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TELUS Business

Monitoring levels on the farm, from SK to KS, and beyond

Tech Trends · May 23, 2018

I wasn’t surprised when Curtis Kolibab, General Manager of Saskatoon-based North Star Systems, told me Canadian farmers and the agriculture sector in general are among the earliest and largest adopters of new technology. “Farmers use decision-based tools, like models that predict weather so they know how much spray to apply to crops, or sensors that tell them which part of their fields will produce the most crops, and so much more,” Curtis explained. From combines that steer themselves through the field, to cows and hay bales that ‘text’, ag-tech is developing in exciting ways. Sensors and wireless connectivityare enabling farmers, land, equipment, and dealers, to exchange data and control more things remotely throughout the day.

Canadian farms and ranches have also been growing in size for a number of years. These bigger operations are very complex and sophisticated and do much more than just put food on our tables. They contribute over $110 billion annually to the country’s gross domestic product and provide 1 in every 8 Canadian jobs. What’s more, they achieve all this in an average growing season that is just 120 – 140 days long. Advanced technology plays a huge role in their ability to do so much in such a short time. One such critical ongoing need on a farm is to accurately measure and quickly react to levels – fertilizer in the tank, grain in the silo – and ag-tech solutions have responded by automating many of these tasks.

Making just-in-time fertilizer deliveries possible

North Star Systems spent its first 30 years selling seeds, chemicals and fertilizers to farmers on the Canadian prairies, and one of their major challenges was ensuring their customers always had enough of their products. “When the Internet of Things emerged, we realized we could make a cost-effective tank monitoring system that would help reduce fertilizer delivery logistics costs by over 25%,” Curtis told me. With an automated monitoring system that warns suppliers when a farmer’s fertilizer tanks come close to running empty, the supplier could send out deliveries just in time, ensuring maximum productivity for every customer. It was a big idea, and North Star Systems shifted their entire focus based on it.

The company devoted all their R&D resources to developing a complete end-to-end remote monitoring solution that would be compatible with a wide variety of existing gauges and sensors and able to withstand extreme temperatures and temperature changes. “It would also have to be capable of operating anywhere, even on tanks of fertilizer being pulled by tractors in the field,” Curtis added. “And because it would literally ‘tell tales’ about the level of fertilizer in any tank, we decided to call it Tattle.”

The importance of choosing the right IoT partner to grow with

With clients in rural parts of Canada, North Star Systems also had to make the right choice when it came to connectivity for their Tattle Systems. They concluded that cellular was the most cost-effective option and they began working with a regional wireless provider.  However, as demand for the Tattle solution began growing across Canada, in the US and around the world, North Star realized they needed a partner that could deliver reliable, dependable connectivity everywhere, while also providing IoT expertise to help support and grow their business.

After talking to a number of carriers, North Star Systems chose TELUS IoT Connectivity. “TELUS had already built the network we needed,” explained Denis Levi, North Star’s IT Manager. “When I contact TELUS, I get through to exactly the right person, somebody who knows the products they sell and is ready to work with us to ensure everything operates properly.”

North Star Systems had designed their own solution to manage the SIM cards used by Tattle Systems, and worked with TELUS to integrate it into their dedicated IoT network offering, with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to ensure added security. As a result, North Star Systems now has complete control over the connectivity needs of every Tattle they sell and support.

Cultivating new applications and markets around the world

Since launching Tattle, North Star Systems has received numerous requests for modifications that will allow the system to monitor other wet and dry substances. They responded and Tattle Systems can now connect to more than 30 different sensors and over 100 applications including location, volume level, temperature, fire and smoke sensing and more, providing agriculture clients with vital information from tanks and containers almost anywhere in the field. It can measure liquids or solids, and be set to provide measurements whenever the client requires, from as often as every second to as infrequently as once per day. It is even being used to monitor the level of water in northern Saskatchewan creeks for the province’s 911 emergency service.

Using Tattle Systems, clients of North Star Systems are achieving increased efficiencies, improved profitability, enhanced safety, sustainability and compliance. Tattle Systems are already available across Canada, many Midwestern US states, and the company is currently responding to enquiries from other countries. With all this success, it’s no wonder Curtis feels positive about his company’s prospects. “I see our tech as an avenue for great things today and even greater things in the future,” he told me.

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Authored by:
Todd Krebs
Todd Krebs