Agriculture in the digital age
Digitalization is also becoming an increasingly important part of agriculture. On-farm processes are to be made more efficient and simpler by means of intelligent systems: Robots are to learn where to weed and scatter seeds, feed dispensing is controlled by a tablet or smartphone, and remote-controlled agricultural drones are to help with maintenance. In the meantime, machines take over some of the tasks of farmers and thus help to run the farm as efficiently as possible.
Smart Farming means intelligent communication and networking of devices, machines, and systems. The collection of data is the basis for forecasts and decision-making tools to optimize agricultural processes. If the infrastructure is in place, there is nothing to prevent optimization through digitalization and many large companies are already so well networked that the human workforce is increasingly being pushed into the background or is only needed for control activities. But what alternatives are there for rural areas with its farms that have hardly any access to the mobile network to implement smart farming projects?
The Power of LPWAN in Smart Farming
It is clear that a farmer cannot digitize his farm if he does not have access to the network. The mobile network is not yet developed to such an extent that it could be easily used everywhere to implement a smart farming project. Moreover, it is not necessarily in the interest of mobile network operators to cover rural areas with a mobile network. This is because it involves high initial investments, which are unlikely to pay off.
A simple solution to this problem provides LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network). Digital messages are transported via this network relatively free from interference and energy-efficiently over long distances. LPWAN technologies are inexpensive, reliable, and economical in both installation and operation. The technology is generally suitable for applications that require large ranges at low acquisition and operating costs, manage small amounts of data, and are not very time critical. Perfect for agricultural areas such as pastures, where you only have a limited view, and which are sometimes inaccessible.
Smart Farming on farms in the countryside
Smart farming not only helps large farms to become more productive and competitive, but also smaller family farms can benefit from the technologies. And not only in terms of efficient management, but also in terms of personnel. As fewer and fewer workers can imagine working on a farm in the countryside, smart technologies can fill this vacancy.
Smart Farming focuses primarily on collecting, evaluating, and reacting to data. Among other things, the technology is responsible for monitoring farm animals, fields, and environmental influences, which is a key optimization factor for a farm with large pasture areas. Sensors collect data at the previously defined locations on the farm and send it via LPWAN to a server, which is either hosted in a data center (cloud) or operated in one’s own house (on-premise). Subsequently, the data is processed and the relevant information is displayed with an attractive interface in a browser application or via an app on the smartphone. In addition, further processes can be automated by the information obtained directly triggering actions. Which concepts for smart farming are there, for example, on a horse farm in rural areas?
Save time and manpower with sensor monitoring
Pasture fence monitoring
The pasture fence, which sometimes surrounds several hectares of pasture land, is affected by various influences that can lead to disturbances in the farm. For example, bad weather, vegetation with bushes and trees, or the animals themselves can contribute to the fact that the fence no longer conducts electricity and the animals break out. To avoid this, the fence is monitored with the help of a meadow fence meter.
As soon as the fence falls below a predefined voltage, a warning is sent by e-mail to the farmer, who can then check the fence and his livestock in a targeted manner. The information on the voltage values of the fence is carried out at a fixed measuring interval (e. g. every 10 minutes) to provide a timely level of information while still saving power.
The gates are also a potential safety hazard for efficient operation. With long distances on the pastures and a poorly visible area, it is essential to resort to technology. Monitoring makes it possible, for example, to digitally display the states “closed, open and too long open” of the gates of the entire riding stable. Sensors attached to the gates post determine the status of the gates and send the information to the server via LPWAN.
Using a browser application, the farmer can view the current state of the gates – displayed as traffic lights. If a gate is open for too long, so that it is unlikely that only one person has entered or left the pasture, an additional warning message will be sent by e-mail. These measurements are also carried out in a pre-defined interval, so that a prompt reaction can be made while still working in an energy-efficient manner.
Watering of troughs in the pasture
Watering the troughs in the pasture is an enormous workload for farmers, who carry out all the work steps manually, especially in hot summer months. In this manner, a technical solution leads also to a much more efficient way of working. Ultrasonic sensors can be used to check the water levels of the water tanks and troughs. The sensors are operated autonomously by rechargeable batteries. If the sensor of a trough in the pasture measures a level that is too low, the filling from the water tank is triggered by a motor valve. The farmer does not therefore have to work with watering the animals until the water level of the water tank is too low and he has to take care of its filling.
The data collected from the sensors is transmitted to the server via LPWAN and displayed to the farmer via browser application. In a pie chart, the farmer can see at a glance how many litres are left in the water troughs and tanks. These filling levels can also be used to derive how much water the animals consume per month, for example, or when the next water tank is to be filled. This information allows farmers to plan their next steps in advance.
Efficient planning with data collection
Without a technical solution, several times a day the farmer would check on the spot to see if everything is in order, if all the animals are in the pasture and if they have enough to drink. Since this takes up a lot of unnecessary time, digitalization helps to run operations more efficiently. With the help of the information obtained, the farmer is able to plan his route and work steps in advance, e. g. in which order he has to approach which outdoor areas and which equipment is necessary. This creates cost and time savings, and thus room for further activities. Thanks to new technologies such as LPWAN, Smart Farming is a real alternative in daily operations even for small farms with limited financial resources and a poor infrastructure.