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LoRa Solution Offers Wireless View Into Soil Health

A handful of growers and other food companies are piloting a wireless sensor system from Teralytic that uses Semtech LoRaWAN chips built into sensor probes to capture and interpret data about a farm's soil conditions, including temperature, moisture and fertilizer levels.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 09, 2018

Soil sensor technology company Teralytic is leveraging long-range wide-area network (LoRaWAN) sensors to provide growers, food companies and consumers with a view into the health of soil—and, subsequently, the crop growing in that soil—as part of a wireless solution. Since the probe was released this year, dozens of firms have been piloting the technology, with hundreds more currently in conversations with Teralytic.

The system, using LoRa radio chips provided by semiconductor company Semtech Corp., consists of a single probe with 26 built-in sensors that can capture, measure and report on soil moisture, salinity (the presence of salt), aeriation, respiration, pH and temperature at three different depths. The system also measures surface conditions, such as temperature, light and air humidity, and can detect the level of nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, to give farmers an indication of how much fertilizer or other soil additives they need to add.

Throughout the past half-century, farmers have typically taken manual yearly soil samples to obtain a snapshot of their soil's health, says Steven Ridder, Teralytic's CEO and founder. With his company's solution, he explains, "This is the first time that technology allows growers to get visibility into the health of their soil [wirelessly] in 15-minute intervals."

Teralytic's Steven Ridder
Teralytic, founded in 2016, maintains offices in New York City and at the UC Berkeley Nanofabrication lab, and undertakes pilots of its wireless solution at a handful of sites around the world. The deployment rate is expected to scale up rapidly, Ridder says, with food brands, farmers, universities and government agencies now in discussions with the technology company to launch deployments. The Teralytic probe is shipped worldwide.

At the center of the solution is a LoRaWAN wireless network connection, operating at 868 MHz in Europe or 915 MHz in North America, to transmit soil-measurement data. The system includes cloud-based software that interprets that data and shares it with systems integrators, solution providers and end users. The goal, Ridder says, is to save resources for farmers—for example, by eliminating excess watering—and to enable quick decision-making based on measurement data, ultimately leading to higher crop yields. With climate change in mind, the system is designed to reduce waste and prevent agricultural runoff.

The probes perform sensor measurements at three levels: 6 inches below the surface, as well as at depths of 18 inches and 36 inches. That enables data capture regarding near-surface conditions, along with nutrient and water levels below the surface, where crop roots grow. They also allow growers to determine whether nutrients are leaching too deeply in the ground where they are of no use to plants. The sensors utilize the LoRa system to transmit information to a gateway, which forwards that data to the cloud via cellular or Ethernet connectivity, or via a satellite-enabled gateway, explains Patrick van Ejk, Semtech's IoT solutions director.

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