Farmo – the Victorian agritech company doing big things with small data
Fine-tuning the user experience and delivering small data is Farmo’s top priority, that's empowering farmers to solve real problems using remote IoT technologies. Now the IoT solutions company is seeking investors to spearhead its ongoing success.
As the old proverb goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and that couldn’t be truer for Nick Seymour, Founder and General Manager of internet-of-things (IoT) solutions company, Farmo.
“A few years ago, Dad turned 80 and he needed us more and more to help on the farm,” Nick explained.
“He was physically fit, but the demands of the day-to-day jobs were starting to become difficult for him.
“I was spending the weekends driving from my base in Melbourne to Hamilton [in south-west Victoria] to do cattle work, but once I got back to the city I wasn’t sleeping because I’d be worried about whether or not the animals had water or if they’d been secured properly.”
Out of pure need, Nick started rigging up sensors and other devices to help alert his father if things went wrong while he was away from the property.
“I was lucky in that my nephew, Kevin Ngo, had a computer science background, so he was helping me figure things out as we went along,” said Nick.
“In the end, we were putting so much time into these tools that were initially only for personal benefit, that I decided I needed to put all of that effort into a business. Now I’m the Founder and General Manager of Farmo, and Kevin is the Software Engineering Lead.
“The formal structure and commitment will hopefully offer us the advantages that comes with scaling up.”
The search for fit-for-purpose tech
To begin with, all Nick was after was a reliable gate sensor and some water sensors for troughs.
“There was a lot of hype about agtech and remote monitoring, so I’d assumed that it would be an easy task,” he said.
“It was soon obvious that a lot of what was being offered to farmers in the IoT space was coming via the mining industry or the horticulture sector and wasn’t necessarily addressing the specific problems that we had.”
This is what prompted Nick to develop Farmo’s first products; the Water Rat and the Gate Sensor.
When bad feedback returns good dividends
Farmo’s Water Rat is an easy-to-set-up tank and trough water sensor that literally gets thrown into the water and delivers low water level alerts to the user’s phone or computer.
“No one likes to see cattle suffering due to lack of water and any breakdown of provision of water to animals can be significant – so that was the starting point,” said Nick.
“We went through a few different iterations of models that were fixed in place with various levels of success, but after a visit to my brother-in-law’s cattle property, he told me that affixing the device to the trough was actually pretty difficult and that he wished they had something they could just chuck in the water and walk away from.
“I was really defensive at first because I knew the technology was spot on, but it took me back to my former life in the furniture business – it doesn’t matter how great it is if the user can’t use it to its potential and for what they actually need it for.”
“Once I processed the feedback, I had to admit that it was actually a great suggestion – and that’s what triggered the development of the Water Rat system.”
Points of difference for water monitoring
The Water Rat is a unique piece of kit in that there’s no other monitoring product you can throw in a trough.
“It looks really simple but the technology inside is impressive,” said Nick.
“It’s got an accelerometer tilt sensor as well as an NB-IoT chip that sends the data and a GPS to report the location.
“When the water level reaches a low point then the Water Rat tilts over and sends an alert. If the water level rises again and the device gets upright again, then you get another alert to let you know it’s all ok.
“Essentially, you’re getting a basic set of data that tells you that the trough is either okay, or it’s not.”
Nick said while the focus around ‘big data’ has attracted international focus, Farmo is focused on nailing small data.
“We make no secret of the fact that our focus is the user experience and on small data,” he said.
“Farmers don’t want to be stuck looking at screens or analysing data. They want real time message-based alerts that drive specific actions for better outcomes on farm.”
“Ironically what happens with small data, when it’s being time-stamped and you get a history of it, it becomes big data anyway!”
Raising capital in 2022
In 2021, Farmo was selected to take part in the evokeAG. Startup Network and had the opportunity to present to industry, including at Beef Week in Rockhampton, Queensland.
“These occasions offered us the prospects to find capital, but we were so focused on the end-user experience that these opportunities were really more about getting our name out there and connecting to customers,” said Nick.
As we ease into 2022, Farmo is actively seeking capital to continue its journey and scale with outside investors.
“I’d envisage the investor will be someone who can see the direction agriculture is going but can see the difference between data that sits on a screen and data that drives action.”
“It’s no good developing great tech if people don’t use it, so we try to have at least some gateway products like the Water Rat that are really simple and easy to use. That helps break down the barriers to digital adoption and delivers the benefits to more people.”
“There are a lot of people in south-west Victoria using Farmo at the moment but now that we are happy with the product, we are serious about growing the customer base across Australia.”
Farmo’s Electric Fence Sensor LoRaWAN in action.
“We’ve always been focused on the user and their experience, so while we’re getting positive enquiries from India and the US and even selling some product into Japan and Singapore, we are still committed to really nailing the brief for our own backyard.
“I know there’s an investor out there though that will see the potential in Farmo products, and we can’t wait to meet them.”
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