Idealised By This IoT
Giving crops the best 24/7
Sujata Devadas, April 12 2020
Treating them well
Farms get acclaim when thriving plants deliver bumper crops. Ideally, plants thrive if their roots are in perfect air water balance. Optimum nutrition throughout the plant’s life, quite obviously, must complement this.
Agriculturist Dayalan aims exactly at providing this ideal condition day or night, all the time, to coconut and areca nut cultivation on 9 acres of land in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu state, intercropped with nutmeg.
The flip side is that if soil is fertilised or irrigated too much, microbes in the soil die, it turns infertile and generate a dismally diminished crop.
Without an efficient way to determine each plant’s unique nutritional requirements over an entire field, Dayalan chose a fully automated Internet of Things or IoT system GroTron® that combines electronics and artificial intelligence to deliver the recommended dosage of water, fertilisers and nutrients uniformly to the roots of each plant on his acreage without human intervention.
Round-the-clock, sensitive probes devised by Farmagain agri-tech company in Coimbatore, measure and record moisture, temperature, humidity in the soil and ambient humidity. “The accepted scientific dictum” Dayalan explains, “is that all plants grow well if moisture in the soil is between 45 to 55%. I opted for smart precision agriculture optimising resources to get maximum yield by using grid level sub-surface irrigation through valves that respond to water pressure. Pressure compensating drippers maintain this moisture level through different seasons on my field.”
12 inches deep in the soil, the drippers are close to roots underneath the tree’s canopy. GroTron® IoT system’s CropSense detects soil moisture. If it drops below 40%, these sensors send a signal to WaterSense, triggering the start of the motor pump supplying water for irrigation. If the target 55% soil moisture is reached, the WaterSense switches that pump off. All the pressure compensating drippers close, preventing surrounding soil from entering them. 95% of the time, this method avoids water logging. At a time when people lament water shortage, not over using it makes immense sense.
“Buried 12 inch deep, these drippers prevent evaporation by the sun and the wind.” Dayalan points out, “A major cost benefit is that thirsty pets and rodents do not bite through the water pipes buried deep in the soil in their attempts to find water.”
A third set, NutriSense, operates fertigation, Macro and micro nutrients or fertilisers are added to the irrigation water, feeding the recommended nutritional dosage directly to the roots. Ideal nutrition is naturally different for coconut, areca nut and nutmeg. So, artificial intelligence uses separate pre-defined programs specifying different combinations to be delivered to each crop, extracted from 9 tanks at Dayalan's farm, holding different fertilisers and nutrients.
Pressure sensitive control valves
A few nutrient tanks
“All three - CropSense, WaterSense and NutriSense devices - are effective because of their 'in sync' method of work. The only wire (physical connectivity) in this entire operation is to start the water pump. Rest of the system operates via low range wireless signals and GroTon's app to cover a large area,” says electrical and electronics engineer G. Balakrishnan from Farmagain.
Farmagain founder Benjamin Raja’s aspiration is to bring disillusioned agriculturists who quit cultivation due to dismal failures in the past, back into sustainable farming ventures. India's Department of Agricultural Science and Technologies, awarded him for ascertaining the source of the problem, then developing this innovative agri-tech business model using IoT and artificial intelligence, adding hugely to the agricultural value chain.
Today Farmagain handles thousands of acres in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
From a distance
Farmers like Dayalan who understand his approach had the entire cultivable area geo-mapped. This was sent to CAD. Once the cultivator chooses the target crops, irrigation engineers detail the grid design to follow: the main grid lines, sub-lines, where to put CropSenses in the soil. Their calculations take such details into account as the spacing of plants (rows and columns) as well as the capacity of water that will go through a hose pipe of specific diameter. For ready reference, that map is placed on the wall next to the IoT system.
Agriculturists get a great a sense of relief with remote online monitoring. The app gives Dayalan a visual display of his farm on his phone and his farm time line each day. “My farmland is marked with geo-fencing. Green colour patches in a particular area indicates adequate moisture: irrigation need be done only in a few hours. If I select one section, all real time data on its moisture level, soil temperature, atmospheric temperature, the irrigation schedule, amount of water used for irrigation, situation at each plot are displayed so that wherever I am, I can monitor the farm daily and if a problem is noticed, give instructions to the supervisor.”
GroTron® was first devised for managing crops over more than 3 acres of land. Now, they forge ahead to help smaller areas and home gardens too. Optimising the use of water or any other precious resource is a very worthy goal.