Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Cloud putting links into food chain

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Agritech has undergone a monumental shift to cloud computing in the past five years, in part thanks to the sheer digital horsepower of the 200-plus services from the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Elizabeth Fastiggi is AWS’s head of global business development for agriculture, and will visit New Zealand for the 2035 Oceania agritech summit in October. She spoke with Richard Rennie.
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With the enormous data flows agriculture and farming operations generate, a move to cloud computing services has meant startups and corporates alike have been able to focus more closely on what they set out to do, leaving the heavy lifting of managing servers and data centers to the likes of AWS, Elizabeth Fastiggi says.

AWS is the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud offering, across 84 availability zones in 26 geographic regions around the world, offering AI, machine learning, server capacity and data programmes to clients.

“Really, operators of any size have to consider several key benefits that a move to the cloud can bring.

“The first comes down to agility. Companies can access servers in minutes, with significant capacity, which is critical for agri-tech when it is collecting and processing vast data streams demanding instant interpretation. This allows agri-tech companies to experiment more frequently and at a faster rate.

“The next two – elasticity and cost savings – have a particular role to play in agri-tech. Given the seasonal nature of agriculture, we have a lot of peak data loads that occur when it’s planting or harvesting season. The elastic nature of the cloud allows customers the ability to scale up and down, using just what they need. This scalability allows them to trade a fixed capital expense for a variable one investing in cloud computing infrastructure and only using it to its full potential at certain times of the year.”

Fastiggi says it also enables those customers to focus on developing applications and solutions that differentiate their business, instead of spending that time maintaining data centres and servers.

Access to hard-to-find talent can also accompany cloud offerings, and Fastiggi says accessing talent at present is one of the key constraints upon new businesses wanting to expand.

Connectivity is also ensured with the geographic spread of server capacity AWS has developed.

This includes the proposal to spend NZ$7.5 billion building a cluster of major data centres in Auckland, due to be opened in 2024 and claimed to contribute NZ$10.8 billion to NZ’s GDP over the following 15 years.

This global presence allows AWS customers to rapidly deploy their services and solutions globally.

Despite NZ’s pastoral food system focus, Fastiggi says the country has rapidly gained a reputation for its innovative, leading edge agritech offerings in the past few years.

She cites the likes of remote cow collar company Halter as a poster company for that innovation, with a product that incorporates multiple tech types including GPS and solar charging innovations, and remote monitoring capability.

“But it is also the ability to capture so much data that can be fed into machine learning models to provide animal health and behaviour information. It is a great example of a product that takes that pain point for farmers, and can contribute so much more to management.”

Greater incorporation of data flow across the entire food system is an area Fastiggi is optimistic about, and she welcomes that as the globe grapples with significant food supply issues.

“Particularly given how much food is wasted each year, about a third of what is produced, and a third of that is lost through failures in the transport system and inefficiencies in the cold chain supply.”

With NZ’s high portion of protein products this is of particular concern.

AWS has worked with cold chain logistics company Carrier, to develop Lynx, a digital platform to enhance the intelligence of cold chain distribution systems.

Combining IoT analytics and machine learning, the company is able to better manage the temperature-controlled transport and storage of perishables.

“So, using predictive tools they are able to determine things like traffic congestion, impact on arrival time and spoilage risk, and what alternative routes can be taken to avoid that.”

The ability to integrate previously siloed aspects of food chain data together, and combine with real time information on things like weather or traffic will be increasingly vital as global supply chains, and now food sources themselves, come under pressure.

At a farm level she points to CropX, a company that started in NZ, moved to Israel and is now back in NZ, as a major player in crop analytics that coupled to AWS services, providing significant savings in water use and crop yields.

“I think one of the most exciting things we are seeing is how the agritech sector is responding to this need for a more sustainable food system. Customers are increasingly wanting to invest in the part of the chain they are engaged in, but also up and downstream from their operations. This is fostering a type of collaboration that we haven’t seen before and will help us address the biggest challenges at scale.”

Elizabeth Fastiggi is one of several world leading speakers addressing delegates at this year’s 2035 Oceania Summit, being held in Auckland, October 10-11.

Visit www.2035.ag for more information.

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