Fresno County grower quantifies IoT ag tech benefit

18 February 2018 by Steve Blum
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An agricultural technology experiment is underway in Reedley, in Fresno County. Fybr, a low power wireless networking company, is working with DaCapo Agricultural Corporation to determine whether Internet of things (IoT) enabled soil and temperature sensors and irrigation controls produce a real benefit, and if so, how much. So far, the answer is yes and significantly.

Fybr installed water, moisture and temperature sensors at different depths in the ground and temperature sensors in the canopy of a dozen plum and grape orchards, and flow monitors and valves in irrigation pipes. Those were linked back to an Alexa-enabled, voice activated control system via Fybr’s low power, low bit rate wireless network. It’s based on the LoRa standard and uses Semtech chips, but Fybr made its own, proprietary modifications to reduce the amount of energy consumed – the target is ten years between battery changes.

This system allowed them to do two things: determine how much water was being wasted due to saturated soil or because it was simply percolating beyond the reach of the roots, and control the temperature of the trees and vines by spraying water to cool them down or prevent freezing.

The full results won’t be ready until after the current growing season, but a comparison of preliminary data with adjacent control blocks indicates that the level of overwatering had been in 30% to 40% range. Heat-related losses during harvesting dropped from $2 million two years ago to zero this year. It appears that granular temperature control mitigated a risk factor that averages about 20% of value per year.

Smart city infrastructure, and not ag tech, is Fybr’s main line of business. The company says it has smart parking systems deployed in a handful of U.S. cities (and one in India), including San Francisco, and is expanding its range of urban applications to include water/waste water system and environmental monitoring.