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Data-Driven Farming and Ranching: Telematics Boosts Efficiency

How Advanced Connectivity and Analytics Transform Agriculture and Livestock Management

29 May 2024
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When Italian Guglielmo Marconi first used a long-range radio signal to transmit news stories in 1899, no one would have foreseen the impact simple connectivity would have on our lives.

In the 1980s, computers made their way into our offices, classrooms, then our homes, and when the 1990s brought us the world wide web, the way we live and conduct business changed forever.

The definition of telematics broadly compartmentalizes the widespread adoption of computers and telecommunications equipment working as a team to turn everything into data, then analyze it, then turn that into something useful to humans.

The use of telematics in fleet management started in the shipping industry around 2010, when the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) worked with John Deere, Volvo, Caterpillar and other industry leaders to standardize best practices for tracking their equipment around the globe. The AEMP collected and monitored data like operating hours, distances traveled and fuel consumption to determine industry standards and slowly began to compile immense databases.

Telematics systems have been logging data for fleet managers ever since. However, the information is just static if it isn’t incorporated into a larger system capable of reporting and analytics.

As telematics technology advances, its applications will continue to diversify, creating new opportunities for innovation and efficiency across various industries. From agriculture to healthcare to smart cities, the future of telematics holds immense potential for driving positive change and shaping the digital transformation landscape. Telematics is being integrated into smart city initiatives to enhance urban mobility, public safety and infrastructure management. Intelligent traffic management systems, powered by telematics data, enable cities to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality and enhance transportation sustainability.

Every business with expensive equipment can benefit from adopting telematics for its fleet management expertise. By outfitting tractors, combines — or even just trucks — farmers and ranchers can monitor fuel usage, managers can track equipment location and mechanics can receive maintenance alerts in real time. This data-driven approach allows for collaborative and proactive maintenance scheduling, reducing downtime and repairs.

The initial adoption of telematics technology among farmers was small, primarily focusing on basic equipment tracking and fleet management functionalities. GPS-enabled systems allowed for real-time monitoring of equipment locations and usage, but the high-level analysis and automation we know today was still a decade away.

By the mid-2000s telematics systems evolved to incorporate more advanced features, such as equipment diagnostics and performance monitoring, allowing the ranchers and growers using telematics data to track fuel usage, engine health and machinery efficiency.

Around 2010, precision agriculture dovetailed with telematics, as growers began to integrate telematics with soil sensors, weather data and crop health monitoring tools to optimize irrigation, fertilization and inputs. This integration illuminated the path toward improved crop yields and reduced input costs — all through data-driven decisions. At around the same time, ranchers began using telematics data to monitor and track livestock health indicators remotely, such as heart rate, body temperature and activity levels, allowing for early detection of health issues.

Right around the same time, the available telematics platforms became more powerful and sophisticated, allowing for seamless integration between troves of data and farm management software. Farmers could now access comprehensive dashboards backed up by custom datasets that provided insights into equipment status, field conditions and operational analytics. Telematics systems in ranching expanded similarly, including custom-gene selection assessment capabilities. Ranchers started to use data analytics to assess genetic traits in their herds, such as milk production, disease resistance and growth rates.

By the early 2020s machine learning propelled telematics platforms into the realm of predictive analytics capabilities. Farmers could now effectively predict crop yields, identify potential equipment failures before they occur and they could make data-driven decisions for planting and harvesting schedules based on everything from historical weather patterns, maintenance schedules and current market trends. Ranchers were on the same path, using telematics systems to produce specific customer demand for their inventory. By analyzing market trends, consumer preferences and genetic data, ranchers could tailor their breeding strategies to meet specific customer demands for the next generation of herds.

Today, advancements in connectivity have propelled the deployment of everything from autonomous robots that plant crops to virtual reality checkups that help ranchers keep an eye on their herd, all working together thanks to telematics systems. It’s a safe bet to say Mr. Marchoni would appreciate his historic invention being utilized to make the best ragu’ alla bolognese possible.

Article written by Allen P. Roberts Jr.


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Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.