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A farmer's story: how digitalisation is shaping the future of agriculture

30 Jun 2021Digital Society
4 minute read

Theunis Pretorius, a farmer based in South Africa, explains how Vodafone technology is helping him make data-based decisions that increase crop growth and improve the efficiency of his business.

Theunis Pretorius has seen his farming yields – the amount of crops he is able to produce – increase by 15-20% a year since he started using MyFarmWeb, a platform which enables farmers to gather and analyse agricultural data from their operations.

Theunis Pretorius

Theunis Pretorius

“Precision farming – the use of data on farms to inform decisions – is something we have been doing since 2007,” Theunis says. “MyFarmWeb has taken that to the next level for us.”

Theunis is the founder of Rooted 77 Farms (Pty) Ltd. an agricultural business operating across 2,788 hectares of farmland – equivalent to around 4,500 football pitches – in the eastern Free State province of South Africa. He specialises in farming corn, soybeans and sugar beans. In 2018, Theunis also started to bring in multi-species cover crops - plants designed to cover the land, as opposed to being harvested - and placed cattle to graze. This helps improve soil quality and sustainability.

Theunis Pretorius farms corn

Theunis Pretorius

Theunis specialises in farming corn, soybeans and sugar beans

MyFarmWeb collates data from multiple Internet of Things (IoT) sensors across a farmer’s land, measuring things like soil quality, yield data, weather forecasts and more, providing farmers with information to support better decision making.

Theunis says: “Soil quality and humus content - the organic matter in soil - has a direct impact on yield. The better the soil, the more safe food we can produce. In previous years, the only data we had available to analyse soil quality was the yield level for each hectare of land. We would use that data to create a composite map of the farm, with each hectare colour coded by yield level – green for high, red for low.  Areas showing red were deemed to have poorer quality soil, and we would reduce seed population and fertiliser in that area for the following year.

MyFarmWeb mobile

MyFarmWeb enables analysis of soil on a level-by-level basis

“However, that doesn’t actually tell us what’s wrong with the soil or how it could be improved. MyFarmWeb, on the other hand, gives us data in much more detail and brings it all into one place – through the platform, we can analyse soil on a level-by-level basis and adjust where needed, whether that be through fertiliser levels, irrigation or so on, allowing us to reduce waste and our impact on the environment. What is more, we can conduct that analysis on a basis of square metres as opposed to hectares, so it’s much more accurate than before.

“When I started farming, I only had data records of rainfall and yield, tracing back to 1950. Now, I am reaching a point where every operation on the farm is providing me with data – every machine is sharing data in real-time, whether that be around soil quality, fertilisation, harvesting or more – and helping inform my decisions. This has resulted in greater productivity year-on-year and enabled us to run our farm in more sustainable, efficient ways. We are even looking to expand our use of chip technology to monitor the livestock and help to monitor stock theft. Our investors will also be able to monitor all the equipment and livestock movement and performance."   

MyFarmWeb is provided by Mezzanine, a company that is part of the Vodacom Group and one of the Vodafone Business IoT Centres of Competency for agriculture, in partnership with Agri Technovation in South Africa. The platform is currently being used by more than 6,500 farms across sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, covering over 2 million hectares of land. Thanks to IoT, which allows the collection, processing and analysis of data from different sources, the platform also draws on information from local weather stations, as tractor tracking units that are important cross references to farm management and crop protection application compliance records.

“Technology is changing the future of farming for the better. I’m excited to be a part of that transformation,” says Theunis.

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