IoT Takes Agriculture to the Next Level

Geofencing livestock

A lot has changed since we first visited with Nofence two years ago, and while the company’s ambitions haven’t changed, it has gone from a frisky startup with a big idea to a company that is scaling its solution. The result? Nofence is having a big impact on agriculture both from a sustainability perspective, as well as from an operations and cost perspective.

The Nofence patented grazing technology allows farmers to build geographical ‘fences’ via a smartphone application that connects with a collar worn by the animal. The geographical fence ensures that the animals are not only free to roam in a dedicated area, but that they are easily moved from one pasture to the next without having to physically move or build fences or other barriers. This not only saves time, money, and manpower, it is also in line with the growing regenerative agriculture movement, which among other things, helps reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.

When Nofence first launched their livestock geo-fencing solution it was primarily focused on small livestock, such as goats. Now, they have not just enhanced their product for smaller agricultural animals, they have also launched one for larger animals, such as cattle.

“We decided to develop two different products because the animals are very different in size,” explains Oscar Hovde Berntsen, CTO at Nofence. “With the cattle product, we have been able to increase the solar panel area on the collar the animal wears, as well as the battery size. This has been a great success with customers because the increase means the farmer does not need to change batteries at all during the season.

Our development is big improvement because the lack of battery capacity has been the main challenge to wide adoption or commercialization – it’s not easy to change the battery on a cow in the pasture!

Oscar Hovde Berntsen CTO Nofence

Proving that the battery does not need to be changed has been a big step forward for both Nofence and for the industry. Berntsen says customers love it and for their Norwegian customers in particular, it is seen as a savior for the industry. Why? Because farmers are now able to harvest and use farm resources in a much more effective way.

“Our customers can see that while there is an initial investment, in the long run they save on manpower, materials for fences, shifting fields and other costs,” says Berntsen. “One of our customers said the benefits are so amazing that even after one season he could never have imagined what it could mean for the farm.”

Opening up new markets

While Nofence started out in the Norwegian market, they are moving into other markets, such as the UK, where regenerative agriculture is the new mega-trend – and where Nofence is seen as a big facilitator.

“Grassing animals is a very central part of the thinking around regenerative agriculture,” says Berntsen. “We already have customers in the UK who are working in this way but previously they’ve had to move physical fences in order to do it successfully. NoFence means there are no longer any physical fences, so while they previously haven’t been able to fully embrace regenerative farming, Nofence proves they can now do this, which means we can scale even further.”

The farmers who want to run their farms in a regenerative way have already started the process. Those who have been doing this for a number of years see it’s a better business model with great profits – and Nofence is a tool that fits perfectly into this new mega-trend.

“We’re giving them the answer to their question,” says Berntsen. “With regenerative farming they get better annual yield because the soil is healthier, while nature and the ecosystem are running according to nature. It’s going back to the days before chemicals replaced good sense, while also ensuring your farm is profitable and efficient.

“I think nature kind of gave us everything we need with the ecosystem – then modern agriculture changed things, putting the animals in the barn and harvesting the fields and taking away that natural circle that was perfectly formed. With Nofence, agriculture is moving back towards the more sustainable aspects of farming, which means having the animals out in the field and moving them around in order to keep the land healthy, and also producing a superior animal.”

How IoT enables NoFence

Reliable connectivity is not just a crucial part of the Nofence solution, it is an essential part.  The company has been using Tele2 IoT SIM cards supplied via reseller IoT Value from the start and roaming has also been essential because, well, livestock move around a lot. Additionally, it would be a logistical nightmare to switch out SIM cards at this part, so with some IoT technologies evolving and some being sunsetted, Nofence is eagerly awaiting the possibilities LTE-M will offer.

“We want LTE-M so we can have a footprint in the UK and US because 2G is being sunsetted,” says Berntsen. “It’s also important to have hardware that uses as little data and power as possible, and we also want to reduce the size and weight of the hardware. LTE-M devices tend to be simpler while also offering coverage in remote areas, so it’s a great technology for our solution. We also want to futureproof our solution, meaning we need to stick with what we choose for the next few years and LTE-M fits in well with our plans.”

The future

Nofence’s plan for the coming two years is launching version 2.1 of their current products, and in parallel introducing new products that they feel will stand up well against the competition they know is heading their way.  The software they have in the trackers is quite advanced, so not only can it be remotely upgraded, the unit produces a lot of data, such as longitude and latitude, how much the animal is resting, how much it eats, if they’ve been separated, and even how many steps they take (cows take between 20 and 40 thousand steps each day – far more than most of us humans.)

Nofence has the main functionality in place and the customer is happy to not put up fences and is also happy about the flexibility of the solution. What the company is now working on is AI that will help the farmer gain more insights into their animals. There are big development plans underway for the data that will really help the farmer get the information they need to best control things and understand the health of their livestock.

“A lot of farmers are already using technology to know whether the cow is ready for insemination/fertile, as well as sensors to know if the animal is lame. We’re now running a project to develop sensors that will tell the farmer how much milk a calf drinks from the mother, how often it drinks, how long it drinks – these kind of insights will give enormous insights into the animal’s well-being and behavior.

“We are selling fencing replacement technology, which has great value, but when the farmer realizes we can also offer other types of sensors that give additional value to their business