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How to select IoT devices for use in your business..

Joel Andrew, MapIQ

Over the last 6 months, a network of Internet of Things (IoT) rain gauge, frost sensor and weather station devices have been installed across MADFIG members properties as part of the eConnected Grainbelt DecisionAg Grant Program.

A total of 58 devices have been installed (Figure 1) which covers a large area of the MADFIG member farming footprint. These devices automatically capture weather information and send it to an on-line platform where it is viewed either on the computer in the office or via an app on the mobile phone or tablet.

These devices have been used by participating growers to make better informed operational decisions around Fire Danger Risk during harvest, optimal spraying (Delta T, wind speed and direction) conditions for summer spraying and automated rainfall record keeping during the recent thunder storms.  

The feedback from growers has been very positive. The IoT devices have saved them time and money as well as the benefit of now being able to make more informed and therefore better management decisions.

Figure 1. Digital Rain Gauge Network of MADFIG members

Two examples of this were provided by growers; with the first saying that rainfall gauges across multiple properties that previously needed to be checked manually which meant making a 120km round trip could now be checked each morning in 5 mins from the office. Another example involved a grower using Delta T data from their own weather station to assess when to stop summer spraying operations for the day instead of using a more distant station that didn’t represent their local conditions accurately.

Figure 2. Example of the Wildeye Dashboard

Choosing IoT devices for use in your business

Growers in the Merredin area that would like to participate in this IoT device network can do so if they are MADFIG members and pay for the additional hardware and connection costs. The following guidelines can be followed to help growers decide which devices are best for them.

IoT Device Selection Guide

Following the steps below can help you decide which IoT devices are right for use in your farming business.

Step One: Decide which types of data you will need to make better operational decisions.

Rainfall data is the easiest to collect and is recorded by all device types. As rainfall data is used for many decisions in the farming business it can also be the most useful data to have access to throughout the year.

Frost sensor information can be recorded in addition to rainfall on some devices and will provide information on minimum temperatures throughout the year though this will be most useful when assessing the likelihood of damage in the case of a spring frost event

Weather stations automatically record much more data than the other devices and include information on wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity in addition to rainfall. This data can therefore be useful at different times of the year for the various farming operations throughout the season (summer spray, seeding, post emergent spraying and harvest etc.)

Once you decide which data types you might require you can assess the cost of each device.

Step Two: Decide if the advantage of automating the collection of the data provides value to your business.

The advantage of investing in an IoT device will depend on how often you use the data and if the information provided can translate into better decisions that make or save you money. Using the previous examples you can see that that having a rain gauge saves the both time and money in the case of the rainfall records in example one. The larger benefit may come in example two where summer spraying can become both more efficient and effective as using the weather station information allows for the maximum amount of spraying time within the ideal conditions for spraying.

The advantage of using IoT devices will need to be assessed for the specific needs within your business. The cost of the devices used in the MADFIG network are below and could be used to consider if the advantages of the information provided offsets the investment.

Table 1: Cost of hardware used in MADFIG network

Hardware TypeItem
Cost
Rain Gauge$750
Rain Gauge + Frost Sensor$850
Weather Station
(inc. rain gauge)
$2,475

Step Three: Determine the best location for each device

Locating the IoT device in an appropriate area will determine how useful the data collected will be and what type of device is most suitable. Factors that will influence the device location may include the distance of the location from your home farm, the position in the landscape and the 3G/4G cellular network strength at that location.

Generally, growers with properties spread over a large geographical area may benefit from automating data collection. While manual devices need to be visited to record the data, automated IoT device will make the information available potentially saving a trip just to check the rain gauge or weather conditions at that farm.

It is advised that all IoT devices are located in a large clear area, away from obstructions (trees, shed etc.) that will interfere with accurate rainfall collection. Wind speed and direction will also be impacted by these objects, while frost sensors are most useful if located in low lying areas where frost is likely to occur.

Making sure that the final location of the rain gauge or weather station has enough phone signal to transfer the collected data to the internet cloud will also determine location. Checking the signal strength during and after install is important as low signal strength can quickly drain a device battery.

Step Four: Assess the data platform and supplier of the device

Finally, the collection of data is only as good as the way that it is made available and displayed and makes the data platform important.

All providers of IoT devices will have their own data visualisation platform which can be accessed on the office computer though more suppliers are providing apps so that the data can be viewed on mobile devices.

The MADFIG IoT Network devices are available on both PC and mobile devices which is essential for accessing the information away from the office and in the paddock.

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