agroNET IoT technology transforms the fruits of farmers’ labors

 |   Microsoft IoT

Agriculture is one of civilization’s most ancient activities. But to feed a hungry world in which populations continue to grow, weather patterns constantly change and profit margins for farmers have consistently decreased, traditional ways of farming can benefit from a little modern help.

DunavNET, a Microsoft IoT partner based in Serbia, is using the Internet of Things (IoT) technology to power transformative farming solutions that generate better-quality food, higher yield and increased profits for hardworking farmers.

Enhanced crop management is crucial to farmers today because food production consumes a great deal of natural resources and faces constant threats. An estimated 70 percent of the world’s freshwater use goes toward growing crops, and up to 40 percent of crops are destroyed by weeds, diseases and insects.

To better equip food growers for success, DunavNET offers an array of smart agricultural solutions it calls agroNET. Built on Microsoft Azure IoT, agroNET serves as a digital advisor for farmers. The end-to-end system combines decades of agricultural knowledge about soil and plants with the capability, precision and ubiquity of devices that capture, process, analyze and display key data in real time. By telling farmers such things as when to irrigate, how to control diseases and where to fight pests, agroNET provides an action plan to maximize efficiency.

IoT helps with the harvest

With a decade of IoT experience, DunavNET utilizes cloud-based Azure IoT Hub technology to solve agribusiness problems. For example, last year the company was asked to help one of the largest agriculture companies in the region track its annual harvest at one of Europe’s largest apple orchards. Harvesting the fruit requires over 50,000 pallet boxes to collect and transport thousands tons of apples from the orchard to the warehouse and then on to customers. The company needed to track the location of every pallet box in real time to ensure the fruit’s optimal storage, transport and distribution.

The food producer adopted DunavNET’s boxNET solution to improve asset management and tracking and further optimize its work process. After deployment during the peak harvest season, each pallet box now sports a passive RFID tag, and a second tag per pallet will be added to increase scanning accuracy in varied conditions. Meanwhile, 22 gates (four of them mobile) around the orchard are equipped with RFID readers to track pallet movement in and out of different areas. RFID readers are connected to an IoT gateway, which is connected to Azure IoT Hub via a mix of wireless technologies (Wi-Fi, LoRa and GPRS) to cater to different requirements and network coverage constellation. IoT Hub authenticates the readers and forwards received data to a cloud service, which processes the information and finally stores it in Azure SQL Database. Received data is displayed on an intuitive dashboard that suggests which action to take at a given time for a desired result — giving managers real-time insight into pallet location and availability.

The IoT solution will go live in time for the 2017 season, proving that while development of IoT software solutions can indeed be rapid, the actual physical deployment of a large number of IoT devices has to be planned carefully to coordinate with the regular business activities of the customer. Because this is the first time anyone has tried to connect an apple farm, DunavNET worked through many obstacles along the way, and what it learned will make it easier for other agricultural customers to implement an IoT solution into their processes. The boxNET deployment is the first step toward the goal of creating connected apple farming, and the next step will be to deploy farm vehicle tracking, preventive maintenance and warehouse monitoring solutions.

“We chose Azure for its inherent reliability and scalability, and in particular for the ability to reuse both Azure platform components and our own development to rapidly build interoperable services,” said Srdjan Krco, CEO of DunavNET.

Using the Azure platform, DunavNET has been able to rapidly expand its agroNET suite to feature a range of complementary products and services that interoperate and integrate with each other. These solutions are implemented in the field by local partners that also provide on-site customer service.

Connected farms reap rewards

Another of its agricultural solutions, irrigNET, is built on Azure IoT Hub and Azure SQL Database, with a machine learning component being gradually introduced. DunavNET piloted irrigNet two years ago to help a sugar factory in Serbia grow sugar beets. IrrigNet sensors measure the water content in soil and combine that with the models of the crops and local weather forecast to take the guesswork out of crop irrigation. With it, managers can also remotely monitor field conditions and use predictive data analytics tools to optimize water use for increase crop yield, while also reducing soil erosion. On top of the 30 percent increase brought by irrigation, DunavNET cites additional yield increases and reductions in water use of up to 20 percent for farms using irrigNET.

Growers of a cornucopia of other crops — including corn, soybean, onions, carrots and cucumbers — are experiencing similar benefits from using DunavNET’s Azure-based solutions. After a successful pilot last year with another large agriculture company, Matijevic, growing crops on approximately 30,000 hectares, expansion plans for the coming seasons are in place. In parallel with this, deployment of irrigNET in Plantaze’s vineyard in Montenegro, one of the largest European vineyards spanning over 2,300 hectares, is on the way to help the vineyard optimize its use of electricity to manage costs.

Whatever they grow, farmers can protect their crops from insects with trapNET. They can monitor pests remotely through the use of pheromone traps with built-in cameras, assess the presence of damaging insects, and check their dashboard for guidance on the proper timing and dose of pesticides to apply. DunavNET has found that trapNET use reduces crop loss by 5 to 10 percent and cuts pesticide use by 20 percent, helping minimize any negative impact on birds and animals.

The latest addition to the suite of agroNET services is alertNET. This service encapsulates years of agriculture expertise and combines it with a number of weather, soil and crops parameters automatically captured in the field to generate timely disease predictions together with recommended treatment, thus saving costs and increasing quality of the crops.

As Earth’s population grows, farmers must produce the escalating amount of food needed to feed our increasingly urban communities. Innovative IoT-based tools such as agroNET can give farmers the insights they need to maximize production, protect natural resources and put food on people’s tables.

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