Durian, the “King of Fruits” in Malaysia, is well-known for its creamy texture and unique, sweet flavor all around the world, especially in South-Eastern Asia. The national durian production in Malaysia is expected to increase to 443000 metric tonnes by 2030, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries in Malaysia. The production of Musang King Durian in Malaysia, for instance, is worth RM 1.3 billion (estimated 314,808,260 USD). As most of the Malaysian durians are praised by consumers from both Malaysia and its main export countries such as China, investment in durian farming increases rapidly due to the attractive returns. As well, durian will contribute much more to the economic growth in Malaysia with the promotion of the Durio-tourism in the coming future.
MIE Agro Farm Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of MIE Industrial Sdn Bhd, cultivates 200 acres of Durian with various breeds including Musang King, Black Thorn, D24, and many others. The farmland with 6000 durian trees it currently owns is a pilot project. Besides, many more durian farms are still under construction all across Malaysia – in Sungai Lembing and Pahang – for example.
However, practicing Durian Farming in Malaysia is not an easy task. Farmers encountered many difficulties in producing a large-scale durian farm and constantly seek suggestions and practicable agricultural IoT solutions from external consultants. There are many challenges that farmers and farming corporations like MIE Agro Farm Sdn Bhd need to tackle if they want to earn higher profits and to have a more stable durian harvest in the long run:
Lack of Manual Labour
The daily and weekly practice in durian farm requires a huge number of workers the tedious farming process to take care of and cultivate durian trees in order to get premium with high yields at best tastes. Workers need to manually handle works such as inspection, irrigation, fertilizing, disinsectization, and so on. These practices all require the external engagement of labor, which involves a large amount of additional cost.
High Sensitivity to Water and Other Environmental Conditions
According to the data, durian trees generally need an environment with a temperature of around 24-32°C and moist with 75-80% humidity. The rigid standards make precision farming more difficult if completely relying on manpower. To practice irrigation accurately on a daily basis is always a great challenge. Farm managers need to check the rainfall volume and soil moisture level constantly yet manually. Meanwhile, they need to be aware of the rainy days by constantly checking the weather forecasting data. Any inaccuracy can plausibly result in wilted plants or other disastrous outcomes.
Operation without Crop Profiles
The Standard of Procedure (SOP) is not well defined in durian cultivation. It has all relied on the experience sharing between farmers and durian practitioners. Since every single growing stage of the durian tree needs to be treated differently, it is going to be challenging in the future for MIE farmers if there is no benchmarking.
After doing lots of researches and experimentation, agronomists and engineers at MIE narrowed down some solutions. Among the many options, LoRaWAN is always the best choice of connectivity among the LPWAN for smart agriculture application, especially for large or medium scale durian plantation. “Low power, wide area” is the essence to achieve successful Internet of Things Smart farming projects.
Recently, Dr. Pui Boon Hean had successfully led the IoT team in MIE to deploy more than 20 SenseCAP LoRaWAN Soil Sensors and LoRaWAN gateways, to monitor the soil performance, the essence of the plantation of durian trees. Besides the stylish and compactable outlook designed by Seeed Studio, these industrial-grade sensors have an excellent and stable data collection ability, great robustness, and high accuracy that bring values and support to farm managers, which highly reduces the tedious daily manual practice of the workers. The battery lifespan lasts more than three years, and the coverage of the sensors is around 2 km in general. With the well-designed dashboard and the cloud portal, decisions can be applied rapidly at the beginning of the day to replace the 2 hours in-person verification of durian trees every day. Now, MIE significantly reduces the demand for external workers and managed to reduce operating costs. Workers and farm managers can focus on other aspects such as plant health inspection. Durian trees normally require at least 5-6 years to bear fruits. If farmers are unable to spend more time on fertilizing and disinsectization, they would have to replant the sick durian trees and might waste a few more years.
As well, durian trees are not as “hardcore” as other easily growing crops. Mr. Timmy Say, Han Wei, and Azwan, the team members of the IoT team in MIE, have started to create a benchmark of durian for future reference. Parameters such as water volume, duration & frequency of irrigation process, all are crucial for determining the growing formulas of durian trees.
Last but not least, LoRaWAN devices combined with the use of compact weather station deploying in the durian farm can not only monitor the irrigation but also predict the probability of disease with the use of historical data. Pest & disease forecasting has been a mature technique in Europe but is barely applied in Asia. By analyzing the pattern of pest & disease based on data from the weather station, farmers are well-prepared for any possible loss from natural disasters.
MIE Agro Farm has a goal to create a well-established smart farming solution to create an AI algorithm to automate irrigation procedure based on data of soil and weather performance. MIE Agro Farm will become a database of durian plantation for the future innovation of crop insurance. Agricultural producers, including farmers, ranchers, and so on, can purchase crop insurance to respond to the loss from agriculture due to diseases, natural disasters, or even the declining price of agricultural commodities. These data can be used as a reference to the insurance providers to ensure the SOP is set and followed by durian farming practitioners in Malaysia.