Challenges with implementing sensor technology on farm


Current and emerging technologies in agriculture have been flagged to potentially transform the industry not only so that production demands can be met but also for meeting consumer expectations around agriculture’s environmental footprint and the safety/traceability of food production. Within the grains industry certain technologies like GPS guidance have been readily adopted, whilst others for example, on-farm sensors and remote monitoring have only now just started to be more broadly implemented.

The lack of mobile or internet coverage that places regions into ‘digital darkness’ has been identified as one of the biggest barriers to adoption. This is now, however, becoming increasing less of a hurdle with a range of options available to bring connectivity to farms including: Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN), Nanosatellites and Wireless mesh/On-Farm WiFi. For information about connectivity options and interpreting the lingo KPMG’s Agri 4.0 – Connectivity at our fingertips is a useful resource.

Here at BCG we have been trialling a pilot program to improve on farm connectivity and increase adoption of AgTech products that provide value to farm businesses. We have developed a network of 55 weather stations and 50 soil probes using the Low Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN). This has added to our existing 45 weather stations on the taggle system which utilises the GWM water tower network.

From our experience we have found implementing sensor technology on farms currently brings with it a range of challenges. The growers involved in this program have been building capability and getting a good understanding of the limitations of the systems. In the future it is hoped that this will this become more streamline and transparent as more of this technology is adopted and trialled on-farms but until then there are some key areas to focus on when installing sensors to achieve a positive outcome. 

Here are my Top 10 Tips for Installing Sensor Technology on Farms

  • Know what you would like to measure & where
  • Do your homework – which connectivity options are best suited? Will extra equipment be required? Evaluate the different senor brands
  • Select a system that will meet YOUR NEEDS and has the capacity to grow as your needs change
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions & seek clarification of how the technology works (understanding the technologies limitations is key to avoiding disappointment)
  • Plan, Plan, Plan! (including testing if you can)
  • Work with a company that will provide you with the necessary support you need, including on the ground local support (currently a skills shortage in this space of understanding the complexities in an agricultural situation)
  • A sensor network is not a one size fits all
  • LoRaWAN networks have their fit especially for sensors BUT they have limited range, need direct line of sight and can only send small data packets
  • If any of the above are going to be an issue, then then another solution may suit your situation better or a combination of both
  • Give it a go, have some patience, and you will be rewarded with being able to make more informed decisions like adjusting nitrogen recommendations or seeing where the moisture in the soil is tracking heading into a potentially dry spring.

Once sensors are installed and working the next area for concern is often how to access the information being collected, particularly if running different systems and brands as you may not necessarily be able to view all your sensors information in the one space. This is what DataFarmer is offering for the weather station and soil moisture probe network as the various systems that growers may be running are all able to be linked to the one online platform.

What we can do with the information that is being collected in this space is continuing to evolve as more technology becomes available and sensor networks are developed. Currently, we are trialling weather forecast integrations on DataFarmer with a company called DTN. The aim is to use localised weather information (from the grower’s own weather stations) and feed this into the worldwide models to provide a more tailored and localised weather forecast.

For more information about BCG’s pilot program please contact Project Officer Kate Finger on [email protected] or 0448 832 353

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