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Amazon Web Services integral part of moving ag technology forward

When the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit was launched in 2019, its top priority was to bring the industry’s ecosystem together. From precision farming and connected supply chains, to new solutions in alternative feeds, breeding, and genetics, the summit addresses the challenges as well as the opportunities in today’s livestock and aquaculture industries.

The event enables companies like Amazon Web Services (AWS) to not only share how its customers are innovating in agriculture, but it also gives AWS the opportunity to hear about the problems that still need to be solved. 

“Directly connecting and building relationships with customers, partners, and ag tech leaders supports and fosters industry growth in both the public and the private sector,” says Karen Hildebrand, worldwide agriculture tech leader for AWS. “Many of the challenges facing agriculture are global. With attentive listening and thinking big, we can help our agricultural customers solve those challenges. To be part of the technology that empowers the ideas that move this industry forward is truly a reward. Our customers inspire me. I love the ideas generated by our customers that lead to new services.”

In fact, 90% of AWS services are based on what the company’s customers say they need. 

“We see customers as partners and understand that those relationships allow us to do big things, with long-term orientation,” she says. “Doing right by customers over a long period of time allows us to build the right things to help agriculture feed the future.”

Ahead of the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit, Hildebrand talks about her role with AWS, how the company is supporting agriculture’s shift to the cloud, and the importance of partnering with customers who feed the future. Hildebrand, along with Bruce Stewart-Brown, Perdue Foods, and Abhay Nayak, Zoetis, are part of Animal AgTech’s Greatest Priorities for 2021 and Beyond session during the virtual event on Monday, March 8, 2021.

Animal AgTech Innovation Summit 2021

SF: Tell me about your role with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

KH: I have the unique opportunity to be focused on customers who are building the foundational backbone for our global food supply. Be that in broad acre, specialty or permanent crops, forestry, aquaculture, or livestock, agriculture at AWS focuses on deeply understanding and building what customers tell us matters. 

As a fourth-generation farmer from Canada, I am deeply proud of the agriculture industry and its importance to our most basic needs as humans, while also recognizing its significant potential. Agriculture is rapidly changing and adopting technology such as the many services and solutions AWS has to offer. It can inspire what is possible to both continue the multi-generational legacy of farming globally, while lifting up the potential for new and innovative approaches to nourish the world. 

In the past year, I have been privileged to work building relationships with many of the attendees of the Animal Agri-Tech Summit and look forward to continuing to listen and learn. This is an industry whose far-reaching and differing practices offer so many opportunities to leverage technology.

SF: When did AWS first take root in agriculture?

KH: Agriculture has long utilized AWS as its cloud computing platform. AWS is well positioned to provide computer services that grow and shrink instantly allowing businesses to only pay for what they use, reflecting the sensibilities of agricultural customers. Our agricultural customers are looking for a partner whose expertise is in maintaining technology infrastructure in a secure environment while enabling them to innovate faster with global scale. That’s why you will see those in agriculture sharing their stories of innovation going back several years at conferences like AWS’s re:Invent and others.

For example, TINE, a dairy cooperative based in Norway, shared the success of using machine learning in dairy operations with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research in 2018 and McDonald’s Smart Broiler partnership in 2020. And we are seeing the pace of innovation continue to accelerate. 

Because we work with large enterprises and traditional IT workloads like SAP, migrations of legacy applications with technical debt, or the active ag tech start-up community whose microservices, containerized, and open-source pipelines enable nimble innovation, technology to support agriculture comes in many shapes and forms. 

I am personally excited about the outlook for 2021 with new services like AWS IoT Core for LoRaWAN, AWS Panorama, Amazon SageMaker Edge Manager, and Amazon Location Service, which further extend edge services and AI/ML capabilities that address challenges our customers have told us about in animal health and wellness as well as facility and transport monitoring applications.

SF: Why is AWS offering its infrastructure to agriculture?

