NZ signals gains of on-farm coverage

Machine to machine productivity slips through Australia's network gaps

Farm Online News
Levno national sales manager Shane Parlato with a monitoring unit on a milk vat. Bluetooth beams information through a network connected system to a smart device.

Levno national sales manager Shane Parlato with a monitoring unit on a milk vat. Bluetooth beams information through a network connected system to a smart device.


Machine to machine productivity slips through Australia's network gaps


Related: Telcos await ACCC’s mobile roaming D-Day

NEW Zealand is known for its nimble farm sector and tech savvy producers, and with its maturing market of off-the-shelf internet of things (IoT) solutions, the Kiwis are getting the jump on their Aussie neighbours.

There’s no truly groundbreaking concepts in the Kiwi’s current crop of machine to machine systems. But that’s not the point, for the ag sector at least.

Profits will be boosted across the supply chain with IoT products, essentially a web of interconnected devices designed map, monitor, measure, and forecast with greater accuracy and efficiency.

The ever-present rural frustration, mobile network coverage, holds Australia back. Which is why the pending determination on mandated domestic roaming from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will be keenly watched in the bush.

Kiwi edge

Admittedly, New Zealand has natural and regulatory advantages for mobile coverage. Like the US and Canada, New Zealand has regulated for compulsory roaming, or for one mobile telco to pay another to use its network.

Also, a small land mass coupled with high rainfall means rural communities, and farmers, are relatively densely populated across the country. Less mobile towers for greater coverage brings telcos bigger bang for their buck.

Nevertheless, two companies based at the south end of the North Island highlight the practical, farm-ready systems to capitalise on widespread, contiguous coverage across farming country.

Tech benefits

New Zealand agribusiness Harvest, based at Masterton, entered the market in 1990 with a wildly successful solution for remote monitoring of software vending machines.

Founder Peter Munn took the company’s hardware and software to the ag sector in 2004 with remote frost email or SMS alarms for orchards and vineyards, which in cold climates will have farmers out of bed in the wee hours firing up industrial heaters or even helicopters to blow the cold air from their grapes and kiwi fruit.

“People buy IoT systems because they get a return, not for the tech, or because it’s geeky. It’s a drives productivity, that’s where the gains are,” Mr Munn said.

Its wireless on farm system, which uses the mobile network, has expanded its product offering to reach into the 15,000 farmer-strong dairy market with an IoT solution for on-farm weather stations, soil moisture probes, effluent ponds, irrigators, tanks, and silos.

Harvest has now installed 3000 units across the country, with an eye to expansion.

Levno, based 90 kilometres from Harvest at Palmerston North, is also a hardware and software provider, with sensors and monitoring systems for fuel tanks and milk vats. 

Its fuel monitoring alerts farmers when they are running low and can also register a theft alarm, by setting a volume threshold which sends an alarm when an unusual volume exceeds the limit. Fuel companies often pay for customers to install the technology, to streamline fleet management. 

Levno’s milk vat system monitors volume and quantity. Farmers are alerted when stirring is disrupted, to prevent freezing and expensive milk downgrades.

Milk temperature is measured at various points throughout the on-farm supply chain for compliance regulation, as is plant washing temperature and frequency.

New Zealand’s big and small dairy companies alike could extract significant cost saving information from Levno’s quality and volume information, which could flow though in bigger farmgate returns. 

Rural limbo

In Australia, Telstra wants to maintain exclusive access to its rural mobile network, and the premium price it can charge rural and residents urban visitors with smart devices. Vodafone and TPG want a slice of Telstra’s networks to expand its regional market share.

It remains to be seen if roaming will drive competition and boost coverage, as Vodafone and TPG argue. Or if Telstra’s existing assets will be devalued, curbing the drive to further investment. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ditch, New Zealand’s agtech companies are getting on with modernising the production and supply cycle.

  • Mike Foley travelled to New Zealand as a guest of Vodafone.

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