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FarmBeats: Ag at the Speed of IT

Posted by Scott Elliott, Agricultural Research Service Office of Communications in Research and Science Technology
Sep 30, 2021
A StressCam monitors drought conditions at a Long-term Agroecosystem Research Network cornfield in Beltsville, Md

With the global population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, farmers need all the help they can get to increase production, quality, and nutritional value of agricultural products. FarmBeats will help them achieve that.

“FarmBeats is a digital agriculture platform to integrate data coming from different sources at the same location,” said Steven Mirsky, research ecologist at the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. “It provides data management and helps build standards around Internet of Things (IoT) systems.”

IoT is a network of physical objects that contain sensors, software, and other technologies that connect and share data over the internet.

According to Mirsky, FarmBeats facilitates data management and analysis from sensing technologies deployed in farm fields. The system uses the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to gather, store, and configure data. FarmBeats also improves sparse communications in rural environments through use of television white space (TVWS) technology. TVWS refers to unused VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency) television channels and can transmit about 100 times the distance of Wi-Fi.

The system is still in its early stages of development. At ARS, researchers are using it to store “phenocam” images with metadata to monitor drought stress in corn, soybeans, and cotton. Phenocam is a digital camera that captures time-lapse images of foliage to record environmental effects on plant growth and health.

“The future of agriculture involves extensive sensing technologies that provide actionable data to farmers,” Mirsky said. “FarmBeats is a resource that does this.”