IoT in Smart Agriculture: LPWAN Technologies & Applications

Scalable, convenient, and highly effective in the new age of data, the Internet of Things, or IoT, can be applied to almost any business problem with great results. However, one of the largest use cases definitely lies within IoT in Agriculture. The agricultural industry is and always will be one of the most important industries. It has evolved significantly over the century by adopting new technologies in their processes to deliver improved control, efficiency, and results.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of the transformation in agriculture that is occurring due to IoT and how you can take advantage of this trend to improve farming practices. Additionally, we will cover how IoT technologies, specifically LPWAN (eg. LoRa), have been implemented in a variety of scenarios to solve business problems!


Introduction to Smart Agriculture

Smart agriculture refers to the use of IoT solutions to solve agricultural problems. IoT refers to a network of physical devices (“things”) that are connected to the Internet, collecting and sharing data. Well, IoT in agriculture is not any different!

Seeed’s SenseCAP in the Autonomous Greenhouse International Challenge

Thanks to advancements in small-sized computers and long range wireless capabilities, farmers can use IoT sensors to monitor environmental conditions, keep track of livestock and make better business decisions on all aspects of agriculture – making it “smart”!


Benefits of IoT in Agriculture

There are many benefits to be reaped from employing IoT in agriculture, which collectively help businesses to reduce costs and improve productivity. In this article, we will broadly summarise them under 4 primary umbrellas.

1.  Better Process Monitoring

As IoT devices are distributed in various processes, farmers gain better insights into metrics such as weather, soil, livestock or produce conditions. This provides an overview of the business and improves operating performance and efficiency.

2.  Improved Produce Quality

Thorough monitoring achieved through IoT can allow farmers to identify gaps in agricultural practices. This can save costs by minimising wasted or spoiled produce and improving overall product quality.

3.  Process Automation

Taking it one step further, IoT enables more reliable means of automating agricultural processes. For example, irrigation systems can automatically respond to soil moisture data from sensors in the ground to prevent both under and over watering.

4.  Data Analytics

Data is the future. IoT gives farmers access to big data in an aggregated manner like never before, enabling large scale data analytics with the use of modern machine learning methods.


LPWAN for Agricultural IoT?

There are a variety of IoT technologies that can be used for agriculture:

  • Cellular (3G/4G/5G)
  • Bluetooth and BLE
  • Wi-Fi
  • LPWAN

Among these, however, LPWAN definitely stands out.

LPWAN stands for Low-Power Wide-Area Network, and is a type of wireless telecommunication designed to facilitate low-bandwidth data transmission over long distances! Considering that farms operate on typically large areas of land, LPWAN is perfectly poised to enable effective IoT solutions in the agricultural industry.

Source: IoT Analytics

Furthermore, the low-power characteristics of LPWAN are particularly critical for industrial settings. For example, implementing an IoT solution only to incur significant costs in battery replacement and maintenance expenses would hardly be helpful. Fortunately, LPWAN devices can operate on a single battery for up to 10-15 years!


A Cost Effective LPWAN Solution: LoRa & LoRaWAN

LoRa is one of the most popular LPWAN technologies. Built on chirp spread spectrum modulation by Semtech Corporation, LoRa enables long range radio transmissions of up to 15 kilometers while being accompanied by various benefits like security and low costs!

Source: Semtech

However, perhaps the reason that LoRa is so popular is thanks to LoRaWAN, which is a networking protocol that is built on LoRa! LoRaWAN provides global network availability through the use of distributed gateways, which can allow you to deploy IoT applications easily in any supported regions. Most importantly, LoRaWAN operates in the unlicensed radio bands, so you can utilize it at no additional cost!

Source: The Things Network

Backed by a diverse ecosystem of hardware and software developers, network providers and industry associations, as well as the LoRa Alliance, LoRa technologies are increasingly accepted and easier to implement worldwide. Hence, anyone choosing to get started with LoRaWAN can also expect to rely on extensive documentation and community support with platforms like The Things Network (TTN).


