Today’s agricultural professionals must strongly consider how certain technologies could help them stay competitive. Low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are two technologies often used together to help farmers meet their goals. LPWAN and IoT technologies allow them to venture into smart farming. IoT in agriculture is already increasingly common, and here’s why using it along with LPWAN can enable farmers to get even better results.
LPWAN and IoT: The Benefits
#1: Weather Monitoring
Farmers who gain experience and tips from others in the industry can often predict critical weather events, such as rainstorms. However, now that IoT in agriculture is ramping up, they can also benefit from more high-tech methods.
Consider how, just before the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated remote work, researchers traveled to Kenya’s Makueni County to distribute a dozen rain gauges powered by LPWAN and IoT technology. Africa has experienced an 85 percent decrease in the number of functional ground observation weather stations over the past 50 years. That’s a big problem, especially given how much the country depends on crops that thrive with sufficient rainfall.
The gauges only cost about $50 to manufacture. They’re recyclable and inexpensive, and they use LPWAN technology. These are basic tools, but people believe they’ll become instrumental in reducing agriculture-related risks. The people involved in this smart farming project specifically wanted to make daily rainfall totals the sole measurement collected. More advanced options exist, but the researchers deemed rain amounts to be the most important agro-meteorological variable for people farming in the tropics.
Farmers have also benefited from similar LPWAN advancements in the Creston Valley area of British Columbia. Five weather stations were installed on private properties to measure specifics ranging from leaf wetness to solar radiation. People involved in this initiative say it should provide more-informed responses to pest problems plus allow them to prepare for climate change-based natural disasters.
#2: Power Reliability
Power outages are an annoyance for many households, stopping them from watching Netflix or having dinner at the planned time. However, a disruption in electricity can be far more disruptive when a family’s livelihood centers on agriculture, which is why many farmers have backup generators as reassurance against such events, similar to how they invest in insurance premiums. That wise move can complement attempts to use LPWAN and IoT tech to safeguard against these outages.
Some utility companies find it difficult to justify the expenses of extending the electrical grid to remotely located farms. However, many agricultural professionals increase their bargaining power by joining farming cooperatives. Coop representatives often construct and operate the power lines stretching across members’ farms.
The long-range wide-area network, more commonly known as LoRaWAN, is under the umbrella of LPWAN technologies. It works particularly well on farms because it can transmit data across substantial distances without using much battery power. One creative way to combine IoT with LoRaWAN is letting sensor data inform power infrastructure managers about outages as soon as they happen. Line repair technicians who know about problems faster can quickly make repairs. Using the IoT in agriculture like this is not a replacement for options like generators. However, such technology can give farmers better coverage and peace of mind against electricity-related risks.
#3: Data Collection
The more reliable data agricultural professionals have at their disposal, the easier it is for them to make confident decisions that keep their operations running smoothly. Farmers can engage in more sustainable practices by reducing their use of fertilizers and cutting resource usage. Data-collecting sensors help them establish baselines and investigate the most effective ways to make meaningful progress.
Many people immediately think of farms spread across sprawling fields, with crops arranged in neat rows stretching as far as the eye can see. However, those are not the only options. Urban farming in the middle of cities is becoming more popular. People often get creative to make these endeavors work, including going vertical. Even the roof of a parking lot in Singapore was repurposed for agriculture.
Research indicates LPWAN and IoT options work well for monitoring weather and soil conditions on urban farms. Their use cases don’t end there — these solutions could gather valuable data for people who want to grow crops in cities. In another case, a collaboration between two companies involved deploying IoT and a long-range (LoRa) network to learn more about the causes of crop stress on an avocado farm in New South Wales, Australia. This data-collection effort included sensors to measure sap flow, vapor-pressure deficits, and more. People used the results to find a link between moisture content and fruit drop.
It’s not always easy, or even possible, for farmers to find connections between good or bad events and environmental or crop-care incidents. However, smart farming advancements can help them identify those all-important ties more often. They can then use that newly acquired information to make more progress and avoid pitfalls.
#4: Useful Livestock-Related Insights
Livestock-related illnesses can quickly spread throughout entire herds, significantly affecting farmers’ ability to profit as expected. However, by the time the animals seem outwardly sick, it’s often too late to quarantine them. Using the IoT in agriculture could change that.
Many solutions on the market are very low-profile and easy to use, such as ear tags for cows. They track changes in health and behavior, informing farmers sooner that something may be wrong with the animals. Such solutions also show real-time locations. That feature is particularly convenient if livestock is lost or a farmer suspects theft.
In one study, researchers tested an IoT-LoRa solution on pastured sheep. The technology showed the precise places the sheep spent their time and tracked behavior changes over 24-hour periods. The people involved in the research concluded that their work could alert farmers to life-threatening situations or instances where sheep have begun escaping the field. They also cited other studies where people used smart sensors to track lameness or estrus in sheep.
A Game-Changing Combination
Thanks to developments like these, it’s easy for people to recognize the potential for using LPWAN and the IoT in agriculture. Many agricultural professionals have tremendous amounts of money invested in their farming efforts. If those attempts fail too often, the results could be devastating. Smart farming cannot solve all issues affecting farmers, but it can ease many of their burdens and help them remain successful.