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IoT Cuts Water Use, Boosts Yield for Asparagus Farm

Devine Organics saw its harvest yield almost double, even while reducing water consumption by 6 percent, based on data from a WaterBit LoRa-based system that leverages AT&T Controls' LTE network.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 09, 2018

Water is a precious commodity in California, no less so than during the past few years, when the state suffered a drought that lasted from 2012 to 2017. So farmers, whose water use accounts for 80 percent of all water consumption for businesses and residences, are challenged to tightly control their usage.

For organic farm Devine Organics, that meant pursuing Internet of Things (IoT) technology that measured water saturation in the soil, managed irrigation and thereby ensured water was never overused on its crops. The system in use, provided by precision irrigation technology company WaterBit, consists of solar-powered, LoRa-enabled sensors and uses the AT&T Controls' LTE wireless network to forward data to a hosted server.

Elvia Devine
The technology use led to a 6 percent reduction in water consumption, says Elvia Devine, the farm's CEO and founder, amounting to a reduction of more than 750,000 gallons. In addition, Devine Organics has nearly doubled its asparagus harvest yield on the field since installing the sensors, by better managing irrigation throughout the growing season. The company says it has measured the increase from 800 to 1,500 pounds per acre.

Proper irrigation is a complex science for farmers, Devine explains, that requires more than just cutting back on watering. Underwatering can reduce the ultimate crop yield, so farms like Devine's must keep their irrigation at a careful balance. Traditionally, this has meant expending manual labor to monitor the moisture level of soil, and to water that soil accordingly. To make it even more challenging, he notes, some soil retains water longer than others—one part of a field may have sandier soil, while another portion could have a high level of clay. As a result, the watering of the fields is an imperfect science. The organic farm had tried several sensor-based systems to address this issue, but they didn't provide the accuracy of data it needed to meet all of these demands.

Beginning in December 2017, the company tested the WaterBit technology on 40 acres of asparagus to ensure there was a proper amount of water in the fields, without requiring human intervention. While some technology companies require towers on which gateway devices are mounted, the WaterBit system is designed to be unobtrusive and easy to install. "We showed up with a little box," recalls Manu Pillai, WaterBit's president and co-founder, that serves as the sensor and data transmitter. The deployment consists of several such sensors planted in the soil to test moisture levels, with built-in LoRa units to transmit that data to a single gateway. The gateway then forwards that information via AT&T's LTE network.

Establishing a wireless network in a field is challenging—even more so around a crop such as asparagus, Pillai notes. Asparagus is a dense plant with a large amount of fluids in its stalks. The sensors, which are at the height of the crop itself, are still able to transmit reliably. He says they are designed so that farm machinery can be operated around them without doing any damage, and are built to operate without requiring maintenance. "Our key value is the highly reliable product," Pillai states. "The biggest complement we get is that it just works."

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