Part 3 of 8: The Family Farm of the Future
The social fabric of North America is largely built upon the family farm. However, recent trends have continued to distance many families’ involvement in their generational farming practices. Over the last century the cost of land, tools, materials and labour have increased dramatically while at the same time, price per unit of yield for many crops has plummeted.
Increasing production is the only way family farms have survived over the past thirty years. Assets that were handed down from generation to generation were leveraged and handed over to the bank due to many failed attempts to scale. If you are a music buff, the lyrics of John Mellencamp songs should be flooding your mind. But the fact of the matter is that Farm Aid, farm bills and tariffs could not create a fair playing field for the family farm in the way that modern technology and connectivity can.
Not Your Father’s Farm
Modern technology rooted in hyperscaler innovations and cost commoditization makes it now possible for nearly anyone to create massively efficient operational models. AI assisted monitoring of farm production from sources including images, soil sensors, weather stations, telemetry data, semi-autonomous machinery and drones is now accessible and actionable. In today’s world, moving from a mainframe-like “corporate farm” model to cloud-like serverless functions “boutique farm” models will make it possible for family farms to thrive.
Conversely, the legacy macro models of yesterday rely on mass seeding, superfluous pesticides and overharvesting with less control of production yields and quality. Even if you could produce the best quality grain prior to deregulation, the paths to market in the 1980s were very limited. But today, almost anyone can enter into production contracts for very specialized agreements thanks to services like Docusign. And because of the proliferation of IoT tools and devices, both producer and buyer can monitor quality controls in real time.
So what does this modern take on the family farm look like? Seeding is done specifically based on crop rotation schedules and soil conditions. Spraying, if needed at all, is achieved using drones (Precision.ai) that identify specific species of weeds and only target the unwanted plant. Harvesting is scheduled based on predictive analytics models and the weather. Farmers can utilize semi-autonomous equipment, now available “as a service,” to increase capital efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint. All of this is now possible… if data connectivity is trusted, available and meets the performance requirements of these widely varying use cases.
Building a “Connected” Family Farm
Cellular data should be the primary method of connectivity for a family farm operation. WiFi lacks the range and packet efficiency required. Wired connections simply aren’t practical outside of the farm office or backhaul where available. And though recent innovations in satellite technology have driven down costs, it remains very expensive outside of specific machine bound units or as backhaul (of last resort).
On the other hand, cellular data services can now be deployed quickly, cost effectively and like WiFi, they are easier than ever to manage. Producers on the family farm can deploy their own SIM cards (or eSIM), Radio Access Networks (RAN) such as CBRS in the USA and core network services right on the farm (near edge) or cloud.
With Expeto, producers can even “roam off” from family farm private cellular coverage onto existing nationwide cellular coverage without losing control of the data path. This wealth of capability is providing a previously unimaginable ability for the family farm to execute efficiently. “Zero to One” (Peter Theil) experiments with various production contract models that concentrate on the unique properties and competitive advantage of a specific family farm are now fast and efficient. Everything outside of the specific core competency of an individual family farm should be utilized “as a Service” where possible.
The Time is Now
Food production is a matter of national security which impacts society in both the short and long term. As such, this need to push the family farm into the future is essential. Making modern farming practices as described a reality will take a good amount of technology awareness, education and adoption – but above all else, accessibility. The entire “art of the possible” model falls apart without trusted, available, efficient and performant wireless connectivity. Making the Private Mobile Network (PMN) accessible is essential so each producer can have control to make specific choices. Having “Your network, your way” is the critical path forward to ensure global food security produced by thriving family farms.
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