For many Americans, the holiday season is the happiest time of the year. It’s filled with bright lights and decorations, and the familiar smells of hot cocoa and pine needles. Annually, Americans spend an average of $269 on holiday decorations. Perhaps the biggest portion of that spend? Christmas trees. Nearly 350 million trees are grown annually in the U.S. on about 350,000 acres of land and approximately 25 to 30 million of those are sold every year.
The timeline in which these trees need to be grown, harvested, transported, and sold to consumers for the December holiday is vitally important. For the nearly 15,000 Christmas tree farmers across the U.S., each holiday season brings in their primary source of income. Farmers need assurance that their trees will reach the point of sales by early December. Yet, this can be a challenge with unexpected factors such as poor crop yields, trucking slowdowns, or loss of product during transit. If an error occurs, farmers can lose much of their inventory which ultimately leads to a loss of income. IoT sensors address and solve this challenge. Let’s explore.
IoT and LPWAN
The Internet of Things (IoT) consists of billions of physical devices connected to the internet. These devices constantly share and collect data which can be used to efficiently monitor, track, and deliver Christmas trees across their entire growth lifecycle.
In IoT, there are a couple of core technology solutions that deliver regular connectivity for the data-capturing sensors. The freedom to select and leverage the connectivity solution that better suits the application is key to delivering always-on access. When using higher bandwidth applications, such as video or mission-critical applications that require larger amounts of data, Wi-Fi, BLE, and cellular networks are often used. While they are good options for these types of use cases, the connectivity is typically limited in the range and usage beyond nearby and land-based deployments. Low Power, Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) is another option. LPWAN delivers massive amounts of small data sets across a long range and can transmit lots of data with very limited bandwidth. This is ideal for solutions that are long-range and may require remote deployments – such as that of a Christmas tree life cycle.
LPWAN: Reliable, Secure, and Accurate
LPWAN aids in tracking assets across the entire supply chain and product lifecycle. IoT-enabled sensors operating on the LoRaWAN® standard securely and reliably show the health of Christmas trees during the entire growth process, then monitor the trees as they travel in the trucks to the purchase point. Additionally, for the farmers and companies selling these trees, the real-time accuracy and insight help optimize the workflows leading up to, during, and following the holiday season. This insight is powerful by potentially reducing operational costs and mitigating a potential disaster or product loss before it occurs.
On the farms, IoT-enabled sensors are deployed to track, monitor, and alert the soil levels of the farms. To maintain the growth schedule and deliver the trees by the holiday season, tree growers continuously monitor the moisture levels of the soil. Too much or too little water may harm the crop. The insights gleaned from these IoT sensors make the optimal growth environment and most importantly support bigger crop yields.
Tracking with IoT Sensors
In some cases, taller Christmas trees may grow for up to 15 years on the farm. IoT sensors offer an efficient way to monitor this growth. Tree farmers deploy these sensors in the field and do not need to replace the batteries each season. Rather, these sensors work for nearly ten years before they need to be replaced or changed. The long-term health of these sensors directly translates to the long-term health of the trees due to regular monitoring. Sensors also indicate that the trees are ready to harvest.
After harvest, trees are loaded onto geo-located trucks that are moved across the country. The trucks are monitored remotely and are maintained by an operations manager back at the farm or primary growing facility. Sensors on the trucks can indicate the health of the trees while in transit, as well as their scheduled arrival. Farmers can know at any moment where their trees are in transit. This ensures that if there is an unexpected slowdown, a backup truck or transit option can be provided. The farmer has the power to address the problem, and quickly mitigate the loss of revenue should the trees not arrive by peak sales season.
Sensors are also used after the trees reach their final delivery spot and are ready for consumer sales. Sensors inside a store or consumer-facing tree farm can help track the Christmas trees’ positions on the floor. For example, IoT sensors can notify employees when the stock is low and requires more trees. Additionally, insights collected from the position of the trees can indicate how well they are selling.
IoT Brings Christmas Spirit
Between the glowing decorations, hot cocoa with marshmallows, and spending time with families, each December is a special time. Many American families enjoy the experience of purchasing and dressing a Christmas tree, yet forget or are unaware of the technology that helped bring those trees into their household. IoT sensors play a big role in making the holiday season brighter by providing real-time analytics and the certainty that Christmas trees are healthy and delivered on time for families across the country.