Future Farming: Climate Change, Satellites and Smart Irrigation

The continued impact of the ongoing drought on agriculture and irrigation is forcing farmers and other stakeholders to look into other long-term solutions to proactively prepare and manage for prolonged and severe seasonal conditions.

Today on Table Talk, we share the thoughts of Fleet Space’s, Matthew Pearson, on how technology can help with preparedness and management.

Matthew outlined:

One of those longer term solutions is to increase the use of technology to facilitate the prediction of events and the preparedness of farmers in case these happen. This is the role that data has to play on the farm, facilitating decision-making and being able to better adapt to changing parameters – which is exactly what the Internet of Things is about: an intertwined network of objects (sensors, irrigators, pumps) interacting together to provide optimal efficiency and predictability.

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The remainder of this article is written by Matthew. Access the full original article here.

The key is to deploy sensors

The key is to deploy sensors to support the regulation of water during times of low rainfall and heat. Smart irrigation done through IoT determines the soil moisture content and thereby, the irrigation requirements at any place of land through sensors. These sensors will then activate sprinklers, to bring in the exact amount of water required to the zone.

Such systems are already in place in California, another region in the world that’s notorious for its droughts. Farm owner Kurt Bantle has stated that due to the precision of the readings from his radio sensors of the soil’s moisture content, there are zones on his lands where crops can go as much as 10 days without water.

This is another challenge for farmers, where without the knowledge of exactly how much water is needed, and the inability to risk underwatering plants, they often water well beyond the requirement.

Beyond the accuracy of water needed, and the minimisation of water waste, self-operating, and monitoring systems reduce the worry and the concern of the farmer, putting his mind at ease. Irrigation, the most important component of farming is now automated and simplified. And since crops are consistently and accurately watered, the health of the crop is better managed, producing higher crop yields.

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Of course, there are challenges to irrigation IoT, and this revolves mainly around the availability of connectivity. Cost is still a huge factor and most IoT deployments in irrigation are still confined to urban/sub-urban areas such as that of a golf course making them largely inaccessible for farmers.

Looking into ways to simplify and scale down the cost of IoT connectivity could prove to be immensely beneficial for the average farmer. One of the main drivers in their decision making process is the availability of proper low cost, low power communication systems that will allow the proliferation of cheap data points that are the real game changer in predictions, forecasts and insight into farming.

Low cost, low power communication is key

Protocols such as LoRa are set up to finally solve this, allowing the connection of as many devices necessary to the Internet at very low cost, in big area, lasting years in the field.

The challenge though is that this type of technology always requires an internet connection to work, and as most agricultural land is uncovered by mobile networks, extracting data remotely is impossible with traditional technologies. Satellite-based approaches are the only option and the market is providing more and more solutions that don’t require a master’s degree to be installed, or a massive investment to get going.

This stands to be a benefit for irrigation systems on farmlands but IoT sensors data must be combined with meteorological insight. Darryl Lyons from Skynet Group has spent most of his life on a cattle station in Queensland:

Paddock level weather data provides the climatic conditions to calculate evapotranspiration rate which can then be combined with soil moisture data to optimise the use of irrigation.  The next level is combining plants sensors such as dendrometers to show when the plant is drawing moisture from the soil. All of these sensors can then automatically trigger IoT-enabled pumps and valves to optimise irrigation for precisely where and when the crop requires it. This is the future of yield optimisation and best use of water resources whilst Australia adjusts to changing conditions over the next decades.”

To conclude, the underlying message is simple and clear. Climate change has already affected agriculture and irrigation on a near-disastrous scale.

The many different ways that technology can help farmers with the problems they face from global warming and infrequent rain falls only goes to show that technology can and will be a powerful way to overcome the challenges created by climate change.

Talk to Fleet about connecting farms to save water

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The original article in full by Matthew Pearson can be found here.