LPWAN IoT in Agriculture: Seeed’s SenseCAP LoRaWAN

At Seeed, we are committed to developing industrial-grade IoT products and solutions to help you meet any kind of industrial needs, including agricultural IoT. Seeed supports agricultural transformation with LPWAN powered IoT through our SenseCAP Sensors and SenseCAP LoRaWAN Gateway. By building a vast network that is then connected to servers in the cloud, a diverse range of solutions can be developed for any business problem, regardless of the intended application in monitoring, control or maintenance!

Here are some ways to implement IoT solutions in agriculture, along with case study examples of agricultural solutions designed by Seeed!


1.  Monitor Environmental Conditions

A relatively straightforward, simple, yet powerful solution is to use IoT devices as weather stations. Weather stations consist of multiple sensors connected to a wireless-communication enabled device, distributed across different zones to collectively provide a map of climate conditions. For example, the SenseCAP S700 can be readily deployed as a weather station with remote visualization capabilities.

In 2019, Seeed partnered with Beishao Co-Op and a Beijing-based agricultural system integrator to develop an IoT solution for a large-scale triticale farm in Dingzhou, North China. Designed to achieve efficiency, traceability and optimal and sustainable use of resources, the solution consisted of an auto-irrigation system, a video/image monitoring system, and a remote-control platform. Additionally, it hosted an environmental data monitoring system that collected environmental data for 12 key metrics that would affect the growth of triticale.

To achieve this comprehensive solution, an extensive suite of LoRa gateway and IoT sensors were adopted:

With integrated data and control systems, the farm can now be managed in a much more precise and convenient manner. Specifically, the smart irrigation system saves labour and water costs, whereas environmental sensors and cameras drive decision making regarding pest control or harvest. Learn more about this example with the full details of the case study here!


2.  Precision Farming

Precision farming refers to the use of sensors to collect data about environmental conditions in order to make continuous adjustments to farming conditions. Farmers may opt to use precision farming for several reasons, including specific environmental conditions required for the agricultural product to survive, or to identify the conditions for maximum product yield and quality.

In some situations, precision farming may even be a necessity. For example, durian, which is well-known for its creamy texture and unique flavour, is dubbed the “King of Fruits” in Southeast Asia with its vast popularity and economic value. However, durian farming is particularly challenging and plagued by several problems:

  • Lack of manual labour for tedious farming processes involving inspection, irrigation, fertilisation, desinsectisation, etc.
  • High sensitivity to water and other environmental conditions requiring accurate irrigation
  • No standardised practice for durian cultivation, reliant on anecdotal experience sharing
Durian Plantation in Malaysia

In Malaysia, MIE Agro Farm Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of MIE Industrial Sdn Bhd, cultivates 200 acres of durian trees with various breeds. To tackle the challenges posed by durian farming and managing large farm lands, MIE led their IoT Team to deploy more than 20 of our SenseCAP LoRaWAN Soil Sensors and LoRaWAN gateways to monitor soil performance.

With industrial-grade sensors and a remotely-accessible cloud dashboard, daily checks on durian trees which used to take as long as 2 hours can now be performed not only with greater convenience, but also improved precision and accuracy. Labour can now also be redirected to more important tasks like plant health inspection. Most importantly, the deployment of SenseCAP by MIE is pioneering a new benchmark for the precision farming of durian in the future, providing data and insights to farmers like never before!

Read more about this incredible example by reading the full article here!


3.  Automate Agricultural Processes

Many labour intensive agricultural processes can be automated, now in many more ways than ever before imagined. For example, harvesting, seeding, weeding, are all becoming automated with advanced robotics to help farmers handle labour shortages and boost productivity at the same time. These devices can also be monitored and managed remotely thanks to IoT connectivity!

To take advantage of higher economic yields from higher produce prices, farmers in Northern China were experimenting with growing Southern produce in their greenhouse when they faced two major obstacles:

  • Strict environmental monitoring is required to emulate the environmental conditions of the south to ensure fruit quality.
  • High management costs due to many conditions to be monitored, which calls for an automated system.

To tackle this issue, Seeed designed a SenseCAP-based solution to achieve automated control of fertilisation and irrigation, ventilation systems, as well as the thermal blanket in the greenhouse. In doing so, a comprehensive system that allowed farmers to monitor and maintain conditions like CO2, light intensity and soil characteristics was developed, achieving IoT-enabled precision farming!

