Water Use Cut 75% at IoT Connected Farm

Avocado trees monitored around the clock by a Spirent Communications system are given water only when needed; the farmer uses soil moisture meters, IoT technology, LoRa WAN communications and cloud computing to control the irrigation, reducing his annual water consumption by 75%.

It takes 74 gallons of water to produce one pound of avocados, and drought-stricken California produces 95 percent of avocados grown in the United States. Nearly all are grown in Southern California, in a five-county region that straddles the coast from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. Like the rest of the state, the southern coastal region is locked in a drought and largely cut off from the flow of surface water from the state’s big irrigation projects. Avocado groves have been hit badly with sky-high water costs and reliance on water pumped from underground aquifers.

Water consumption is regulated in California with the state entering its fourth year of drought resulting in water regulators imposing sweeping and draconian restrictions on the use of water. The State Water Resources Control Board has even urged Californians to let their lawns die.

Some avocado farmers in California feeling the heat have turned to new methods in growing avocados such as higher density planting which enables some to produce twice as much fruit for the same amount of water. But a new initiative from Spirent Communications in bringing about connected avocado farms might just be the perfect solution to make further inroads into lowering spiralling water costs.

Useful day-job expertise

It just so happens that Kurt Bantle is a senior solution manager at Spirent Communications and at home has some 900 young avocado trees planted in his “back garden” in Southern California. Within his work remit, which is to develop Spirent’s IoT offering, he decided to experiment into how avocados could be grown using less water through soil moisture monitoring, by using this as an input to automate the irrigation, using a just-in-time approach.

Bantle divided his farm into 22 irrigation blocks and inserted two soil moisture measurement units into each block. The units contain a LoRa (www.lora-alliance.org) unit for narrow band data communication to a LoRa gateway which has a connection via a broadband cellular uplink.

The gateway also contains an Oasis (a partner company with Spirent) re-programmable SIM which becomes the enabler in remote water provisioning. All soil moisture data from the avocado trees is collected in a cloud and visualised by a presentation layer. When a tree needs to be watered, the solution turns the sprinklers on automatically to get the correct level of soil moisture for each tree. It then turns them off when the correct moisture levels are reached. The connected trees are monitored constantly day and night. In all Bantle spent $8200 for LoRa stations, gateway and cellular backhaul, moisture sensors, and irrigation valve controllers.

“Avocado trees typically take 4 acre feet (1 acre foot = 326000 gallons) of water per acre per year. This is not only to supply the needed water, but also to leach the salts which build up in the soil,” says Bantle: “The soil moisture sensors let me drastically reduce water usage by telling me when to water and how deep to water to push the salts past the bulk of the rooting zone. The majority of the roots are in the top 8 inches of soil so there is a sensor there and one at 24 inches so I can see when I’ve watered deep enough to get the salts out of the rooting zone”.

The previous annual cost of watering his 900 trees was $47,336. By connecting this IoT technology, his annual bill dropped to £11,834, a 75% reduction. The hardware investment was recouped in the first 6 months.

“The case study showed a water usage reduction by 75%, but the usage will climb as the trees get bigger. The goal is to reach a 50% reduction of water usage when the trees are fully grown. By keeping the salts in check along with keeping nutrients supplied, stress on the trees is reduced and they are able to have better crop production,” says Bantle.

Future Consequences: both positive and negative

The downside for Bantle in harnessing the power of IoT to reduce water consumption was that he was placed under state surveillance for suspected meter tampering, when his water consumption reduced so dramatically.

The connectivity solution provided by Spirent together with its IoT ecosystem partners for avocado trees applies to every other type of vegetable and fruit farm, which would include almonds, olives, apples, oranges and tomatoes.

IoT technology pioneer Spirent Communications plc is leading the charge with its open eco-system partners such as Oasis Smart Sim through its connectivity and embedded subscription business and recently showed various such connected solutions at the IoT World exhibition.

Spirent’s Embedded Connectivity solution will be launched during 2016 in a phased manner so that the commercially available solution conforms to the corresponding GSMA specification releases.

Spirent conclude with the message that the Internet of Things (IoT) is destined to touch every aspect of human endeavour making factories smarter, supply chains intelligent ….and now farms such as this first IoT connected avocado farm more water efficient, saving farmers vast amounts of water (and therefore money) in the avocado growing process.

The original story from Spirent was first published by WaterActive.co.uk in their July issue.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: