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Connected farming: enabling the future of agriculture with 5G

Farmer and consultant in field looking at tablet | TELUS Agriculture

Advanced technology and data are driving the future of agriculture. Key to unlocking this future is better connectivity. We explore an intelligent farming future enabled by greater connectivity and 5G.

How important is connectivity? It’s estimated another $500 billion in value could be added to the global gross domestic product if connectivity is successfully implemented in the agriculture industry.

Our team members, Neil Van Seters, VP of Global Product – Agribusiness, and Breanne Kielich, Director, Marketing and Communications, sat down to explore the possibilities of greater connectivity and how 5G can help growers achieve a more autonomous, intelligent farming future.

The following is the transcript of the video interview edited for clarity and length.

Breanne Kielich (BK): What's the potential that comes along with improved connectivity for farmers?

Neil Van Seters (NVS): For us, improved coverage is not coverage for coverage's sake. It's really about enabling farmers to run their businesses in real time, so that they have the information that they need at their fingertips when and where they need it.

Some examples of what connectivity can enable are real-time crop scouting, connecting with an agronomist advisor to get a recommendation on what intervention to apply, connecting to an equipment dealer to get some thoughts on a particular reading from a tractor, or looking back at crop plans and seeing what progress should be expected.

These are all things that, with better connectivity, help farmers make decisions in real time, versus needing to spend their evenings reconnecting and following up on all the observations they had in the field.

BK: We hear a lot of buzz about 5G. How does it work and why is it different?

NVS: 5G is the latest technology that companies like TELUS and other telecommunications providers around the world are currently deploying. It’s a huge step forward in terms of network performance and capacity. The closest parallel is the innovation that we've seen in the wired networking world with the introduction of fibre technologies and fibre directly to the home. The biggest thing that technologies like fibre and 5G do are removing the network as the bottleneck for innovation.

BK: What could 5G enable for farmers?

NVS: It's really what it enables tomorrow versus today. So we can do a lot of things with 4G today around connected devices and real-time access to information in the field. But if we want to move to a future of augmented reality, fully-autonomous farming, thousands of sensor devices and real-time decision making on farm, based on data from those devices – 5G can support that.

Imagine hundreds of cameras in a field sending real-time images back to an edge compute server that identifies the type and number of insects that are in the field before deploying a remote autonomous drone to spray in that area for that particular insect type – that's just one example of how a 5G-enabled infrastructure can enable a much more autonomous, intelligent farming future.

BK: Can you give me some other examples of solutions that are using 5G?

NVS: There are lots of solutions that are being developed that will be able to leverage 5G. A few examples are:

  • Carbon Robotics has a robot that uses lasers to destroy 100,000 weeds an hour covering 15 to 20 acres a day without disturbing soil or plants and it operates 24/7 autonomously

  • Pessl's iSCOUT tool uses cameras to identify and count insects in the field. 5G could enable that type of technology to trigger instant decision making, such as trapping or destroying the insects once they've been detected

  • We're seeing a rise in advanced livestock sensors, whereby large herds can be connected with an intense device array that monitors every aspect of what's going on with the animal to ensure that they can receive the best and healthiest treatment possible from the ranchers

BK: We also hear a lot about augmented reality. What’s the relevance of it for agriculture?

NVS: We can envision a future where when people are out in the field, they have an augmented reality experience, showing their crops, what was sprayed and when, and how much water and sun has been received by each plant. This can help growers make real-time recommendations on interventions that they may want to apply.

BK: Thanks, Neil. It sounds like a really promising future for both agriculture and connectivity.