How tech-savvy farmers are harnessing big data to tend the fields of the future

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In the old days, farmers kept track of their crops’ vital stats in logbooks and on whiteboards — but in the new days, that’s just not going to cut it.



a plane flying in the air: Drones can help apple growers survey their orchards to gauge their health. (Innov8 Ag Photo)


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Drones can help apple growers survey their orchards to gauge their health. (Innov8 Ag Photo)

“Shun analog,” said Steve Mantle, the founder and CEO of Innov8 Ag Solutions, a farm management venture that’s headquartered in Walla Walla, Wash. “Digital first. If a grower is still putting things in logbooks, they have to shift to it.”

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Mantle and other experts and entrepreneurs surveyed the state of agricultural tech today during Washington State University’s Digital Agriculture Summit — and it’s clear that the field is in a state of flux.

The panelists gave a shout-out to technologies ranging from sensor-equipped drones and 5G connectivity to robotic harvesters and artificial intelligence. But at the same time, some in the virtual audience complained about not being able to get even a 4G signal down on the farm.

Much more needs to be done to bring the agricultural data revolution to full fruition, said Kurt Steck, managing general partner of the 5G Open Innovation Lab, based in Bellevue, Wash.

“Most of the networks are consumer-oriented and very urban-dense,” Steck said. “We’re building a testbed so that we can start to build the right applications and show operators that there is a business case potentially here, because of the amounts of data that can add value to farmers and growing operations. But we have to prove that business model out to the operators. They don’t see it inherently.”

Innov8 Ag is one of the pioneers for that business model: This summer, it worked with the 5G Open Innovation Lab’s other partners on a pilot project in the Tri-Cities area to

How farmers are harnessing big data to tend fields of the future

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Drone survey
Drones can help apple growers survey their orchards to gauge their health. (Innov8 Ag Photo)

In the old days, farmers kept track of their crops’ vital stats in logbooks and on whiteboards — but in the new days, that’s just not going to cut it.

“Shun analog,” said Steve Mantle, the founder and CEO of Innov8 Ag Solutions, a farm management venture that’s headquartered in Walla Walla, Wash. “Digital first. If a grower is still putting things in logbooks, they have to shift to it.”

Mantle and other experts and entrepreneurs surveyed the state of agricultural tech today during Washington State University’s Digital Agriculture Summit — and it’s clear that the field is in a state of flux.

The panelists gave a shout-out to technologies ranging from sensor-equipped drones and 5G connectivity to robotic harvesters and artificial intelligence. But at the same time, some in the virtual audience complained about not being able to get even a 4G signal down on the farm.

Much more needs to be done to bring the agricultural data revolution to full fruition, said Kurt Steck, managing general partner of the 5G Open Innovation Lab, based in Bellevue, Wash.

“Most of the networks are consumer-oriented and very urban-dense,” Steck said. “We’re building a testbed so that we can start to build the right applications and show operators that there is a business case potentially here, because of the amounts of data that can add value to farmers and growing operations. But we have to prove that business model out to the operators. They don’t see it inherently.”

Innov8 Ag is one of the pioneers for that business model: This summer, it worked with the 5G Open Innovation Lab’s other partners on a pilot project in the Tri-Cities area to employ drones, sensors, imaging tools, high-bandwidth