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Business Continuity Solutions for Agriculture

By Paul Fitzgerald for America's Backbone Weekly

When crisis strikes, chaos can ensue on a farm. Whether the trouble is the result of a natural disaster, infrastructure failure or even an infectious outbreak of animals, the effects can be catastrophic for the health of crops and livestock, not to mention the farmer's bottom line. Recent advances in technology have given farmers incredible power over their operations, but technology is only useful if it's properly functioning. For a farm that's dependent on remote sensing technology and data analytics, a sudden and prolonged internet outage can seem like a return to the dark ages. While the amount of financial losses experienced vary greatly across different industries and specific agricultural stats aren't available, a 2011 study by CA Technologies, covering multiple industries, revealed that from 200 countries surveyed, $26.5 billion is lost each year due to internet outages, including an average annual loss of $55,000 for small companies and $91,000 for medium sized companies.

The essence of remote sensing technologies

Remote sensor technology has provided farmers with the ability to monitor their crops, livestock and equipment like never before. Wearable technologies for livestock, such as e-collars, smart tags (such as the TekVet Health Monitoring System) and leg bands, provide real-time data on an animal's location and vital health metrics, such as temperature, heart rate and breathing patterns. This data is a great weapon in the war against infection. Since body temperature is one of the first signs of illness, a farmer can quarantine an animal the moment its temperature changes. This can minimize or prevent the potential spread of infection and can keep a farm operational.

Advanced equipment like smart tractors provide information on crop planting, plow scheduling and maintenance. They can even measure soil moisture. The ability to harness data like this is revolutionary. For remote sensing tech to work, a stable internet connection is essential. Infrastructure failure at the ISP end, or natural disasters such as fires and tornadoes can knock out land-based internet networks. For a farmer who depends on connectivity to run operations, this can be devastating. Without internet, the farmer loses connection with all smart equipment, including livestock wearables and smart tractors. If one of your animals gets sick, you might not find out about it until too late. Internet downtime can also result in lost sales (including broken, point-of-sale disruptions and customers who lose patience after failed attempts to email or view website data). Finally, it prevents farmers from purchasing products and supplies from agricultural markets.

Failover routers and the cloud

Fortunately, there are tools available to keep a farm online during a crisis. Failover routers can provide backup support for your primary network. If your primary network goes down for any reason, your internet will switch to a secondary cellular connection, providing seamless connectivity and continuity. What's more, this allows you to back up data in the cloud, which you can then sync with your primary system when it's restored. This means that farmers can continue to monitor the well-being of their livestock and equipment during crisis scenarios. It also means there will be no disruption to financial transactions.

Cloud computing platforms are a key part of any continuity solution. The benefit of data storage is obvious, but more and more, cloud platforms are being used as virtual computing systems. They can allow you to run essential applications from just about anywhere. The WinField Data Silo is an example of the amazing technologies that are changing the industry. A collaboration between WinField, Google Cloud Platform and Cloud Technology Partners, the WinField Data Silo enables farmers to store, use and analyze data from multiple streams, including data on crop yields and management (it can provide guidance on which crops to grow in particular fields) as well as equipment maintenance. And because it's all in the cloud, farmers aren't dependent on the status of local servers to stay in business. Cloud platforms combined with cellular gateways can keep a farm running even in the worst of times.

Choosing the right solutions

There are already a number of continuity solutions available on the market, and there are sure to be many more in the coming years. Farmers who haven't adopted these technologies yet should at least look into them. Preparatory research, such as cost benefit analyses, can make choosing a system much easier. The internet is a great place to start. Google searches on business continuity solutions and agricultural technology, including wearables and cloud platforms, will produce rich results. Once you've done some reading, it's time to contact some agricultural vendors to see what they can do about pricing. You'll also want to talk to a vendor like U.S. Cellular, who can support these agricultural platforms with a solid business continuity solution.

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