Agriculture is forecast to be one of the key industries where the Internet of Things can make a significant contribution to Australia’s future growth and competitiveness.
The future of farming is in collecting and analysing big data in order to maximise efficiency, mitigate risk and drive productivity. Connected farmers will be able to monitor and understand a broad range of specific areas of their farm without physically checking, from soil moisture, paddock specific rainfall critical water infrastructure, track livestock movements, and remotely control irrigation and other on-farm resources. These deep insights will then provide the basis for better production prediction and analytics, along with creating new data driven finance and insurance solutions.
In mid 2017 a new joint venture was launched between Discovery Ag and the National Narrowband Network Co (NNNCo) involves the formation of a new company, Connected Country, to build and operate a nationwide Rural Internet of Things (IoT) network to bring hi-tech agriculture solutions to Australian farmers.
NNNCo, established as the Australian LoRaWAN network, is providing a commercial grade low cost narrowband network for IoT as an end-to-end scalable solution to service the whole of Australia. The company is a leading authority on LoRaWAN global standard technology, which it is implementing for key industry segments including energy, water, buildings, cities and now agriculture.
The Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) will provide the backbone infrastructure for secure, standards based shared networks of low-cost wireless sensors that constantly report on essential farm metrics like soil moisture, rainfall, crop health, water levels and livestock data. The roll out of the network started in mid 2017 and will cover 1 million acres in NSW encompassing of dry land crops, horticulture and livestock and a number of rural tows. By 2019 the joint venture partners intend to extend across vast areas of the nation’s farming regions.
The Joint Venture is the first of its kind in Australia’s emerging IoT market. Connected Country is dedicated to providing carrier grade networks to enable smarter, cheaper and more ubiquitous sensors by leveraging local innovation in conjunction with a global ecosystem of providers. The goal is to drive productivity, efficiency and risk management solutions across rural and regional Australia.
Key partners include: Cisco and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
One of the key success factors for Connected Country will be its ability to help farmers collate and analyse large amounts of data from IoT devices and signals, and then use that information to make better decisions.
Two of the biggest predictors of crop yield are soil moisture and rainfall, which can vary widely across different parts of a farm. The decisions farmers make about when and where to irrigate, what to plant in which paddock, use of chemicals and fertilisers, and when to harvest can have a huge bearing on their annual production. The new network can help them make better decisions across multiple aspects of farm management, the productivity gains will be significant.
The impact of the new network on current pricing structures will also be important, representing opportunities for farmers keen to employ new technologies to boost profitability and efficiencies, but who up until now have been deterred by price.
The network will significantly drive down the cost of connection for data communication and the cost of sensors using this technology. This will make the difference between isolated usage and widespread deployment of the sensors which will in turn provide more granular information and higher value to the industry.
LoRaWAN’s capabilities are well suited to agricultural requirements. The technology is already used in farms across in Europe and the USA and has proven to be low cost and effective. LoRaWAN-enabled sensors are available at a relatively low cost and a LoRaWAN on-farm gateway can cover large areas and connect to thousands of sensors at an affordable cost.
A key capability of LoRaWAN is the extremely low power consumption as well as the flexibility to support a wide range of use cases. For example, bi-directional communication and multicast functionality which enable farmers to communicate with sensors on an individual and group level.
Instead of simply receiving data, farmers can control key aspects of their farm such as water infrastructure, asset tracking, demand feeding and watering and emergency signalling amongst a host of other applications.
Data ownership and privacy are other important elements. Farmers need to be able to own and control their own data. Through Connected Country, the data remains in Australia and is controlled by the sensor owner – in this instance the grower. Being an open standard technology other sensor developers are encouraged to connect to and leverage the network over time. This is key because the industry will demand sensor choice and competition. Rather than being tied to a proprietary network with a silo solution, LoRaWAN will ensure they become part of an ecosystem.