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Seed Money: 6 Ways Streaming Video Plays a Role in Farming

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As we kick off 2018 in the middle of winter, we wanted to direct your attention to an industry using video streaming that’s already hard at work preparing for the halcyon days of summer: agriculture.

For most of us, the idea of video streaming and farmland is one of beautiful panoramic flyover views, but for those in the business of agriculture, or agribusiness, there’s an increasing reliance on streaming video to get the work done and done well. This article focuses on just how streaming plays a role in agriculture today and how it is affecting the near future.

Before we begin, because the term “streaming” means something different to agricultural and financial markets, and also because “streams” are a key component of any irrigation or livestock pasturing, let’s discuss definitions to understand exactly what the term means to those heavily involved in the business of farming.

The use of “streaming” terminology for financial markets that deal with agribusiness is actually a concept that’s been borrowed from the mining and metals production industry. In this context, streaming is defined as both the investment flow of capital into a farm (typically prior to growing season so that crops are produced free of debt) as well as the flow of goods (crops, primarily, although it can be other farm-produced goods) from the farm in the form of long-term, fixed-price commodities contracts. In other words, the stream is a stream of money, via a particular method of investing in capital-intensive production that later yields a stream of profits from the margin between buying fixed-price commodities and selling them on the open market.

Ok, now that we’ve checked that off our chore list, let’s briefly explore six ways in which agriculture and the technology of streaming video have joined together to make farming slightly less labor intensive. Two of the areas center on drone usage, two others highlight training efforts, and the final two focus on farming innovation.

Streams for Current Farmers

1. Livestock Herding: In the old days of the Wild West, a cowboy earned both his name and his livelihood by herding cattle from one pasture to another, or from the farm to a far-off market town. Many of the Westerns made in Hollywood centered on the drama, dangers, and campfire stories of a cattle drive.

Most cattle wrangling and herding today is done with all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and even trucks. This method works fairly well, and in some ways the use of drones in cattle drives could appear to be a bad riff on Cowboys & Aliens, since cows and bulls are both fairly large animals and prone to erratic behavior when spooked.

For smaller barnyard animals, though, like goats and sheep, there’s a continuing trend toward using drones to either replace or to augment the skills of a livestock herder and her four-legged companion.

One benefit of using drones equipped with streaming video for livestock herding comes at the end of the process. Once livestock have been successfully herded into their pen area, human herders undertake a process of “counting sheep” to account for all the animals that had previously been released for grazing. The traditional way to do this is via a narrow gate, which brings the livestock down to a single-file line as they enter the pen.

“Once you and your assistants finished counting the last sheep, everyone needs to confirm their amounts and usually they differ,” notes the website for South Africa-based Drone Solutions. “The counting needs to take place again and could go on several times until everyone is happy and agreeing on the amount. As you can see this process is extremely time consuming and can take anything from 30min up to 3 hours.”

Drones change the way that counting occurs. The drone can either be positioned above the gate, using object recognition from the video feed to count the number of livestock that pass through the gate, or it can be used later to send back high-quality imagery and streaming video as part of a post-herding count of all the livestock in a particular pen. Think of either of these as a set of eyes above the herding process.

Another way that livestock herding benefits from streaming video from drones is the ability to scout ahead, across unknown terrain, to avoid potential obstacles or impassable routes. Combined with 3D mapping technologies, it is reasonable to expect that drones might be used in the near future as a sort of guide at the front of a cattle drive, choosing the least-strenuous path for cows and cowboys alike.

2. Routine Maintenance: Another benefit of using drones with streaming video on a farm or ranch is the ability to cover large areas with minimal effort.

A somewhat mundane, but highly necessary, example of this is fence line inspections. Fencing a pasture in a remote area across treacherous terrain is challenging enough, but having to repeatedly retrace that fence line on foot or even in a vehicle is not just time consuming but also potentially dangerous. Combining sensor data with computer vision—the latter being used to identify breaks in a fence line—allows farmers to monitor the integrity of a fence without needing to use valuable human resources.

If the drone identifies a problem, streaming video allows the farmer to confirm both whether the fence has actually been breached and whether any livestock have chosen to explore the greener grass on the other side.

On large ranches, livestock can be spread out across many camps, so the benefits of streaming-video-equipped ag drones described above would only be amplified. In addition, archived video captured on a drone at higher resolutions such as Ultra high definition (UHD) or 4K can also be used to visually analyze land that’s been 3D-mapped by the drone for crop rotation or livestock grazing.

3. How-To Streams: Almost everyone who uses a smartphone has, at one point or another, viewed a how-to video on that phone. Whether it’s a video on how to loosen a stubborn bolt or how to properly whisk an ingredient in a recipe, the use of how-to videos has many times replaced the need to call or text someone else for this type of advice.

In the agricultural business, there are several areas in which how-to videos are quite helpful. The first ties back to our previous mention of livestock herding, but instead of learning how to fly a drone, there are a number of options available on how to properly train a dog to help with herding.

An example of this comes from Twin Creek Herding and Productions, whose owner, Jerry Rowe, has been training dogs for livestock herding for more than 50 years. In his Coffee with Jerry series, Rowe uses streaming videos to train farmers on how to best train farm dogs, from Australian cattle dogs to bearded collies to Belgian Malinois. 

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