Seeds, soil and sensors – the story of Sensoterra
Three per cent of the world’s water is accessible freshwater. Of that, 70 per cent of the freshwater consumed is used in the agricultural industry – the largest consumer of water globally. Monitoring soil moisture allows farmers to make effective and smart irrigation decisions. Too much water in the soil leads to waterlogged areas and root-rot damage, while too little will harm crop growth.
Land Life Company is a ‘nature restoration company’, with a mission to reforest the world’s two billion hectares of degraded land. It develops technologies to restore habitat in parts of the world where nature cannot come back unaided, making use of drones and satellite imagery to analyse the land in the planning stage. It has reforestation projects in over 25 countries.
“A lot of areas that need reforestation are very arid, so it’s difficult to get trees to grow there,” says Rebekah Braswell, a director at the company. Land Life hit upon the idea of a tree incubator with a biodegradable reservoir, called Cocoon, which provides a tree sapling with just the right amount of water during its critical first year – enough to feed deeper roots, but not enough to become dependent on an external water source. But it required a sensor system to provide access to data in remote areas.
The company’s founder and chief, Jurriaan Ruys, searched for a suitable solution, but could not find one. Instead, his team builttheir own low-cost monitoring system, called Sensoterra, using LoRa-enabled sensors, running on LoRaWAN infrastructure.
Soil is not homogenous – it holds moisture differently in different areas. Low-cost probes offer real-time insights into the soil moisture of crops, across varied terrains, affording smarter management of irrigation systems.
Sensoterra claims an average diameter range of 1.5 miles between its probe and the gateway. Ease of installation is a key feature, it says. Multi-depth LoRa probes can be installed in minutes and online in less than an hour later. An open API is available for data integration. “Sensors must be low cost, easy to install and last for long periods in the field. Only these characteristics will allow growers to scale deployments and benefit from true operational visibility,” says Ruys.
Land Life soon discovered there was a need for this type of system in agriculture, horticulture and landscaping. IoT firm Senet has opened up a global market by providing the base-line LoRaWAN infrastructure. Sensoterra, the firm setup to sell the solution, has deployed over 4,000 sensors, mainly in Europe and North America, and has achieved 720,000 data points since launch in 2016.
The company offers an example of its application beyond reforestation. An Idaho potato grower has used the system to manage pivot irrigation, and reduce water consumption by 30 per cent by decreasing irrigation rounds based upon soil moisture metrics. “We find the Goldilocks zone,” says Jessica Nuboer, in charge of marketing at Sensoterra. “It’s not too wet, it’s not too dry – it’s exactly what you need to get the best yield.”
The company has another. The city of Albuquerque reduced water waste in public landscaping with the system after drought in New Mexico. The data collected was integrated into its irrigation systems for precision irrigation. The city’s department of parks reduced labour costs and recouped its expenses within three months.
Look out for the new editorial report from Enterprise IoT Insights, called ‘Making Industry Smarter: Agriculture & Farming’, out May 22. Click here to sign up to the newsletter to catch all the latest news and updates from Enterprise IoT Insights.