fewer caretakers – from ranches in the USA, to China, Brazil, India, Argentina or Russia. And the numbers are truly staggering. One major agribusiness in Russia, for example, aspires to grow its herd to a million cattle grazing across 10,000 square kilometers. Monitoring territory of this size is a huge task, so farmers are increasingly looking to technology for answers, and they’re finding inventive solutions based on the Internet of Things.

Enter the “quadcopter cowboys,” Alexander and Oleg Bolgarin, two brothers with similar hobbies and the same employer: SAP. The two brothers are passionate software developers, avid horseback riders and drone pilots. Their entrepreneurial idea to help ranchers sleep better: Collar cattle with sensors, connect the herd to the cloud and apply drones as “mobile base stations” to ferry cattle data to a central cloud-based platform.

Digitalize to feed the world sustainably

SAP supports the Bolgarin brothers’ passions by giving them time and resources to develop a prototype. They are currently in discussions with one of Russia’s largest agribusinesses, which has shown interest in applying the IoT solution.

In all industries, agribusinesses are becoming increasingly digitalized, a development which is viewed by many as key to feeding the world sustainably. Digitalization of their processes enables agribusinesses to increase productivity and manage food supply chains sustainably and transparently “from farm to fork.” Early adopters of IoT solutions in crop farming have already shown that sensor data across farms can be collected and analyzed on a cloud platform.

The production process on cattle farms is similar worldwide. Mother herds graze in open green fields, bearing calves. Bulls reaching 220 kg are moved to separate grazing fields to mature. At about 400 kg, ranchers move the cattle to more densely populated feedlots where they remain until slaughtered at around 600 kg. The cycle is continuous and the challenge is to maximize output while ensuring quality while minimizing operating costs.

Spotting the calves, protecting the herd

The prototype developed by the Bolgarin brothers envisages a cattle collar with sensors for location (GPS), motion (accelerometer) and temperature. Batteries need to keep the collar transmitting for the life of the cow, up to three years. According to Oleg, the current cost per collar is about $ 25. He believes, however, that the cost will drop significantly.

Sensor data can be combined to tell whether a bull or cow is sick, trapped, lost or deceased. According to one study, accelerometers can distinguish up to nine different cattle diseases. Temperature can indicate a dead bull, which if left undetected might spread disease to others. An animal which is alive (temperature) but static (GPS) could be injured or trapped. The pictures delivered by a drone can also deliver useful information about a herd, such as pasture grass quality or the number of newly born calves. Where it’s clear that predators have struck, ranchers can take preventative measures.

As with any operation in remote territory, there are technical challenges. Perhaps the most innovative part of the Bolgarin brother’s solution is the way sensor data is transmitted from the herd to drones. RFID can transmit only 10 meters, Bluetooth is susceptible to weather conditions, and mobile communications networks seldom support underpopulated rural areas, so all three were not viable. Alexander and Oleg therefore outfitted drones and collars with a low-power wide area network (LoRa) transmitters and receivers. LoRa is a relatively new communications method intended for wireless battery-operated devices that supports sending data long distances at very low data-rates.

Data analysis supports “herd management by exception”

The interesting part begins once a drone completes its mission autonomously and returns to the farm with herd data. All sensor and picture data are uploaded to a cloud platform for evaluation. Cattle farmers can immediately analyze and evaluate the data to gain near-real-time status over their herds, develop action plans and even make predictions that support upstream and downstream processes of the business. With the information, cattle farmers can more easily adopt a “management by exception” working model, which helps them optimize the way resources are allocated. And perhaps they can even sleep better.

Along with other colleagues from SAP, Alexander and Oleg Bolgarin continue to refine their prototype with the hope of launching a finished product that will be applied by cattle ranchers worldwide. When they are not horseback riding or thinking up new uses for their drones, they are busy in SAP’s Globalization Services team at SAP Labs CIS in Moscow. Alexander localizes SAP’s procurement applications to markets in the Community of Independent States (CIS), while Oleg is product manager for SAP’s logistic solutions in Russia and other CIS countries.

