Q&A: Bringing the Internet of Things to agriculture

The Internet of Things, combined with a universal dashboard to access and understand the data, will help farmers make decisions about their farm, saving them time and increasing productivity. 

Glas Data and Ver Facil have formed a strategic partnership to bring the Internet of Things (IoT) to agriculture. Ver Facil specialises in installing IoT sensors and Glas Data has developed an online platform, GlasCore, which brings the data the sensors gather into one easy to understand dashboard.

At a recent webinar, Colin Phillipson and Rob Sanders the co-founders of Glas Data, along with Rob Cartwright of Ver Facil explained the technology and the benefits that it can bring to farmers and food producers. Here are some of the webinar’s highlights.

What is the Internet of Things?

Often shortened to IoT, the Internet of Things is a network of objects which can collect and exchange data and connect to the internet. 

The Internet of Things is growing rapidly. In 2018 there were 7 billion devices worldwide connected to the internet. By 2019 that number had grown to 27 billion. And the growth looks set to continue, with 127 devices connected to the internet every second.

What type of data can sensors collect on a farm?

For farming and food production businesses sensors can be used to collect a wide variety of data. Ver Facil has configured 60 different sensors for use with the GlasCore dashboard, with more in development. Just some examples include collecting weather data, monitoring animal health, tracking the temperature of cold storage units, checking for water leaks and monitoring waste water levels.

What are the best type of IoT sensors for agricultural use?

There are several services which can transmit data from objects to the internet. This includes Local Area Networks and GSM Mobile Networks. However, LoRaWAN sensors have a number of advantages over these other services, particularly for use in agriculture. 

The clue to this is in their name which stands for Long Range Wide Area Network. This means their signal reaches a long way and don’t require much power. They are low cost, easy to position, only require low data rates and have high capacity.

LoRaWAN sensors have a long battery life of up to 20 years and a very wide range of 20 miles or more. This makes them the best option for agriculture and food production applications.

How can the Internet of Things benefit a farm or food production business?

There are three main benefits for farmers and food producers who adopt IoT technology:

  1. Increased automation. Completing mundane tasks could be a thing of the past, if data is being collected automatically for you. This will allow you to focus your time – and your staff’s time – on the things that really matter to make your business as productive as it can be.
  2. Real time monitoring and alerts. This will result in cost savings. Information will be coming in all the time, directly to your phone or desktop. This will enable you to react quickly to any alerts and take mitigating action that could save you significant costs, before small issues become a serious problem.
  3. Greater productivity. Monitoring, recording and controlling processes will make your business more efficient and allow you to get more from your resources.

How is data collected from IoT sensors around a farm?

The data from IoT sensors is transmitted to the GlasCore dashboard through a central hub, or gateway, which is usually a single LoRaWAN antennae. The gateway antennae is installed on a building with electricity and internet connection. A tall building is a good choice for the gateway, to ensure that the range is as large as possible.

For indoor sensors – such as in a hen house – a small router can be installed, which is similar in size to a standard domestic broadband router and takes just five minutes to install. 

Where there is no power or internet connection available, completely autonomous solar powered units can be used. An example is a mobile weather station, which can be positioned anywhere on a farm.

Ver Facil is developing a small gateway for a tractor, which could collect data from sensors installed on mobile production units used for harvesting and picking operations.

How does a farmer or food producer access the data gathered by the sensors?

One of the challenges of gathering so much data is how to avoid becoming overwhelmed with the amount of data. To solve this problem Glas Data has developed a dashboard called GlasCore to pull together all of the data collected on a farm. It can be set up for each farm’s individual requirements.

What data can be displayed on the GlasCore dashboard?

GlasCore can display a range of data, from three main pillars:

  1. Relational/tabular data: this includes any information held in Excel that a farmer may find useful such as lab test results, or data they may have been manually collecting.
  2. Real time machine data: this is the data gathered by LoRaWAN IoT sensors from around the farm.
  3. Geospatial and temporal (time stamped) data – GlasCore allows data to be tracked over time, but also over space. For example data can be pinpointed to a particular area of the farm on a map, which can allow comparisons between different locations. The system allows information like Rural Payment Agency field boundaries to be imported.

The advantage of bringing all of this data together into one place is that it gives a holistic picture of how your business is performing. It also saves a lot of time as you can find it all in one place, rather than referring to lots of different apps or documents.

What are the advantages of viewing data on one dashboard?

When all of the relevant data is available in one easy to use dashboard which can be viewed on desktop or on the go via a mobile, the farmer can easily detect trends and spot ways to improve productivity. It can also allow the farmer to react quickly to any issues, as the dashboard can be set up to provide real time alerts on issues like water leaks. The GlasCore dashboard can be adapted to each business and track the data that is important to that business.