Agriculture is turning to technology to transform its operations, increase performance and tackle contemporary challenges. From climate change resilience to environmental footprints and resource management, IoT combined with network connectivity, edge computing and cloud platforms are reimagining agriculture to feed the world and its growing population.
TechRepublic recently covered the big players of the industrial agritech sector and their latest technology, but beyond corporations like John Deere or Bayer leading the way, the agritech market is ripe with companies worth keeping an eye on.
In this report, we follow up on businesses that began operating — with potential promise — as startups about ten years ago and today are well established. Providing vertical farms, cloud platforms and robotics, these companies, pioneers in their fields, are now expanding operations and shaping the new era of agriculture.
Bowery Farming: The future of vertical farms
In a press release this month, Bowery Farming presented Glenn Wells as the new senior vice president of sales and revealed the company had doubled its revenue for the second year in a row. Bowery Farming is also on track to double its number of farms this year.
“Bowery is growing fast, and I’m thrilled to join the team at such a pivotal moment,” Wells said. “As Bowery expands to new geographic farm locations in Georgia, Texas and beyond and continues to grow its product portfolio, I’m excited to support the company’s national retail expansion.”
Bowery Farming strongly believes vertical farms will play a major role in solving the global food crisis. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, by 2050, food production needs to increase by 60% to meet the demands of a growing population expected to reach 9.3 billion.
The UK cross-government program on food security research, Global Food Security, adds that more than 795 million people face hunger every day and over two billion do not have access to vital micronutrients. This issue impacts their health and life expectancy. Additionally, if traditional systems prevail, they estimate that to meet 2050 production demands, producers will need 120% more water, 42% more cropland and produce 77% more GHG emissions.
Bowery Farming has established itself as the largest U.S. vertical farming company. Using proprietary technology, AI, robotics and IoT, the company grows produce indoors to optimize quality while maximizing the use of resources.
Bowery Farming’s vertical farming system employs automated storage and retrieval system technology to manage agriculture systems that are stored in trays up to 40 feet in their warehouses. The company claims they can get 30 times the amount of crop from their spaces compared to conventional agriculture.
An army of sensors, IoT and automated robotics are deployed through the entire lifecycle at Bowery Farming’s vertical farms. Crops grow in special palletized trays, which are transferred and monitored by technology. Sensors feeding the BoweryOS platform with light, temperature, humidity and data on specific needs for each species drive machine learning analytics for these high-density crop systems.
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Trilogy Networks, Veea and Microclimates partner up
Another company establishing itself as a leader in the agritech IoT-edge-cloud-platform market is Trilogy Networks. On Jan. 12, 2023, the company announced a new partnership with Veea and Microclimates, an emerging company specializing in smart climate-controlled environment management. The idea is to combine their technologies and platforms into an all-in-one agritech solution.
The new Trilogy platform gives farmers and enterprises a new way to collect, compute and protect data at the edge to improve operational efficiency and lower costs. Veea provides a unified connectivity fabric that enables communications between the cloud, endpoints, edge and devices.
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Microclimates’ climate-controlled environment technology allows farmers to control the systems that monitor temperature, humidity, CO2, watering and ambient light. The platform can manage thousands of sensors and provide 24-7 live monitoring.
Farms traditionally struggle with temperature measurements, humidity, the lack of real-time data and heating costs during winter. Precision farming technology allows farming to leverage private enterprise wireless connectivity (including 5G) and wireless controllers that can be automated for operations ranging from soil control to irrigation.
Advances for Advanced.Farm and Blue White Robotics
Robotic IoT heavy machinery is another major agritech trend and the technology is advancing rapidly. Advanced.Farm builds hybrid-electric drive systems, autonomous farm machinery navigation tools, robotic arms, soft-food grippers and tray stacking tech. They also offer customers software emulators that allow users to test new robotic automated features in digital twin real-world simulations before deployment.
Mid-last year, the tech firm completed a series B investment round, raising $25 million to support the company’s growth. Their automated robotic harvesters use IoT cameras and sensors to select the ripe fruit ready to harvest. Fruit crop harvesting presents challenges for automation and robots as fruits like strawberries and apples are especially fragile.
Advanced.farm specializes in soft-safe food gripping technology, which has the precision and delicacy to manage the operation but is also rugged and resilient to withstand outdoor environmental factors and the execution of repetitive tasks. The company uses computer vision and machine learning to enable its robots to navigate fields and harvest fruit autonomously, with a capacity to run up to 24 hours a day.
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Blue White Robotics is another company doing well in robotics. Founded in 2017, their robots and platform are used as a holistic solution. In 2022, the company partnered with Intel and Federated Wireless to develop a new automated agricultural tech.
The solution combines adaptable networking and robotics technologies and can be customized to any grower’s operation using IoT, edge computing resources and private wireless networks.
Blue White Robotics specializes in robotic kits that can transform any existing fleet of vehicles into robotic autonomous-platform-managed machines. They can also be programmed to run specific operations and tasks with little human intervention. These IoT kits allow producers to access the latest technology without the upfront costs of purchasing new machinery.
The tech combines GPS, lidar and high-resolution camera data through sensor fusion to enable autonomous movement and operation. The system also uses deep learning-based AI models to increase perception and filter out noise and weather disruptions.
Food for thought
Small and heavy IoT machinery, drones, AI and machine learning edge-cloud platforms are the foundations of the 4.0 industrial revolution, with every sector embracing the technology. Agriculture is no exception.
Companies such as those highlighted in this report were considered experimental just five or ten years ago. Today, the solutions they provide are becoming the norm. As global food demands and land, water and energy use put pressure on agricultural systems, the sector’s transformation is inevitable and precision agritech IoT edge companies will continue to lead the way.
Learn more about IoT and edge with these recent features: How IoT is automating warehouse operations and the current state of edge computing.