For more on how IoT can benefit agriculture, see Hyerconnectivity In Agribusiness.


Internet of Things – Digitalist Magazine

Rural Sourcing Benefits From Digital Agribusiness Solutions To Meet Global Food Needs

With the world population headed toward the 10 billion mark in the coming years, the need for healthy, sustainable and fairly produced food will increase accordingly. Rural sourcing will be integral in meeting these needs. Hyperconnectivity in business and digital transformation of agriculture processes can create a stronger operational foundation for rural sourcing. This transformation can bring affordable, sustainable agricultural production by facilitating smart, traceable solutions throughout operations from farm to fork.

Reimagining smallholder farming network management

Modern farmers are surrounded by a complex system of equipment, vendors, processors, manufacturers, and agrichemical specialists. These technologies are often new to farmers in rural areas and developing countries; however, they can assist them in becoming far greater contributors The processes involved in rural sourcing must stay in sync with increased demand and changing consumer behaviors. Smallholder farming operations can benefit immensely from food traceability and hyperconnectivity innovations. This digital transformation is set to bring agricultural production to new heights of productivity and effectiveness, with additional benefits for rural farmers.

Rural sourcing made easier with digital business solutions

Rural sourcing is an area that’s ripe for transformation through digital agriculture solutions. Current and emerging digitization processes can assist with taking rural sourcing from smallholder farmers in developing countries to new heights of viability and success. The agribusiness value chain can be effectively streamlined, improving smallholders’ lives in a range of positive ways.

For example, rural farmers will be able to connect with financial services more readily. They will have a range of opportunities that were not available to them in the past. A blend of supplier and collaborator business networks, workforce engagement, assets, and the Internet of Things (IoT) assist all of the elements of this process to work together within a digital core. While the digital core facilitates the management of all financial and contractual data, collaboration within a supplier network is also seamless throughout the entire process. Mobile advances, the cloud, and IoT all come together in innovative software solutions to manage all the crucial components of rural-sourcing digitization.

The following are some of the key areas:

  • Identify farmers and expected crop yields. Research and due diligence in a rural area are streamlined and made intuitive, accurate, and efficient.
  • Broadcast prices and plan logistics. Keeping all relevant parties abreast of pricing considerations and key processes is fully automated, as are the processes themselves.
  • Consult and train farmers. Getting rural farmers up to speed and at top efficiency is also enabled with software solutions.
  • Record quantities and qualities. Full tracking of products from farm to fork is easier than ever with digital agriculture. Both quantities and full descriptions can be included.
  • Truck loading and offloading. Hyperconnectivity of the processes involved in digital farming ensures full food traceability until it reaches its destination – and at every phase along the way.
  • Mobile data exchange/track and trace standards. Data can be exchanged rapidly while on the go and kept up to date for all parties involved. Information, correspondence, and productivity data are always readily accessible, as is key information about products that are en route.
  • Mobile and SMS payments. All financial aspects of digital farming, including SMS payments, financials, and controlling, can be effectively managed with software solutions.

Processes involving integrated sourcing for crops or commodities from rural areas assist farmers by making training and best practices available. Tracing shipments in line with area and industry standards is also supported. It all starts with a direct connection to local farmers and allows for the accurate tracking of the resultant products to ensure efficiency. Digital farming can bring it all together. Transparency of origins is improved as well as the settlement process, reducing fraud risk. The hyperconnectivity of digital farming allows for more effective food traceability, more efficient farm operations, better food safety and quality, and an overall more beneficial experience when working with the rural farmer.

With effective rural sourcing management, everyone wins

Businesses implementing digital farming can more readily and consistently provide sustainable processes and positive working conditions. Farming practices can more easily be kept in line with fair trade labels and other key standards and certifications.

Learn more about digital transformation for the agribusiness industry


Internet of Things – Digitalist Magazine