The Role of Broadband in Canada’s AgTech Revolution

Agricultural technology (AgTech) is changing the way farms operate. By leveraging new technologies, farms can produce more crops while reducing environmental impacts. Technology helps farmers do more with less, and with the job vacancy rate for agriculture higher than in other industries, farmers need all the help they can get. An RBC report predicts that agriculture technology will not only alleviate the pressure of labour shortages but will ultimately grow Canada’s agricultural GDP to $51 billion by 2030.

Despite the many benefits AgTech can offer, adoption has been slow in Canada. The 2021 Census Report found that there are 189,874 farms in Canada. Data shows that only 27% of farms in Canada use auto-steer equipment, and only 13% use GPS mapping. Adoption of robotic equipment is even lower, with 3.5% using drones, 1.2% using robotic milkers, and 0.18% using robotic greenhouse equipment.

The digital divide is one of the top barriers that prevent farmers from adopting AgTech. Only 54% of rural Canadians have access to high-speed internet, and 90% of farmers live in rural areas. AgTech produces large amounts of data, including shape files and drone or satellite imagery. Farmers require high speeds and low latency to handle all this data. As well, the use of sensors and other equipment means farmers need a reliable signal that extends past their office and across entire fields. Without access to high-speed broadband internet, Canadian farmers will be left out of the new agricultural revolution.

This blog will explore some of the latest agriculture technology in Canada and the impact that AgTech can make. Then we’ll look at the best way to connect rural farms to high-speed internet.

Automation, IoT and Big Data on Canadian Farms

A significant component of AgTech is precision agriculture, a type of farming that leverages technology to streamline farm operations. It allows farmers to use resources more efficiently and increases crop production and profitability. Precision agriculture applications are wide-ranging and can include anything from GPS-guided auto-steer equipment to sensors that monitor soil quality to ensure healthy crops. There are many Canadian AgTech companies creating innovative solutions for farmers.

Labour shortages have resulted in massive growth in the agriculture automation technology sector, which is estimated to be worth US$ 2,657 million. In particular, the market for milking robots grew significantly in the last year. For example, Canadian company Milkomax recently launched a robot designed specifically for tie-stall barns, which account for the majority of farms in Ontario and Quebec. Aside from completing the labour-intensive task of milking cows, the robot can also produce valuable data on milk production.

The agricultural Internet of Things (IoT) is another fast-growing market worth USD 11.20 Billion globally. IoT sensors can monitor crops, survey fields, and provide data to farmers. Canadian company Nexus Robotics integrated sensors into its self-driving weed-removing robot. The robot uses cameras, a neural network, and machine learning to differentiate between weeds and crops. It also collects data on crops and growing conditions, which helps farmers make educated growing decisions.

The Saskatchewan-based company Precision AI is developing drone-based artificial intelligence technology that enables farmers to apply pesticides to individual weeds while avoiding crops. The company aims to create hives of intelligent drones that will reduce pesticide use by 95%.

With high-speed internet access, Canadian farmers could adopt this home-grown technology to boost productivity while saving money and mitigating environmental impacts.

The Power of Connectivity

An American study broke down some of the direct impacts that broadband access, or lack of access, can have on the agriculture industry. The study found:

  • Connectivity has impacted purchase decisions to upgrade farm equipment in the past 18 months.
  • 29% of farms purchase agricultural inputs (such as seed, fertilizer, machinery, or replacement parts) over the internet, and only 21% use online marketing.
  • Precision agriculture has the potential to double the placement efficiency of fertilizer. Which saves the farmer money on fertilizer while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Similar benefits accrue in terms of herbicide, fossil fuel, and water use.
  • Internet access can save farmers 10% on seed placement costs and reduce herbicide use by 77%
  • Using the internet to coordinate sales among multiple small producers and connect directly with buyers, farmers earn on average, $0.35 to $0.51 cents more per bushel of corn, wheat, rice, or soy.
  • 60 percent of consumers are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact. Consumers can vote with their dollars and support farms that implement AgTech for sustainability.

Connecting Canadian Farms

We’ve extensively written about the reasons large telcos won’t connect rural Canada. The agriculture industry is all too familiar with the broken promises of large telcos. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) was disappointed when a large telco withdrew a plan to expand rural internet availability by 20%.

Instead of waiting for large telcos to build their networks, rural municipalities can take charge by adopting a community broadband network model. A community broadband network is a carrier-neutral model that leverages fibre or satellite broadband technology to create long-term value for any size community. This business plan is a shared revenue model custom-designed and implemented by a consortium of best-in-class partners.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture believes collaboration is needed to deliver rural broadband to rural Canada, stating: “The government of Canada must bring together telecommunications providers, rural communities, and agricultural stakeholders to lay out a clear vision and a strategy with clear targets to ensure that digital infrastructure, including internet and cell phone services meet the needs of all rural Canadians and contributes to a sustainable and vibrant rural Canada for decades to come.” Community broadband networks are a partnership with rural communities and can be customized to meet each community’s individual needs.

Municipalities can take action to boost not only agriculture profits but the rural economy as a whole. ROCK Networks provides an end-to-end solution to help your municipality design, build, and implement a community broadband network using fibre or satellite. Let us help farmers in rural Canada harness the latest technology needed to thrive in a digital world.

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