Most of us have heard of “Internet of Things (IoT)” – the interconnected cloud and devices, like our smart watches, that we use everyday to make lives easier. But what do these smart solutions or the cloud have to do with farming?

Everything, according to Jeffrey Poppel, senior product manager for Decisive Farming by TELUS Agriculture.

“By connecting farms with an easier way to automate some of their manual tasks, we can make it simpler for farmers to make business decisions based on easy to view, real time data,” Poppel says. “Anything where we can help connect a sensor to the cloud – like farm bin monitoring and fuel monitoring sensors, and even security systems – all of this helps streamline on-farm processes, and save time and money for farmers.”  

TELUS Farm Fuel Management and TELUS Farm Bin Management are two new solutions from Decisive Farming geared at simplifying day-to-day choices for farmers.

Farm Fuel Management, which can help farmers measure fuel levels in real-time, and Farm Bin Management, which monitors bin temperature and moisture levels, work via a self-powered, wireless device called a Smart Dock. It’s built to be a plug-and-play system that’s easily self-installed by the user.

“With our fuel and propane applications, you drop a sensor into the tank and activate it online. With propane, we connect a digital gauge and you can digitise that tank. It’s super simple,” Poppel explains. “With our bin product, we’re digitising the existing cables within bins – if the farmer has cables and they’re not activated to a digital platform, we can connect the Smart Dock to those cables.”

If farmers do have to outfit a grain bin with sensors, cables and the wireless device, it may take a little longer. However, once initial setup is complete, it’s a do-it-yourself solution.

Curtis Kolibab is the CEO of North Star Systems, which developed the proprietary technology for Decisive Farming. He says the device is designed to be interchangeable between assets. “A farmer doesn’t need to have a specific device for a specific asset – they can interchange the device,” he says. “If you’re moving the device around from asset to asset, it’s done within minutes.”

Fuel Management in action

Curtis Kornelson is a Saskatchewan grain farmer. This summer, Kornelson tried TELUS Farm Fuel Management on his operation. 

“Our bulk fuel storage is an older tank so it doesn’t have sight glasses. The only way of knowing what’s in there is to put a bolt on a string and put it down from the top to measure what’s in it,” he says. 

The new sensor was easy to set up, Kornelson says. He dropped the sensor into the tank and followed the setup instructions. Now, he can monitor tank volume from the app on his phone. “It simplifies things,” he says. “It updates hourly, so I can have a look and know if we’re pulling fuel out. When we put [the sensor] in, our tank was half full. When we got below 20 per cent it alerted me by text. It’s nice because you’re busy and it’s good to know if things are getting down.

“Also, you never know when there will be a fuel shortage. I have an idea of how much fuel we have, so if the price goes up we can decide whether to buy.”

Creating an interconnected farm

Versatility is key: the Decisive Farming system connects farm assets to the Cloud without gateways. “The device is multifunctional and it can connect with many types of sensors, so if you want to stack other sensor options to your bin – like level sensing or motion detection – it has those capabilities. And the device can interconnect with different sensors on other assets,” Kolibab says.

Kolibab says inventory management is a critical component of precision farming. “If you’re able to stay connected with your important assets, that will really help around important decisions – how much you can purchase, timing, and whether you have space to deliver product,” he says. “On the grain side, what you work all year for is grain in the bin, and you want to be sure your grain is protected and stored in a safe way. It’s utterly important to have that information in real time.”

Decisive is actively working to bring even more IoT devices onto their farm management platform. 

“With Decisive Farming, we’re looking to bring value-added solutions to the farm, and digitise and bring these farms into full connectivity,” Poppel says. 

Farmers are early adopters, says Kolibab, and they’re looking for a return on investment. “If any solution can show value, they’ll continue to use it. What we’ve seen in the early stages of this is that it’s doing exactly that.”

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