Regional Microsoft partner Advance Computing Solutions is fast becoming a leader in the emerging field of agtech, from helping local farmers manage the supply of water, to building a product tracking tool for a tomato processing, to piloting technology to reduce dairy spoilage.
The 25-staff IT solution provider, which was established in 1999 and is based in Kyabram in the Goulburn River Valley, two hours north of Melbourne, combines custom software development with products in the Microsoft stack, such as Azure and Xamarin.
The agricultural focus paid off with a win at today's Microsoft Australia Partner Awards for a project to help farmers manage precious water supplies.
Farmer-owned co-operative WaterPool allows farmers to trade water across the region. This was previously a manual, paper-based process, so WaterPool turned to Advance Computing to move to an Azure-based cloud solution.
The solution streamlined and simplified water brokering for farmers, delivering a 35 percent business increase in the last year.
Advance Computing is currently piloting an internet of things project with Australian Consolidated Milk, which collects milk from 180 farms and suppliers and handles 350 million litres of milk each year.
Independent dairy farmers are paid on the quality of their milk so quality issues in production can hit their margins. Rises in temperature in the milk vat can reduce quality or even spoil the product completely.
If this contaminates a tanker-load, it could cost of up to $10,000. In July 2017 alone, ACM experienced 12 spoiled tanker-loads of milk.
Kim Morris, field service support and quality co-ordinator for ACM, said: "In a lot of dairies, once they finish milking, the milk sits in the vat, and the farmer doesn’t really go near the dairy.
"They’re out in the pastures or calving or whatever. They actually have a temperature gauge on their vat, but they’ll very rarely look at that once they’ve finished milking.”
Advance Computing's IoT solution offers live monitoring of farms using Azure IoT Hub and Microsoft Flow. This data is fed into the dairy company's ERP, which was custom-built by Advance Computing and is hosted on Azure.
The pilot monitoring system sends regular readings or alerts about milk temperature to the farmer’s smartphone
"We’ve already built a reporting app for ACM’s farmers using Azure, Xamarin, SQL, and .NET that delivers lab results, trending, quality and payment information," Chris Motton, Advance Computing director, said.
"It can also send alerts to mobiles through Azure Notification Hub so that farmers can take action."
It's not the only example of Advance Computing bringing cloud technology to Australia's agricultural sector. Its work also included an IoT project with Australia's largest tomato processor, Kagome.
"We’ve designed software so that a local tomato processing facility has complete visibility of its operations and can track the fruit as it is transported from the farm to the plant ensuring traceability and quality for the finished product," Motton said in a Microsoft case study
"That solution, which runs in Azure, was developed for Kagome and delivered a 500 percent return on investment over the first harvest alone."