High-tech agriculture could reduce water use by up to 70% during historic droughts

The water is the most essential resource for life, both for humans and for the crops we consume. Around the world, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of all fresh water use.

I study computers and information technology at Purdue Polytechnic Institute and run Purdue’s Environmental Network Technology Laboratory (ORL).where we address sustainability and environmental challenges with interdisciplinary research in the agricultural sector Internet of thingsor Ag-IoT.

The Internet of Things is a network of objects equipped with sensors so that they can receive and transmit data via the Internet. Examples include wearable fitness devices, smart home thermostats, and self-driving car.

In agriculture, it involves technologies such as underground wireless communications, subsurface sensing, and antennas in the soil. These systems help farmers monitor the condition of their land in real time and apply water and other inputs such as fertilizers exactly when and where they are needed.

Sensors installed in a wheat field. Abdul Salam

In particular, soil condition monitoring it holds great promise for helping farmers use water more efficiently. The sensors can now be wirelessly integrated into irrigation systems to provide real-time information on soil moisture levels. Studies suggest that this strategy can reduce irrigation water demand from any location 20 percent to 72 percent without hindering daily operations on cultivated fields.

What is the Agricultural Internet of Things?

Even in arid places like the Middle East and North Africa, agriculture is possible with efficient water management. But extreme weather events driven by climate change are making that more difficult. Recurring droughts in the western United States over the past 20 years, along with other disasters such as wildfires, have caused billions of dollars in crop losses.

For decades, water experts have measured soil moisture to inform decisions about water management and irrigation. Automated technologies have largely replaced hand-held soil moisture instruments because it is difficult to take manual soil moisture readings in production fields in remote locations.

In the last decade, wireless data collection technologies have begun to provide real-time access to soil moisture data, which enables better water management decisions to be made. These technologies could also have many advanced IoT applications in public safety, urban infrastructure monitoring, and food safety.

The Internet of Things in agriculture is a network of radios, antennas and sensors that collect real-time information about crops and soil in the field. To facilitate data collection, these sensors and antennas are interconnected wirelessly with agricultural equipment. Ag-IoT is a comprehensive framework that can sense conditions on farmland, suggest actions in response, and send commands to agricultural machinery.

Technologies that together make up the Internet of Things in agriculture.Abdul Salam/Purdue University

The interconnection of devices such as soil moisture and field temperature sensors makes this possible control irrigation systems and conserve water autonomously. The system can schedule watering, monitor environmental conditions and control agricultural machinery, such as seeders and fertilizer applicators. Other applications include estimate soil nutrient levels And identify parasites.

The challenges of putting networks underground

Wireless data collection has the potential to help farmers use water much more efficiently, but putting these components into the ground creates challenges. For example, at the Purdue ENT Lab, we found that when antennas that transmit sensor data are buried in the soil, their operating characteristics change dramatically depending on how wet the soil is. My new book, “Marks in the ground”, explains how this happens.

Abdul Salam takes measurements at a test rig at Purdue University to determine the optimal operating frequency for underground antennas.Abdul Salam

Farmers use heavy equipment in the fields, so antennas need to be buried deep enough to avoid damage. When the ground gets wet, the moisture affects the communication between the sensor network and the control system. The water in the ground absorbs the signal energy, which weakens the signals sent by the system. Dense soil also blocks signal transmission.

We have developed a theoretical model and an antenna which reduces the impact of soil on underground communications by changing the operating frequency and bandwidth of the system. With this antenna, sensors placed in the upper layers of the soil can provide real-time information about soil conditions to irrigation systems at distances up to 650 feet (200 meters) — longer than two football fields.

Another solution I’ve developed to improve wireless communication in the ground is using directional antennas focus the signal energy in the desired direction. Antennas that direct energy into the air can also be used for long-range wireless underground communications.

Using software-defined radios to detect land measurement signals. These radios can adjust their operating frequencies in response to changes in soil moisture. In actual operation, radios are buried in the ground.Abdul Salam

What’s next for Ag-IoT

Cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important to Ag-IoT as it matures. Farm networks require advanced security systems to protect the information they transfer. There is also a need for solutions that allow researchers and agricultural extension agents to merge information from multiple farms. Aggregating data in this way will produce more accurate decisions on issues such as water use, while preserving the privacy of farmers.

These networks must also adapt to changing local conditions, such as temperature, precipitation and wind. Seasonal changes and crop growth cycles can temporarily alter the operating conditions of Ag-IoT equipment. Using cloud computing and machine learning, scientists can help the Ag-IoT respond to changes in its surroundings.

Finally, there’s the lack of high-speed Internet access still a problem in many rural communities. For example, many researchers have integrated wireless underground sensors with Ag-IoT center pivot irrigation systemsbut farmers without access to high-speed internet cannot install this type of technology.

Integrating satellite-based network connectivity with Ag-IoT can help unconnected farms where broadband connectivity is not yet available. Researchers are also developing vehicle-mounted and mobile Ag-IoT platforms using drones. Systems like these can provide seamless connectivity in the field, making digital technologies accessible to more farmers in more places.

This article was originally posted on The conversation by Abdul Salam at Purdue University. Read the original article here.