For generations, farmers throughout North Dakota have traditionally hired seasonal farm hands to help with planting, harvesting and other jobs. Digital technologies and big data are transforming agriculture. Today, those same farmers need to hire technologists, programmers and data scientists to improve productivity to meet food demands, boost yields to increase profitability, environmentally sustain the land and improve safety. But, according to the consulting firm Accenture, less than 20 percent of acreage today is managed using digital ag tech.
In West Coast tech corridors 1,800 miles away, technologists, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are coming up with their next big ag tech ideas. But too often those ideas are disconnected from the farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses the technology is meant to help. We believe meaningful innovation will happen when farmers are a part of the solution.
Our TechSpark signature investment in the Grand Farm will leverage projects like a TechSpark North Dakota investment we made earlier this year in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which most people know as drones, to provide access to low-cost aerial data imagery. Gov. Burgum, local businesses, universities and economic development organizations in North Dakota have an ambition to be the epicenter of U.S. drone innovation and entrepreneurism.We also plan on leveraging Microsoft technologies like those used in FarmBeats at the Grand Farm. FarmBeats uses AI in data-driven farming to augment human knowledge and help increase farm productivity and decrease costs. It uses inexpensive IoT sensors, drones, low-cost broadband connectivity using TV white spaces, and vision and machine learning algorithms to help maximize the use of agricultural land. FarmBeats gives farmers precise information about soil temperatures and soil moisture so they know exactly when the best times are for planting, watering and fertilizing, as well as the precise amount of water and fertilizer needed.
Getting data from the farm is extremely difficult given there is often no broadband available on many farms. In the U.S., more than 19 million people living in rural America don’t have access to broadband internet. The farm of the future requires rural broadband.
Digital skills and employability
Ag tech innovation and broadband-connected farms require the right talent – people who know how to create and use new ag technology.
This starts with students in the region, who need the opportunity to study computer science in high school if they are to succeed in the digital era. But only 45 percent of U.S. high schools teach computer science, according to the nonprofit Code.org. Microsoft’s Technology and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program is helping schools across the nation and British Columbia build their own computer science programs through partnerships between teachers and volunteers from the technology sector.
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