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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

"From day one," Ridder says, "we were going to build a system with Semtech technology." The LoRaWAN network it provides enables access to data across a wide space, he explains, without complex installation requirements. The solution comes with an open application programming interface (API). Organizations and companies can gain access to Teralytic's cloud-based data and package it into their own solution for growers or other companies in the food industry.

The data can be customized to meet the needs of specific crops, and that is left in the hands of the systems integrator or solution provider. For instance, strawberries have a 70-day growth cycle and may require more frequent monitoring than some other crops. Additionally, certain crops may require more location-specific data. In some cases, Ridder says, the probes are installed across a span of one to every 2 to 10 acres, while in other scenarios, they can be dispersed every 30 to 50 acres.

The farmers own all their own data. The sensor-based system could be set up to be only privately available to a farmer, or it could be made publicly available to consumers or members of a food supply chain. With the solution, farmers can use the cloud-based software to view a map of their fields, the overall "Terascore" of their soil health and a breakdown of sensor measurements, including moisture and nutrient levels. They can then see a breakdown of measurements for each sensor, accessible either on a PC or on a cellular device via an app.

With the app, a tractor driver at the field could view information about the soil at his or her location, then adjust operations accordingly. Data is collected every 15 minutes, and farmers can use the solution to receive alerts based on specific conditions, such as more water or fertilizer being required.

"We started with a pilot in California with organic strawberries," Ridder recalls, then moved into corn, alfalfa, nuts and other crops. Since Teralytic released its solution, he adds, potential end users have continued to create new use cases. That, in part, is due to companies having access to data farmers didn't have before. While they typically only had an annual view into soil health, the additional data makes it possible to strategize ways to make crops healthier and with a higher yield throughout the season.

Since consumers hold food growers and governments accountable for the environmental footprint of crops, Ridder says, soil data is becoming much more critical. For instance, some governments regulate the amount of nitrogen a farm can have in its soil, and fine those that fail to adhere to such requirements. "With this data, they can show what is happening in their fields," he says, to prove that the farm is complying with regulations.

Depending on transmission rates, the probes have a battery life of two to three years. The Teralytic probes cost about $500 each year. The lease includes all software and analytics, as well as sensor and battery replacement.

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