New partnership highlights on-farm sensors

June 5, 2021 By

FARM SENSOR technology is the focus of the latest digital farm pilot project from SmartRural.

A subsidiary of co-op umbrella organisation, SAOS, the SmartRural project aims to demonstrate how readily available, cost-effective, digital tools can gather and use data from around even the most remote farms, to inform decision making, manage risk, and improve operations and outcomes.

Its proprietary LoRaWAN network is a radio communication system which receives data from simple, battery-powered sensors up to 15km away, through a base station installed on a farm building. The data is then fed back through the internet to where it can be used by software to help farmers make more informed decisions in a wide variety of ways.

The project sensors will monitor rainfall, river levels, soil temperature and moisture, PV battery bank condition, temperature and humidity in farm buildings, and the location of cattle and farm machinery. The data is received through a dedicated smartphone app, or a simple desktop dashboard, and can easily be shared with others, such as agronomists, as required.

NFU Mutual’s AgriTech specialist, Charlie Yorke, said: “As Scotland’s leading rural insurer, partnering with SmartRural is part of our work to support farmers in their understanding and use of technology to make farming more sustainable, profitable and safe. AgriTech is playing an increasingly important role in the future of farming, but connectivity continues to be a major barrier to innovation. We’re excited to be part of this project which promises to provide a greater insight into the effectiveness of LoRaWAN sensor technologies in supporting on-farm decision making.”

Paul Lindop of SmartRural explained: “Most sensors are low cost and have battery life that can range from two to ten years. This eliminates the need to replace or recharge batteries on a regular basis, meaning that sensors are essentially ‘fit and forget’. Once a base station is installed, the incremental costs of adding new sensors is minimal. Thresholds are set for each sensor, beyond which the farmer will receive an alert via the smartphone app that action is required.

“We’re delighted to be working in partnership with Aird Farming Group and NFU Mutual to deliver this pilot. LoRaWAN technology is a potential game changer in providing usable information on family farms across the UK, regardless of size or location.

“The range of sensors available is growing by the day and these offer a cost-effective solution for capturing meaningful data and allowing farmers to make informed decisions at the right time. Under ideal conditions, coverage can extend for many miles and each base station can communicate with thousands of installed sensors.”

Paul continued: “The whole SmartRural initiative is driven by Use Cases to relieve ‘pain points’ within the farming business, such as eliminating many ‘just in case’ checks that can take up so much of a working day. For example, fitting a water trough in a remote field with a simple sensor would identify if the water level is where it ought to be, rather than too low or overflowing. Likewise, a soil temperature and humidity sensor can be used to determine the optimal time for planting of crops or the application of fertiliser.”

The pilot will be hosted on Balgay Farm, a mixed arable and stock farm of 1,000 acres in the Carse of Gowrie, part of the Aird Farming Group. Iain Graham, the group’s owner, added: “Aird Farming Group and Balgay are delighted to involved in this project. We are not only looking forward to measuring the efficiency improvements, but also the improvements to the quality of life of the people working on the farm.”