The Internet of things: Is that even a 'thing'?

By Gabrielle Stannus


To find out how growers can benefit from new technologies arising from the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, we spoke with Sonja Cameron from Cameron’s Nursery about her experience using the Internet of Things (IoT).

The Fourth Industrial Revolution
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a term coined by Klaus Schwab from the World Economic Forum, refers to the oncoming revolutionary era in which information and communication technology (ICT) will converge. Jehung Sung, from South Korea’s Rural Development Administration, says that this revolution will spark new technological innovations in six key areas: artificial intelligence, robotics, unmanned vehicles, three-dimensional printing, nanotechnology and the Internet of Things 1 .

Put simply, the Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. Technological advances in this online connectivity are resulting in more accurate observations, measurements, and responses to inter and intra-field variability in agriculture and horticultural operations1. The IoT can help measure the temperature, humidity, and amount of sunlight in production nurseries, making it possible for remote control via mobile devices.

Cameron’s Nursery
As an early adopter of IoT technology, Sonja Cameron from Cameron’s Nursery was invited to share her knowledge and experience at the ANZ Smart Farms and Agtech Forum in Sydney this month. This conference addressed the future of farming in the face of the 4IR, focussing on precision agriculture, big data and robotics. Sonja says that 4IR technologies may provide many benefits to the horticultural industry, including increased efficiency, increased yields, real time data (and therefore knowledge), reduced owner/manager workloads, reduced transportation and communication costs, and improved sustainability outcomes.

Operating more sustainably and minimising the environmental impact of their business is of importance to Sonja and her husband Andy. Cameron’s Nursery is located in the Hills District of NSW and supplies the retail sector, chain stores and landscape trade. The business started in 1992, before moving to a larger site in 2000. At that time, Sonja and Andy developed a whole farm plan, recognising the importance of the Nursery Industry Accreditation Scheme (NIASA) and EcoHort accreditation . They completed an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) as this helped them to identify and prioritise initiatives to minimise risk and create future business opportunities.

Sonja highlights the significance of these environmental strategies: “Our property has seven rural private, agricultural and small businesses surrounding the nursery. We are conscious of our risks from our business to impact on the local environment and water quality downstream. As a result of implementing our environmental management plan we have been able to significantly decrease the amount of water and reduce electricity used within the business”.

To assist with environmental compliance and risk management, Cameron’s Nursery has installed IoT technology. Sonja and Andy now use smart wireless sensors to ensure crop health and reduce plant losses. Their smart system monitors soil, water quality, water storage and environmental parameters. Automated readings minimise human error, influencing manual water quality and storage readings with more frequent readings, greatly improve reading reliability, providing valuable insight into daily, weekly and monthly water quality trends.


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“We use Agnov8’s range of sensors called Omne. We monitor water (dam, recycled and tanks), greenhouse environment, soil moisture and weather. This gives us visibility 24/7 whether we are on or off farm in our greenhouses, (as we receive) pot moisture, water parameters, weather and tank level data via a Wi-Fi network. Results from these devices can be viewed on any smart device or PC. These devices have improved crop yields and reduced losses by monitoring environmental parameters across the farm”, says Sonja.



IoT benefits to nursery businesses
The speed of technological breakthroughs to improve infrastructure associated with the IoT remains slow. More work needs to be done to improve the fifth-generation (5G) communication network, Internet network infrastructure, and cloud service systems before horticultural businesses rapidly increase their uptake of this technology, especially in rural areas.


Whilst acknowledging its current limitations, Sonja says that by using IoT technology, wholesale nurseries like Cameron’s can make more-informed decisions earlier in the production process. Sonja says that this ability to make more timely interventions may help other nurseries to:

  • Improve their crop yields and management,
  • Reduce crop losses,
  • Save on water, chemical and fertiliser applications,
  • Improve their environmental management,
  • Reduce on-site risks,
  • Spend more time away from the nursery, and
  • Reduce labour costs.

A good ‘thing’ after all!
It seems that this Internet of Things may actually be a (good) thing after all! So, what are you waiting for? Jump online now to find an IoT solution to meet your business needs. Or stay tuned as NGIA bring you more IoT case studies to help you revolutionise the way you do business.

References

1. Sung, J 2018, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Precision Agriculture’, Automation in Agriculture - Securing Food Supplies for Future Generations, IntechOpen, Chapter 1, pp.3-5, viewed 17 December 2018, https://www.intechopen.com/books/automation-in-agriculture-securing-food-supplies-for-future-generations/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-and-precision-agriculture