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What benefits can wireless bring to farmers?

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Topic Type: 
Problem Statement

Hi,

I'm a mobile telecommunication engineer providing services to a mobile operator in Ireland. I'm also currently doing a part time masters in Innovation, design & Entrepreneurship in University College Dublin and part of the course is aimed towards us developing a start-up or in my case a new line of business. One area I'm really interested in investigating is the benefits of bringing wireless to farmers. My family are all farmers (I strayed from the pack with my engineering ways) so this is where the interest comes from.

We hear a lot about issues with rural broadband but if affordable wireless access was available to farmers, what would they use it for, what are their needs?

Would love to hear your views on this. I see a lot of solutions for large corporation farmers but what about the small and medium ones? Maybe you might even be able to give me a steer on any solutions out there that already exist.

Thanks,

Donal.

jbd's picture

Do you mean cellular wireless, 802.14.* wireless, 802.11 wireless, ...?

Otherwise, there's lots of things that could be "connected", but must be connected without a wire. Fields, stock, product, equipment, ... Fields for monitoring soil health, stock for monitoring their health, product for location and maximum sell date, equipment for maintenance records and uses... There's lots of things, and a few tools already on this site - just need more, and its becoming apparent that a method of integrating the info produced by the tools is needed.

One of the biggest ancillary "problems" that goes with wireless, is how to get the power to the device - if only to support the device and its ability to transmit/receive. Batteries go only so far, and are a pain to maintain when they are remote. There needs to be better solutions!

Another thing is recordkeeping - for example, you move goats to another pasture - having that move automatically recorded for you would save a lot of time at the end of (a perhaps hectic) day, and it would be accurate. Same with equipment... I don't know how often I've missed fluid changes because I couldn't remember how often I've use the tractor/truck/... And plants, not only would it be nice to know how wet/fertile/... your soil is - you could save lots of water by not watering it if you didn't need to... Or if you had it automatically watered at night instead of during the day.

The list goes on and on...

--Bruce

Donal's picture

Hi Bruce,

Thanks for the great response. When I say wireless I'm was thinking aspects of cellular and 802.11 but whatever is best. from you response, it is clear that power is a big issue so maybe something like Zigbee or SIGFOX used for IoT would be a better fit to reduce power consumption. But I guess you still have the issue of maintaining the batteries...

The watering idea is interesting, watering at night as I assume the rates are cheaper?

I would be interested in hearing of any off the shelf products or service companies and also interested to see why people don't use wireless solution more.

 

Thanks again,

Donal.

RSiegfried's picture

Many farmers are collecting data on yields, labor, sales, etc. to allow them to evaluate every enterprise on the farm, and to build profitable business.  The importance of financial data to the life of a farm is critical.  In a similar way, monitoring environmental conditions on a farm can provide improved yields, reduced risks of loss, and just reduce the overall feeling of uncertainty that many farmers have when away from the farm.  

There are sensors for air and soil temperature, humidity, soil moisture, frost, light, gates open/closed, water levels, battery condition, and dozens of others.  These sensors can be fitted with different transmitting technologies that range from 300 feet, to 1000's of feet, even out to as much as 9 miles.  The sensors data is often gathered by a "gateway" which pushes the data to the cloud via a cellular connection.  Farmers can connect to the data via computer, tablet, or phone.  Alerts and alarms can be set to notify the farmer when any sensor detects unfavorable conditions.  

Powering sensors and wireless transmitters has historically required solar panels and 12 v batteries.  But many technologies are emerging that are focused on minimizing power usage, allowing 3v and 5v batteries to last years.  New batteries are further extending sensor life.   Wireless sensors using 2 AA batteries are now available that can easily run for 1 to 2 years without battery changes, perhaps even longer.  The gateways typically require a AC power supply, and thus are located in a barn, heated greenhouse, or farm office.  

Currently most of these systems are designed to serve server rooms, commercial cold storage, and the pharmaceutical industry.  But they can be adapted to the farm with little effort.  These systems can monitor your walk-in cooler, heated greenhouse in winter, and hoop house in the summer.  They can remind you to charge your 12 v battery, that the barn door is open, or that the power is off on the water pump.  They can measure soi moisture, and tell you when to irrigate, or turn on the water itself.  A basic system can be put on a farm for about $500, plus some annual charges for cellular plans and cloud based data storage.  All of your data from different systems can now be stored and accessed from a single location in the cloud.  

Small farmers will succeed by farming smarter, not hard.  And data is at the heart of that approach.  

Donal's picture

Hi RSiegfried,

Thank you very much for your response. Great info here. The system you mention for $500, is that off the shelf or a DIY job? I'm trying to figure out what do non-tech farmers use. How much would the annual data package and cloud solution typical cost (maybe tricky to put a value on this I guess).

Seems that power is still the issue but a lot of progress here. 

Donal.