The agriculture sensors and gateways deployed in the greenhouse include:

If this case study interests you, kindly click here to read the full story.


4.  Track & Manage Livestock

Managing livestock and poultry poses a unique set of challenges compared to plant-based agriculture. Especially with a move towards sustainable and ethical livestock farming, some farmers have turned to IoT to track and manage their livestock more effectively. Apart from identification and location, livestock health and farming conditions can also be monitored, allowing for preventative measures, such as separating diseased livestock, to be taken!

In livestock farming, feed, water, and environment are the three fundamentals that heavily influence agricultural productivity. Thus, when Kinghoo Agrotech needed a solution to assist in the development of an IoT solution for their poultry and livestock farms, they chose to use Seeed’s SenseCAP LoRaWAN Products to implement a livestock monitoring and environment control system.

Seeed’s SenseCAP LoRaWAN series features low power consumption, long battery life, a robust build and unparalleled long distance data transmission, is easy to install and most importantly affordable. Furthermore, a wireless transmission based system reduces the chance of failure due to faulty wiring, improving system reliability.

Equipped with the appropriate sensors, SenseCAP allows agricultural businesses to remotely yet closely monitor farming conditions, minimising livestock mortality, improving product quality and optimising farm productivity. Some examples of the SenseCAP series products used in this project include:

If this case study interests you, kindly click here to read the full story.


5.  Rural Revitalisation & Community Building

While most may have forgotten, agriculture played a key role in the development of modern sedentary human civilisation. Today, agriculture is crucial to economic growth, and remains a key means of contributing to rural development and alleviating poverty. With IoT, agriculture is further empowered in this regard to improve the lives of those living in rural areas and to strengthen communities.

The impacts of improving agricultural practices through IoT are not limited to increased productivity and cost savings. In this project, Seeed gladly accepted Vanke’s invitation to partner in alleviating poverty through tourism-based rural revitalisation in Xiankeng, a village with rich roots in Hakka culture.

Vanke’s proposal was to use IoT sensors to collect meteorological data to demonstrate Xiankeng’s weather and environment to be amiable for tourists regardless of seasons. The same IoT technology would also benefit local farmers who could then use the data to validate the quality of their rice and tea and build recognition for the local produce.

Using SenseCAP products, 10 environmental metrics were collected, integrated and shown on a webpage. The same information was also made accessible on a WeChat platform to capitalise on local community support for managing agricultural sites. Local tourism agencies and promotional stakeholders also used the data to promote different tourist activities in accordance with various weather indicators.

The devices which were deployed in Xiankeng include:

If this case study interests you, kindly click here to read the full story.


6.  Develop Greener Industries

Climate change is a global concern, and each industry has their part to do in transitioning towards greener and more sustainable practices, including agriculture. This transition is expected to take time, requiring research into new, cleaner technologies and a deep reflection upon current industrial practices. Regardless, developing  eco-consciousness with the use of IoT monitoring is an excellent place to start.

For example, Seeed teamed up with our partner based in Stockholm, Sweden to pursue environmental monitoring projects. They are a global leader in the design and manufacture of outdoor power products including chainsaws, garden tractors and mowers which are commonly used in parks, gardens and forests. Hence, they strive to reduce the environmental impacts of their products!

With the use of the following IoT sensors and gateways in an industrial and public park, our partner collects CO2, pressure, light intensity, temperature and humidity data in an effort to be eco-conscious and set the foundation for building a better living environment. After all, to save the earth, we must first know how we are harming it!

Read more about this case study in the full article here!


More Examples

If you want to further explore the possibilities of IoT in agriculture, you can further explore the following examples from Seeed!


Summary

The internet of things is rapidly transforming the agricultural industry. Through the examples that I have shared today, I hope that you now have an even clearer perspective of how IoT in agriculture can bring a variety of benefits that can not only assist in large-scale farming, but also be extended to enable farming in adverse climates and social & community impacts. If you are building your own agricultural IoT application or solution, LPWAN – specifically Seeed’s SenseCAP LoRaWAN – is a tried and tested option that you should definitely consider.

To learn more about SenseCAP and Industrial IoT, I highly encourage you to read the following articles:

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