Forget CES, The World Ag Expo Is The Hottest Tech Trade Show

Motherboard visits one of the world's biggest farming exhibitions to find more gadgets than grain.
February 16, 2017, 6:18pm

Farms may not be the first venue that comes to your mind when you hear about the Internet of Things. But as we've been reporting, farmers and ranchers are adopting more computerized automation, sensors and cloud computing in droves to keep their operations lean.

Motherboard checked out some of these developments at the World Agriculture Expo this week in Tulare, California. Here were some of the developments freshly harvested from the agriculture industry:

Smart Cows

Image: Meredith Rutland Bauer

HerdDogg created a smart-cow system to keep track of cows as they graze, give birth and mate. The company sells cow tags that keep identification data and biometrics, so ranchers can keep up with Bessy's temperature and activity levels without disturbing her grazing. It's sort of like a FitBit for herds, except it also alerts you if a cow goes missing.

Drones on Farms

Aero Systems West display. Image: Meredith Rutland Bauer

Drones can be fitted with regular and infrared cameras to take photos of a given field. From that information, companies crunch the data and give farmers a readout of crop yield, soil nutrient levels, soil moisture levels, plant height and other metrics.

Previously, farmers used to only be able to get this type of data from satellites or an aircraft, such as a chartered helicopter, but now they can take these readings regularly because a drone costs significantly less than renting time on a satellite.

Precision Hawk drones and software. Image: Meredith Rutland Bauer

"You're making data accessible to people who previously couldn't get it," said Alex Moss, spokesman for PrecisionHawk, a drone data analysis company.

Raw Data from Raw Veggies

Hortau display. Image: Meredith Rutland Bauer

Internet-connected sensors specifically for soil monitoring, at a minimum, measure soil moisture. But some also come with a built-in irrigation system that alerts the user when it needed to be turned on or off, and at least one company also sold a smart weather system so farmers could take climate readings from their farm (rather than relying on climate data from a station miles away).

Soil seems simple to those who don't garden or who can't even keep a houseplant alive. But everything from soil nitrogen levels to overwatering could have disastrous effects on the crops, so farmers have to remain vigilant.

DropControl display. Image: Meredith Rutland Bauer

"We're obviously evolving," said Cord Nuñez, of agriculture company Hortau. "Farmers used to use a shovel, and now they can use a phone or an iPad and see the soil in real time."