Why is LoRa an optimal choice for on farm connectivity?
Firstly, what is LoRa? To best describe LoRa, I like to use the analogy of WiFi. They are both radio technologies. However, where WiFi generally has an unboosted range of a few hundred metres, LoRa has a stated range of around 15 kilometres. In fact, on several of PLF’s projects, we have experienced connectivity with sensor devices at over 25 kilometres.
An example of that was when cattle damaged the cellular antenna on a temporarily unprotected gateway on a property in the Central Highlands in Queensland, devices on the property started communicating with the gateway on another property owned by the same company, over 25 kilometres away. That means that with a gateway antenna located at a highpoint and using 25 kilometres as an example of unimpeded circular range, the network could technically cover an area of over 200,000 hectares, or 500,000 acres. That’s a pretty substantial area, and in a number of cases, we have also been able to provide connectivity to multiple properties of the same owner, utilising a single LoRa gateway.
Another aspect of a LoRa network, is that a single gateway can manage data collection from literally hundreds of devices and a multiplicity of functions, while being the sole point of backhaul for the entire network. In the case of NB-IoT and Satellite, each device must provide its own backhaul, meaning that every time each device sends data, there is a cost per packet. Comparatively, LoRa can send data more often and from more devices, at a much-reduced cost.
Livestock Water Management
While there is considerable focus on providing water tank levels, on their own, tank levels don’t indicate the level of water at the troughs, and monitoring the water level of troughs is somewhat problematical and expensive. Typically, there are so many troughs and many are located in remote areas. However, by measuring the daily volume and hourly flow of water from the source (ie. bore, or dam), or downstream from a reservoir tank, the farmer has a 3D view of the water system.
If the water source is doing its job, tank levels shouldn’t change all that much. But by measuring the volume of flow, we can see how much water is flowing through the tank to the recipient troughs, and working on the estimated daily water requirement of the livestock numbers drinking from those troughs, optimal stocking can be monitored.
Another benefit of including flow in a water management system is leak identification. Utilising the hourly flow rate (as shown in the dashboard below), if there is a constant flow over an extended period, particularly during times when stock generally don’t drink (ie. throughout the night), it would notify of a leak and indicate where.
Irrigation Water ManagementIn the case of irrigated cropping, a water flow meter not only provides accurate, measurable and recordable information as to the volume of water used across the property in near real-time, it can also indicate a possible operational issue.
During a project PLF undertook in conjunction with the Central Highlands Cotton Growers Association, an issue with a return pump was identified. The typical flow rate of that particular pump was around 450,000 litres per hour. However, over a couple of days that had reduced to just over 300,000 litres per hour. On inspection, the farmer noticed a loose belt, which was replaced. At the same time, he decided to undertake a more detailed service. The result of which has seen the flow rate increased to almost 470,000 litres per hour.
As well as the potential water saving benefit from being able to measure the volume of water utilised, significant additional benefit can be derived using soil probes. The unit we prefer is the Sentek triscan probe, which reports on soil moisture content, temperature and salinity every 10 centimetres (cm) to depths of 60cm, 90cm, or 120cm.
Utilising these devices, the farmer is able to gauge moisture retention over a period of time, at various depths, after either an irrigation or rainfall event. The information gathered can provide valuable indication of what crop to plant, when to plant and how to best manage growth in order to achieve optimal yield.
A team of agronomists at AMPS AgriBusiness in Moree use the same Sentek triscan probes. However, up until now have had to be onsite in order to read the data from each probe using an App. With their clients utilising PLF’s system, they will soon be able to monitor that information in their office and as a result, work more closely with their clients to identify what needs to be done, by when and by whom. This will mean better time management for the agronomists and cost savings for the clients.