Mathias Herman : “Digital agriculture should bring more convenience and transparency”

3 questions to Mathias Herman, Head of Smart Agriculture at Orange Business Services (OBS), Agdatahub’s partner and business services subsidiary of the Orange Group.

Published on 23.03.2022

What is the expertise of Orange Business Services in the digital agriculture sector?

Mathias Herman : The particularity of OBS is that it combines the skills of an operator and IT (websites, artificial intelligence, applications, maintenance, etc.) and can intervene at all stages of the agricultural data journey. That is to say, from the field (sensors, satellite imagery), the farm (via access to the web, connectivity, telephony), the cooperative or the agricultural grouping (data exchanges, traceability) to processing, distribution and the consumer. In short: we can support a multitude of services, from farm to fork

Orange, an operator with a strong presence in rural areas, addresses the agricultural market like any other professional market for telephony and connectivity needs. The deployment of fibre and mobile networks (4G and 5G) are two very important dynamics that will allow the rural world to be connected to the Internet as well as in the city and to have a mobile network as efficient as in urban areas.

For connected objects (IoT) on farms, in addition to the GSM network (4G LTEm), the two best known networks in France are SigFox and LoRa. They operate at low speed and are used for objects that move little and send little data over a long period, thanks to their intrinsic energy efficiency… It is therefore necessary to offer affordable subscriptions. This is why Orange France has invested in and deployed the LoRa network. OBS therefore sells Orange subscriptions to companies that market connected objects using the LoRa network.

OBS’s contribution to Smart Agriculture also includes services to support the needs related to the digitalisation of farms, such as platforms for managing connected objects or networks, platforms for processing the data collected or storage, hypervision or cybersecurity tools. In other words, all the technological bricks to be assembled to build a digital service. In a very competitive world, OBS stands out and dissociates itself from the Gamams (Google, Amazon, Meta, Apple and Microsoft), even if the confusion is still too often made. As an operator, the regulations require us not to read the content of emails or information circulating on our network. We can only work on the data if we have received the consent of the source or if there is a legal obligation. Moreover, OBS is a recognised player in the use, sovereignty and security of data.


How was the partnership between Orange Business Services and Agdatahub built and how does it manifest itself?

It all started with the Multipass research project carried out by Acta (the agricultural technical institutes) on a router for agricultural consents, the industrialisation project of which gave rise to a call for expressions of interest. I met with Sébastien Picardat, Managing Director of Agdatahub, and we decided to set up a consortium to respond. In this consortium there were, in addition to OBS and Agdatahub: Dawex, GS1 France, the Numagri association and 3DS Outscale (which has since left the project). Today, the consent router is in the process of being widely deployed, associated with the digital identity of farms, which is a co-innovation between OBS and Agdatahub.

This project dates from 2019. We wanted to invest in a digital identity feature because it brings a huge gain in security. In practice, you log in once to a platform from which you can access a network of platforms in complete security. This digital identity module gives Agdatahub an additional advantage, with exclusive use in the agricultural sector. We have since been joined by IN Groupe to develop this solution, which will be presented on the Agdatahub stand at the 2022 Agricultural Show.

More recently, OBS and Agdatahub have decided on a commercial partnership in order to get even closer around the idea of the data chain. Thus, with its consent and data exchange platforms, Agdatahub intervenes in the “secure” and “exchange” stages and OBS in the “collect” and “process” stages. The data chain is the path of data from the farm to the consumer. For example, the first data value chain that OBS is working on is the Wine Cloud project (or from the vine to the tasting). It links notions of traceability, quality, services related to viticulture and viniculture…

How do you see the “smart agriculture” of tomorrow?

The key issues are the quality of food for consumers and the comfort and quality of life of farmers, who are entrepreneurs who take risks all the time. So I hope that AgriTech companies will meet their expectations. And if we can or must bring transparency to production conditions, it would be good if this were accompanied by an awareness on the part of the general public of what the daily life of a farmer really is. That is to say, working conditions that are often arduous and the weight of economic performance, as well as the growing environmental challenges. In a context of transformation of agriculture, we must be able to help the agricultural world to reinvent itself thanks to the sharing of its data and I am convinced that digital technology can bring comfort or even make the daily life of farmers more fluid and simpler.