Spotlight on LoRaWAN; the role of LPWAN in precision agriculture

I am by no means a green fingered woman. In fact over the past 6 months I have personally killed 6 household plants (including 2 cacti - how I ask you!?). So, it was revolutionary to me to learn of the world of precision agriculture: a farming management concept based on the measurement and control of variation in crop environments.

Rather than throwing a litre of water over each plant every 2 weeks (my own approach), precision agriculture aims to tailor treatment to each square foot of land and each plant within it. Farmers can gather data about the microclimate within a field regarding soil moisture, humidity and temperature, and develop an optimised treatment plan based on this information, enabling a greater output from fewer resources.

The key stage in this process is the collection of data, which is classically done via an in-vehicle GPS receiver as a farmer drives their tractor around the field. Of course, anyone educated in IoT will know that this could be more efficiently achieved with low cost, low power sensors enabled by LPWA networks. In particular, LoRaWAN is well suited to the world of precision agriculture, and has been used in trials all across the world.

Applications for LoRa-enabled sensors range from tracking cows, tractors and other assets, to the previously mentioned optimisation of crop conditions. These sensors have great battery life, can transmit data over a wide distance (perfect for large farms), and are cheap to deploy at scale. Crucially, LoRaWAN is available today and its infrastructure is easy to install in rural areas where there may be little to no cellular or licensed spectrum coverage.

One such example of the application of LoRaWAN to agriculture is taking place now at Château Kefraya: a 68 year old vineyard based in Lebanon who sell wine in over 42 different countries. They have recently completed a proof of concept in conjunction with Libelium and Kerlink, using LoRaWAN sensors for precision viticulture to optimise their terroir.

Terroir is a concept which refers to the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype, including environmental context, farming practices and growth habitat. It is the basis for the model of wine indication and regulation, and presumes that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality upon the wine.

By improving control over their terroir, Château Kefraya can pinpoint the exact conditions required to produce the very best versions of their wine, whilst also limiting their impact on the environment. For a more in-depth look at this case study, click HERE to read my interview with Rani Azzi, Vineyard Manager and Assistant Technical Director at Château Kefraya.

It is expected that by 2050, the global population will reach over 9.5 billion, and food production must effectively double from current levels in order to feed every mouth. The success of this lies in the analysis of data to maximise efficiencies, where IoT can play a pivotal role. By leveraging LoRaWAN technology, farmers can increase profits and optimise outputs in order to feed our growing population, whilst minimising their impact on the environment.