This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Device Magic.

A mule-pulled plow used to be the latest technology on a farm. These days, however, farmers, growers and agriculturalists are using technology like apps, drones and automated solutions to take their crop businesses to the next level.

Crop monitoring company Agrosmart, for instance, employs a mobile solution called Device Magic to accelerate the collection of business-critical data whether offline or online. Agrosmart monitors crops, captures and integrates data for clients, and “delivers intelligence to different parts of the food chain.”

The platform allows clients to improve yield, reduce costs, increase efficiency and promotes a more productive, sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture.

Fabio Mangia, a hardware lead based in Brazil for Agrosmart, guides the development team for new software products. He pointed out that 3G/4G coverage in developing countries can be poor out in the field. Device Magic, which has cloud-based and offline solutions, was a way to combat this issue.

“We were having a hard time trying to figure out a simple solution that would allow our technicians to register the activities in the field in offline mode. We also wanted the ability to record pictures and coordinates, allow for quick customization, and remove the need to write reports after the work was done,” Mangia explained. “After using Device Magic, we started to have a real-time and clear vision of any activity executed in the field. This significantly reduced installation errors.”

Device Magic also helps Agrosmart keep track of the last work done at specific monitoring points, assists with troubleshooting errors and mitigates the need to do reports, which were occasionally written days after installations and missing lots of information.

When farmers are out in the field taking notes, a simpler solution is to go mobile. The advantage of tech over paper is a big benefit to agriculture businesses and makes the sharing of data more seamless and the data history more complete. Simply put, apps such as Device Magic are helping agriculture companies like Agrosmart work smarter, not harder.

Drones are also making waves in agritech.

Flying Farmer LLC is a North Carolina-based business that offers drone services and data interpretation to farmers such as visual and near-infrared imaging. Started by N.C. State University graduate Brandon Batten, he surveys primarily agricultural fields looking for plant stress, damage assessment and field mapping.

“I saw the potential drones had for agricultural uses and had a vision to be able to offer these services to other farmers. As a farmer myself, I can blend my knowledge of agriculture with my use of the technology to provide goal-based solutions for other farmers,” explained Batten, who got the idea for his business after participating in an executive farm management program through N.C. State.

He added, “Drones serve the purpose of covering a lot of area in a short amount of time. Traditionally farmers would scout their fields by walking through the field looking for pests, diseases and other problems. With drones, the field can be covered much faster and problem areas identified. This allows the farmer to concentrate his time where there is a known problem.”

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When people think of a farm, technology isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. However, in Batten’s opinion, agriculture is the perfect use for technology, though he feels North Carolina farmer adoption of it has been slow. Economics is one driving factor — when times are slow, the implementation of new technologies tends to lag. Batten isn’t worried though and believes the use of drones in agriculture will continue to grow.

Bobby Vick, director of agriculture at PrecisionHawk, said farmers are often labeled as “behind the times,” but in reality, are some of the most innovative people that he knows.

PrecisionHawk, a global leader in drone technology and data analytics, develops custom enterprise solutions for clients across multiple industries including agriculture. The company, like Batten’s, proves the value that drone technology offers the agriculture industry.

“We develop solutions designed to help farmers, service providers and researchers to make more efficient and objective decisions about their crops,” Vick said. “This includes software for managing multiple layers of information collected across their fields and analytics that help make better decisions – from counting plants following emergence, to assessing nutrient levels across a field, to identifying and quantifying the extent of crop damage after natural disasters.”

Batten said his first “aha” moment that his drones were making a difference was during his first year of surveillance on his wheat farm.

A field that he believed to be solid, turned out not to be as good as he thought after reviewing its drone images and analysis. The stress map indicated where more fertilizer was needed and he was able to make adjustments. In a farmer’s world, crops are cash, and a healthy harvest is synonymous with a healthy business.

Speaking of finances, technology can also help with the cost side of running an agriculture business.

Vantage South Atlantic uses technology to improve productivity and efficiency in farming through geospatial positioning technology and data management practices. It provides farmers with a means to more efficiently manage their input costs using hardware and software that more precisely determines the placement and need of input such as seeds, nutrients and chemicals.

“More precise application of inputs leads to the most productive yields based on the conditions of each field and the most efficient cost per unit production,” explained Scott McLeod, general manager of Vantage South Atlantic. “Utilization of that data leads to optimized yields, better land management and effective cost controls. Calculating how best to achieve particular yield goals that involve multiple variables like soil types, weather conditions, seed variety, plant population, nutrient levels and chemical applications can only be achieved using historical and current data.”

“Farmers are scientists and have always used tech,” he added.

Whether it’s bettering your business operations, improving land and crop assessment through surveillance or optimizing profitability,  innovative technology has had and will continue to have a place in agriculture.

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Device Magic.