How Smart Agriculture Sensors Can Increase Yield and Prevent Crop Diseases
The quality and quantity of your yield depend on many factors. All of them are mutually reliant. Let's take soil moisture for example: it increases with rainfalls or irrigation, but declines with high solar radiation, high soil drainage or water uptake of crops. Soil drainage, in turn, depends on the soil texture and structure, while water uptake also depends on the growth stage of the crop.
These are just a few examples of all the possible connections. As a farmer, your goal is to work with this ecosystem and create the best environment for the crops to thrive.
There are a lot of parameters that can tell you the state of soil and crops, what's affecting them and how. For example, solar radiation, air temperature and humidity coming from plant transpiration, soil temperature and moisture.
Because the most important farming activities depend on those parameters, it’s always better to operate based on real data as opposed to experience or guesswork.
That’s where smart agriculture sensors come into play. Once they're placed on the field, they are a silent and reliable observer that collects data every hour of the day.
In this article, we’ll look at how farm sensors can help you take better decisions and give you peace of mind with three important farming activities.
Optimising water usage
How much and when should you irrigate? In a way, the answer boils down to a simple equation: take the amount of water the crop needs in its current growth stage and subtract the amount already present in the soil.
Unfortunately, without an accurate measurement, you may easily underestimate soil moisture and end up over-irrigating. When that happens, consequences can be quite negative.
First of all, over-irrigating is a waste of money (for the water and/or the energy necessary to pump and distribute it) and of a finite natural resource. At crop level, too much water can effectively inhibit growth and germination, blocking air circulation and nutrient absorption. Also, an excess of water may leave the soil with too much salt once it’s evaporated.
Sensors can tell you the moisture level of the soil and help you to determine the right amount of water to use.
Preventing fungal diseases
By irrigating too much, you're also creating an environment where harmful bacteria can proliferate, leading to a fungal disease outbreak. Of course, there will be times when climatic conditions alone will be enough to increase the chances of the disease spreading. Even in that case, however, sensors in agriculture can be extremely helpful. By monitoring soil moisture and the various factors that increase stress levels in plants and make them more vulnerable to attacks, you can assess the probabilities of a fungal outbreak and act before it happens, with much better outcomes.
For example, you may keep off pathogens by applying a precautionary fungicide, which would be milder than the one you would use with an outbreak in full swing.
Maximising fertilisers effectiveness
Another example of how agriculture sensors can have a direct impact on your yield is the need to accurately measure soil moisture before applying fertilisers.
If the soil is too dry, the uptake of nitrogen will be limited. On the other hand, an excess of water will cause various compound to leach. Either way, the effectiveness of the fertiliser will be severely impaired.
However, for some types of fertilisers, soil temperature is also important, particularly in the post-harvest period during the fall seasons. Manufacturers usually provide the optimal temperature range for their use, but that alone will tell you nothing about when exactly you should apply it.
This monitoring service provided by the University of Illinois, where farmers from the State can know the soil temperature of their areas, is a good example of its importance for fertiliser application. Tools like these can be useful, but using a sensor directly on the field, placed at the specific depth of the crop roots remains the most accurate way to know temperature and optimise fertilisers’ efficacy.
Investing in agriculture sensors is important
The way parameters like soil temperature, soil moisture, solar radiation and air humidity interact can make the difference between a high or a disastrous yield. Our question is: how are you measuring them?
However invaluable, on-field experience is not nearly enough to obtain accurate measurements. Rudimentary instruments are not enough either. They can give you some data to work on, but for something so important like the quantity and quality of your harvest, you will need tools like farm sensors to collect accurate information, make sense of it and make informed decisions.
How do sensors work?
Farm sensors gather data individually but need to work together to give farmers the full picture of what’s really happening on their fields. Our sensors for example, use both IoT and wireless technology and work in clusters within a 500m/1640ft range, with one master sensor and several nodes. At this page you can know more about how their functionalities.