The Internet of Things is continuing to transform the agriculture industry and how it does business. According to BI Intelligence, IoT device installations in the agriculture world is expected to increase from 30 million in 2015 to 75 million in 2020, for a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent. The majority of the attention paid to IoT-powered technology investment in agriculture has been focused on improvements related to farming and saving precious crops.
Significant improvements to wireless sensor networks have opened a range of possibilities for farmers and agricultural management organizations, according to Ana Sancho, Libelium key account manager for agriculture, water and the environment. Based in Zaragonza, Spain, Libelium makes a variety IoT sensors and data platforms. It partners with more than 90 solution providers and has a global customer base that use its environmental sensor technology on farms as well as in hospitals, smart cities and factories.
Challenges in Smart Agriculture
Sancho explained at a recent IoT conference that when growers can get real-time information from different water, soil or air parameters in a field, they can make strategic decisions that save resources and optimize yields. She noted that while Libelium is starting to see integration of IoT technology in agriculture, the installation of sensors and other data-gathering devices is not happening as fast on the farm as in other industrial segments.
Sancho, who is an agricultural engineer with a post-graduate degree in logistics and food safety, said that the greatest challenges in smart agriculture right now include:
- Farmers typically have poor training in technology;
- Fields are located in remote or isolated areas;
- Growers have low budgets to carry out large technology projects, due to dependence on their annual harvest;
- Most companies in the agricultural segment are very small with few employees;
- Global climate change makes weather and ambient conditions less predictable;
- Pests can ruin an entire harvest.
In the Weeds with IoT
Libelium offers multiple vertical solutions and works with solution providers to implement platforms for customers that monitor vitals such as the environment (air quality index), water ions (water quality in rivers, lakes, seas), and soil parameters, such as chemical levels and moisture content.
“With precision agriculture, growers have many benefits, including cost savings in water, energy and fertilizers,” says Sancho. She added that IoT can help product loss prevention, as growers can get real-time alerts about crop conditions and make adjustments to reach optimal conditions. “Growers can use data to plan specific strategies and make predictive models. For instance, if they know a cycle of fruit flies is about to happen due to temperature changes, they can make adjustments to when they pick their crop,” says Sancho.
Keeping Tabs on the Greenhouse
Libelium recently worked on a project with Agnov8, which develops software for managing wholesale plant nurseries. Agnov8 deployed a large environmental sustainability project at Cameron’s Nursery, a wholesale plant grower in Arcadia, New South Wales, Australia.
For the nursery, Agnov8 developed a complete smart system to monitor soil, water quality, water storage and environmental parameters. The company installed the Libelium Waspmote Plug & Sense! Sensor Platform in two different locations at the site. The devices are deployed in the main dam and recycling pit, allowing Cameron’s Nursery to monitor water temperature, pH, electrical conductivity (EC), oxidation reduction potential (ORP) and Dissolved Oxygen (DO). Both collect water runoff from across the production nursery during natural precipitation and water irrigation cycles.
The system uses Waspmote Plug & Sense! Smart Metering to control water irrigation tank volume with an ultrasound sensor that monitors the volume of water in storage. The Waspmote Plug & Sense! Smart Agriculture PRO mounted in a greenhouse provides information about soil temperature, soil moisture, leaf wetness, air temperature and humidity. Installed outdoors, Waspmote Plug & Sense! Smart Agriculture has an anemometer, wind vane and pluviometer sensor and monitors wind speed, gusts, direction and amount of rain. Another of the devices monitors soil temperature and soil moisture. Waspmote Plug & Sense! Ambient Control is also present in the greenhouse and measures luminosity.
All sensor nodes connect through a meshed WiFi network, using WPA2 authentication. Data is sent to the cloud in intervals that vary from 5 to 15 minutes. The nodes use HTTP to communicate with an on-site gateway. The gateway in turn communicates securely, using TLS1.2, with Agnov8’s cloud based SaaS platform. Agnov8’s multi-tenant SaaS is hosted on AWS Cloud Platform.
The wireless sensor network deployment has improved overall crop yields at Cameron’s, providing visibility of indoor and outdoor growing parameters, including temperature, luminosity and humidity. Cameron’s Nursery is now able to immediately intervene at early growing stages of its crop, which is when these measured parameters can have a severe impact on the growth of its young crop.
This IoT project has enabled the staff to make any decisions based on real facts. Every process has been improved along with the daily work of each farmer. “We can see exactly what is occurring on the farm whether we are on or off site,” says Sonja Cameron, Cameron’s Nursery director.
Put a Stake in the Ground in Ag IoT
- See the full results and technology implementation at Cameron’s Nursery from Libelium.
- Learn more about the software and data platform from Agnov8.
- For technical details on Waspmote hardware, sensors and how to program a Smart Agriculture application, download the Libelium Smart Agriculture Technical Guide.
- Become one of the 90 partners in the Libelium Partner Ecosystem.