KH: Agriculture, like many industries, is in the midst of a titanic shift to the cloud. There are a couple reasons why people are moving so quickly. The first is cost. With the cloud, you don’t have to lay out the capital up front for servers and data centers, rather, you pay for what you consume. The seasonal aspect of all businesses means any planning for capacity needs requires provisioning for peak times rather than paying for infrastructure as needed to prevent outages. That is particularly true in agriculture, be that peak capacity requirements while streaming telemetry data from equipment during planting or harvesting, data from robotic milking parlors, or the cold chain for delivery of processed animal proteins. 

In the cloud you provision what you need. If it turns out you need less, you give it back and stop paying for it. That variable expense is lower than what virtually every company would pay doing this on its own. In fact, AWS has lowered prices 85 times since AWS launched in 2006.

In addition to cost, which is almost always the conversation starter, enterprises and governments are moving to the cloud because of the agility and speed with which they can innovate, gain insights about their operations, or create new customer experiences. If you look at most companies’ on-premises infrastructure, to get a server typically takes 10 to 12 weeks (sometimes longer), and then you have to build all of the surrounding infrastructure software, like compute, storage, database, analytics, and machine learning. In the cloud, you can provision thousands of servers in minutes and access over 175 services that you can put together and use however you want. This allows you to go from an idea to implementation several orders of magnitude faster. That’s really attractive.

SF: Who are some of AWS’s agriculture-based clients? What other areas of agriculture are you exploring or making connections in?

KH: Millions of AWS customers around the globe already use the advanced capabilities offered in the cloud, like the Internet of Things (IoT), connectivity, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and core competencies like compute and databases to accelerate innovation in agriculture. The use of technology is leading to higher crop productivity, greater preservation of natural resources, a safer and more resilient food supply chain, and sustained progress in closing the hunger gap. 

The breadth of services that AWS offers leads to a wide swath of innovation across agriculture. From soil, to the ocean, to space, to collaboration around climate, be it in genomics or sharing agricultural practices across traditional barriers like language, I am most inspired by how many public and private organizations are building solutions to ensure the future of our planet and our food supply.

Below are some of the areas we’re working with ag-related clients.

IoT: Pentair Aquatic Eco-Systems

Pentair increases aquaculture filtration system performance, reduces costs, and increases predictability for filtration processes using AWS. Pentair Aquatic Eco-Systems developed a new solution for monitoring and adapting to environmental conditions in offshore salmon sea-farming pens. The company runs its aquaculture filtration system on AWS IoT, taking advantage of AWS Greengrass to ensure location data connections are not lost and using AWS IoT Core to process data from remote facilities. Because the AWS IoT platform is open, Pentair can use lower-cost, commodity edge devices to achieve dramatic cost savings.

Compute: Ceres Tag 

Connectivity and Earth Observation imagery acquisition are capabilities enabled by satellite solutions. Companies like Ceres Tag are leveraging low-Earth orbit (LEO) connectivity options to provide cattle operations an affordable ear tag solution built on AWS. The Ceres Tag Management System houses the data and metadata about each tag, enabling the traceability of that tag throughout each animal’s life cycle. This includes verification as to whom should have access to their health records and history. Based on the nature of the data being stored and transmitted, security of the application is critical. Ceres Tag is using AWS Fargate to provide a serverless compute environment that matches the pay-as-you-go, usage-based model. AWS also provides many advanced security features and architecture guidance that has helped to implement and evaluate best practice security posture across all of the environments. Authentication is handled by Amazon Cognito, which allows Ceres Tag to scale easily by supporting millions of users.

Satellite: Capella Space

Capella Space, a provider of on-demand Earth observation data via satellite-based radar, is going all-in on AWS. Capella runs its entire IT infrastructure on AWS to automate and scale its operations, including satellite command and control using AWS Ground Station. Capella’s SAR satellites can see through clouds and darkness to collect millimeter-scale resolution imagery 24/7 in all weather conditions, delivering a consistent monitoring capability for customers working in fields where operating conditions change quickly. AWS Ground Station service makes it easy and cost-effective for customers to control satellites and download satellite data directly onto AWS using a fully managed network of ground station antennas located in AWS regions around the world. 

