The benefits of LoRaWAN® for agricultural monitoring and control

Agriculture is not easy. It demands hard work, vast knowledge, resources, you name it. At the same time, most folks are quite aware of reports on population growth, global warming, consumer demands, etc., and also the pressure on our planet’s supply of food, water, and land. The farmers have the chance to use the leveraged technological breakthroughs to adapt agricultural practices to changing times, particularly with the emergence of Smart Agriculture using LoRaWAN for agricultural monitoring and control.

Modern Agribusiness heavily depends on the ability to efficiently manage resources to reduce environmental impact, minimize cost and maximize yield. Farmers face an interconnected host of challenges and, therefore, have an interest in incorporating innovative technological solutions. IoT devices have provided the flexibility to automatically monitor crops and animals, providing valuable data that has traditionally been collected manually, also as controlling systems and equipment throughout an operation.

By dispersing sensors connected to their phones or computers, farmers instantly retrieve data on soil temperature and moisture, pollution levels, climatic conditions, rainfall, crop growth, livestock conditions, and location, also receive alerts on fire or theft and activate harvesters and irrigation equipment.

These incredible powers depend upon a low-cost, flexibly deployed network infrastructure, where gateways may be added to enable the transmission of information from a sensor to farmers’ devices over long distances in often remote locations, where cellular coverage is poor.

The global population is anticipated to grow by 70% by 2050, putting ever-increasing pressure on agriculture to feed the globe. At the same time land and water shortages, changing consumer patterns and a worldwide strive toward preserving natural environmental resources like soil quality boost the burden on farmers to balance the varied demands. So far, farmers have had to observe the condition of their livestock, environment, or agricultural produce manually, even on large farms. Their property also requires safety controls and security protection against natural disasters, theft, and accidents.

LoRaWAN® is allowing a network infrastructure to be built to cover large rural and regional areas and connect with thousands of sensors affordably, reliably, and securely, providing data-driven solutions that simplify farm resource management. Farmers receive granular real-time data on a range of measures like soil moisture, rainfall, water use, and inventory enabling them to boost key areas such as water efficiency and productivity.

With LoRaWAN® technology, whose long-range, low-power wireless sensors can send data from the farm to the Cloud, via private or public networks, farmers have easy and quick access to a bunch of data for improving their businesses, with a definite advantage over satellites and drones. Such high-value data can be transmitted over distances of up to 15 km from sensors with batteries lasting up to 10 years, leading to lower maintenance and operating costs along with greater operational visibility, which successively empowers farmers to scale their businesses.

For example, intensive manpower may be replaced by automatized modes of monitoring and maintenance. The benefits are two-fold: farmers can detect irrigation necessities based on the weather forecast, irrigation detection, moisture, etc. while detecting faults within the irrigation system. This avoids time-consuming checking of the systems on the field and potential loss of crops.

LoRaWAN® technology can bring a lot of benefits to farmers

  • Increased efficiencies: the flexibility to align the timing and application of crop inputs with the seasonal performance of paddocks.
  • Improved water efficiency: Understanding rainfall and soil moisture allow for smarter production decisions.
  • Integrating sensors and modeling: More accurate and reliable outcomes by incorporating the farm’s data into production modeling tools.
  • Remote management: the ability to not only monitor multiple sites but to also send commands from the network back to a sensor or actuator.
  • Deeper farm insights: Objective, automated data collection to build a deeper understanding of farm performance.

   At the World Ag Expo that took place Feb. 11-13 in Tulare, California, the LoRa Alliance®  showed their LoraWAN Connected Farm. Using LoRaWAN technology that allows sensors to simply and easily connect to a network to capture valuable insights about water use, soil quality, livestock management, and many other applications they showed what it is capable of. Farmers are already using the technology to make smarter irrigation decisions, to better monitor crops and track livestock, to track farm equipment and farm and field conditions, and to monitor supply levels, etc.

   Water conservation is important worldwide, and agriculture consumes a lot of the usable water on the planet. LoRaWAN can be used to monitor and control usage, which has been demonstrated to reduce water consumption by up to 30 percent, while also reducing manual labor costs for irrigation checks and so on.

   Specific benefits of LoRaWAN for agricultural applications include that it doesn’t require cellular connectivity to establish a network, meaning networks can be installed anywhere there is the capability of transmitting over extremely long ranges in rural environments.

   Until now, the implementation of automated monitoring and control systems has been limited by the poor coverage of cellular networks in many highly productive but sparsely populated rural areas. Thanks to LPWA technologies like LoRaWAN®, IoT now enables detection, monitoring, and control over a very long distance.

   Networks can be public or private, depending on the end-user’s needs. Compared to cellular data rates, LoRaWAN is extremely cost-effective in sending messages from sensors that can be embedded anywhere, are battery-powered, and can last up to 10 years on a single battery. LoRaWAN technology has been proven to result in one-tenth of the power usage, or in the case of battery-powered devices, 10x the battery life of competing for machine-to-machine technologies. Because LoRaWAN leverages the unlicensed radio spectrum in the ISM band, it does not incur the operating expenses associated with having licensed wireless connectivity like cellular 4G or LTE for each end device in the network. Additionally, features such as TDoA geolocation capabilities allow operators to locate valuable assets in the field.

This ever-growing and quite amazing technology offers a lot of valuable agriculture solutions

  • Soil health – Farmers can monitor soil quality from the surface to roots, compare areas, modulate fertilizing, analyze historical patterns, and better manage crops long-term.
    • Manage soil quality from topsoil to below roots.
    • Detailed soil quality data including soil moisture, salinity, and NPK at three different depths.
    • Diagnose problem areas and compare soil between zones.
  • Rainfall – Farmers can accurately record rainfall and other climatic conditions and set flood risk alarms and other alerts for changes in water quality or overuse of phytosanitary products.
    • Accurately and remotely record rainfall across different parts of the farm.
    • Enables efficient irrigation scheduling.
    • Regular updates permit quick assessment of rain events.
  • Cattle monitoring –  Farmers can better monitor animal conditions, like temperature, estrus, disease, productivity, and location, and better prevent livestock loss or theft.
    • Remotely monitor the health, behavior, and location of livestock.
    • Be aware of early signs of illness in animals.
    • Track the location of livestock to better manage pasture utilization.
  • Irrigation control – Farmers can now schedule and apply the proper amount of water to crops, reducing waste and costs.
    • Control irrigation pumps, and switch them on and off remotely to optimize water and energy usage.
    • Optimized irrigation control based on multiple inputs including water flow, energy usage, soil moisture, and environmental factors.
  • Asset monitoring – Farmers can now oversee storage conditions, receive alerts on gates and equipment, and better track and internal control the complete supply chain.
    • Secure assets and send notifications when the asset is used or tampered with.
    • Provide access to multiple authorized groups.
    • Reduce vandalism and damage.
  • Fluid level monitoring
    • Tank and storage level monitoring of liquids (water, diesel, oil).
    • Remote identification of pressure drops and leaks.
    • Anticipate refill schedules and ensure fluid levels are maintained to fulfill the requirements of the farm.

You know, with technologies like that, where everything is happening on your phone or other mobile devices, farming can become like your Facebook farms. The process will be similar, clicking a few buttons, but the results will be quite real.