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New Zealand IoT Alliance Sourced

Next big technology step is here

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The technology’s name, The Internet of Things, sounds both daunting and obscure. But dig below the label and it refers to some very clever technology that will have an application for farmers. Self-confessed technophobe Neal Wallace talks to Internet of Things Alliance executive director Kriv Naicker.

Many farmers are already dabbling in technology’s latest and greatest applications.

Checking the weather, measuring the growth and quality of pasture or crop, weighing animals and checking soil fertility generate data to assist decision-making and administration is made easier with connections to Nait and with rural professionals.

Those things form the basis of the Internet of Things (IoT).

New Zealand IoT Alliance executive director Kriv Naicker says the latest chapter of technology will exponentially multiply the volume and accuracy of information collected, which is then processed through analytical programmes into formats useful for farmers.

Such is the improvement in the quality of sensors it has allowed the creation a host of data and analytical programmes that process it, Naicker says.

Now the IoT is becoming low-cost and accessible.

Those sensors can measure everything from soil temperature and water quality to air movement and some come with a 10-year battery life.

Earlier issues with sensors unable to measure water quality in deep bores, is being overcome, reflecting gains in technology.

An IoT trial for arable farmers is being launched to showcase the technology and how it can help with farm management and sustainability.

Naicker says the pilot at Lincoln University’s Kowhai Farm aims to demonstrate that with better use of digital technology NZ primary sector businesses will improve productivity and be more competitive irrespective of their size or the sector in which they operate.

Being done in conjunction with the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment along with the Foundation for Arable Research it will showcase the technology needed for precision agriculture.

“Worldwide, the adoption and implementation of precision agriculture has become possible because of the development of sophisticated sensors, robots and sensor networks combined with procedures to link mapped variables to appropriate farming management actions,” Naicker says. 

“Sensors, either wired or wireless, integrated into an IoT system gather essential data needed for cost-effective and sustainable farm management.”

The activities on which information is being collect by the IoT varies from climatic and environmental conditions to stock and vehicle movements and can be tracked by the second, minute, hour, day or week.

That can help activities such as harvesting, sowing, moving stock or an orchard managing the risk of an early frost or a weather change.

Analysis of the information can be tailored to the environmental and climate of a geographic area.

The IoT is part of a new generation of technology or what Naicker calls an exponential step that includes artificial intelligence, augmented reality and the 5G mobile network but they are all designed to help people and business.

“All these new technologies are grouped together to enhance productivity, enhance efficiency across all sectors.”

Naicker says while the large telcos offer network communication services for the data new companies are being formed specifically to handle the transfer of IoT data to a network, the cloud or a server.

With growing environmental and compliance expectation one IoT application uses nitrate sensors in groundwater monitoring wells.

As part of that trial a monitoring bore near Kowhai Farm has been kitted out with a hydrometrics nitrate sensor to demonstrate how it works and can help with management.

Also on the property Aquaflex soil moisture, climate and plant heath sensors will be installed to demonstrate further what is possible with IoT.

Four technology companies are working together in the first phase of the trial. They are Tru Track, Lincoln Agritech, Met Technology and Aquaflex, which is a division of Streat Instruments. The demonstration uses the Sigfox network to deliver the data. 

MBIE digital economy policy adviser Sandra Laws says the next phase of the pilot will see Spark and KotahiNet deploy a range of their sensors. 

“This will further add to the data we’re collecting on growing conditions.”

The pilot will provide an insight into the potential of the emerging technology, which could help boost the productivity and the sustainability of NZ farm management, she said.

Naicker says the dairy industry is already testing IoT technology through Auckland-based Halter, which is developing GPS-enabled cow collars.

Those collars, expected to be commercially released in April, allow cows to be guided around a farm using a smartphone app.

The system uses audio and vibrations to train cows to move to where the farmer wants them and can be programmed to take cows to the milking shed at certain times and to identify cows on heat or those that are sick or lame.

While the technology has been designed around permanent fences the developers say it could be incorporated in to virtual fences.

The solar powered collars do not come with an up-front cost but farmers pay a monthly fee to use the software.

New Zealand IoT Alliance Sourced The NZ IoT Alliance sources and shares articles from members and other third parties to help educate and inform New Zealand businesses, government and the public.