Using AWS, Capella provides its customers with access to satellite data within minutes of its capture – far faster than traditional satellite data delivery services, which can take up to 24 hours – and at a lower cost. In addition, Capella leverages the breadth and depth of AWS services to process satellite data in real time as it is received, helping its customers in agriculture, infrastructure, defense, and disaster response immediately analyze and extract value from their data.

Genomics: University of Adelaide research

The University of Adelaide is a public university located in Adelaide, South Australia. Established in 1874, it is the third-oldest university in Australia and has more than 22,000 students and 3,400 faculty and staff. Researchers at the University of Adelaide are pioneering scientific and bioinformatics research into subjects such as crop genomes, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. 

As part of one of Australia’s leading research institutions, bioinformaticians at Adelaide are committed to driving research across the university. Recently, the School of Biological Sciences collaborated with researchers from the Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute (IHAR) in Poland on a project to study the diversity of wheat. Using Amazon EC2, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), and AWS Auto Scaling, researchers at the University of Adelaide can analyze genomics data in six hours instead of two weeks to power innovative research into wheat genomics, help scientists more effectively cross wheat, and reduce research costs. 

In addition to benefiting from the performance of the cluster, researchers were not required to wait in a queue before their jobs could be submitted and run. Queue times for jobs of this size run on premises typically range from a few days up to a few weeks, given the volume of jobs from across the institution constantly running on the cluster. Using a dedicated AWS cluster removes the bottleneck and gives valuable time back to the researcher.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: WeFarm

WeFarm is a free, peer-to-peer knowledge sharing service that enables small holder farmers in Africa to exchange information via SMS text, without the internet and without having to leave their farm. Farmers can ask questions about anything agricultural and receive crowd-sourced answers from other farmers around the world in minutes. 

Internally, we say that there’s no compression algorithm for experience, and that’s because you can’t learn certain lessons until you get to different milestones in scale. WeFarm uses that same approach in leveraging the collective experience of farmers to scale their expertise by removing language barriers in leveraging AWS translation and personalization services and purpose-built graph network databases.

SF: Why participate in an event like the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit?

KH: Over the next 10 to 20 years, the agriculture industry will move away from on-premises servers as those will virtually all be in the cloud. Yet they will still have an on-premises footprint made up of connected devices. Billions of these connected devices will intersect animal health and wellness, on ships, trucks, rails, and planes, in facilities, and across millions of acres. 

These sensors and edge devices are everywhere, and they are typically small, with a small amount of CPU and a small amount of storage. The cloud is disproportionately important to supplementing those devices. In fact, most of the big IoT applications that have been built over the last few years have been built using AWS to supplement them including AGCO, Bayer Crop Science, Carrier, CropX, Halter, Pentair, Perennia Agriculture, and Siemens, among others. 

Today, with the combination of AWS, AWS IoT, and AWS Greengrass, developers have a single dashboard that lets them decide what processing and analytics they want to do in the cloud, and what they want to do on the device itself, eliminating the latency of a round trip to the cloud. And, they have the same programming interface, which makes it much easier to collect data from these devices on the edge, perform large-scale analytics, and pick predictive ML algorithms they can run on the devices to do predictions at the edge. This totally changes what is possible.

SF: How is the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit helping Amazon become better connected to agriculture?

KH: Many agricultural customers around the world have chosen to build on AWS and see AWS as a strategic partner for their business. If a start-up, enterprise, or government agency is going to partner with an infrastructure provider, it’s typically a long-term decision, and they really want to understand what’s unique about the culture or the partner they are choosing. Events like the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit reinforce why AWS is different: We are unusually customer focused. We are pioneers focused on innovating. We are long-term oriented. That’s why, in part, companies like VAS, Herdwatch, Halter, and McDonald’s have chosen AWS as a partner.

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