LoRa-based IoT service helps farm co-ops cultivate more land

LoRa-based sensors detect farm power grid breakdowns to help cost-effectively manage repairs with minimal staff

Farming is difficult. Farming outside the power grid is close to impossible.

For many electric utilities, it’s hard to justify the investment needed to extend the power grid to remote farms. Cellular providers also prefer to build cell towers where there are many customers. On top of that, farmers have little purchasing power individually, making it hard for them to negotiate power and coverage from large utilities and cellular providers.

The power of cooperatives

Farmers strengthen their bargaining power by forming cooperatives. This enables them to negotiate for more services and better prices. Cooperatives are businesses-owned and controlled by the people who use them—not shareholders. There are nearly 3,000 farmer cooperatives in the U.S. owned by a million farmers and ranchers.

Farming co-operatives bundle their members' need for electricity to negotiate for power from their utility. Often the co-op will build and operate the power lines to its members’ farms. This works better for electric utilities, as they get new business without having to extend their power grid.

Keeping the power on

Making sure the power supply isn’t interrupted is essential, as a single power outage can damage crops if irrigation pumps stop working. IoT helps meet the challenge by monitoring the power grid, which often spans hundreds of acres. For that system to work, it must communicate the sensor data and alert the maintenance staff. The biggest challenge with remote farms is communicating sensor data collected from power sensors on the electric poles.

Cell coverage gaps over remote farms

Cell coverage over remote farming areas is often spotty, so an alternative communication channel is needed for the sensor data. The solution has to be:

  1. Low cost, so it can be mounted on dozens of electric poles
  2. Rugged to withstand harsh weather conditions
  3. Easy to install and not require much configuration
  4. Able to run independent of electricity and not require new batteries for years
  5. Able to transmit sensor data (power outage alerts) over long distances

LoRaWAN—The right tool for the job

LoRaWAN is a low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) that’s ideal for these needs. It works over 915-, 868- and 433-MHz ISM bands available throughout the world. LoRa gets its name from its ability to provide "Long Range" communications using very low power levels.

Communication between edge devices and LoRa gateways is spread across different frequency channels, depending on the communication range and message duration. Each device transmits at different data rates and frequencies to maximize the battery life and overall network capacity. An edge device that costs under $25 can last up to 10 years on a single AA battery and transmit over 12 miles in a clear area.

Senet provides a LPWAN-based IoT connectivity platform across more than 100,000 square miles of North America. Edge devices use sensors integrated with radio frequency (RF) modem chips from vendors such as Multitech to communicate with a Senet network. Verivolt and Magnelab provide sensors that detect current flow and can signal when there is a breakdown.

LoRa based current sensors detect powerline breaks for farmers on cooperative

Readings from the edge devices are transmitted wirelessly to a Senet Gateway, which then forwards them to an IoT platform via standard IP connections. In this use case, a sensor would detect a power outage and transmit the data to the Senet Gateway, which would then send the data to an IoT platform. A service request would be issued to the maintenance engineer to fix the broken power line.

"Senet has been aggressively addressing network coverage and growth and working with our partners to bring their LoRa solutions to market quickly,” said Dave Kjendal, chief technology officer and vice president of engineering at Senet. LPWANs "are gaining traction and may soon address over half of the total IoT connectivity market.”

Farming is still hard, but innovative new LoRa-based IoT approaches are helping farming cooperatives grow more food. 


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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.