November 1, 2021

Industrial Agriculture Monitoring Uses Cellular Internet of Things Module to Improve Yields

45% of fresh flowers grown for U.S. markets don't make it to market. AgroPatterns is fixing this with software and cellular IoT.

Dan Wilson, Marketing Lead

Title photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels

Flowers are beautiful gifts, real living art in nature with pleasant smells, vibrant colors, and unique shapes. They are also delicate, require a lot of maintenance, and are highly perishable, especially when facing a long journey from field to store. Info Patterns founder and CEO Gabriel Coch and his team are a part of the solution to help address these challenges, with the goal of reducing waste and toxicity, making the flower industry more sustainable and environmentally friendly, while also addressing the intelligence needs of the flower growers.

The Challenge From Seed to Store

seedlings sprouting in rich dirt
Image source Gelgas Airlangga.

The flower industry represents 25+ billion dollars per year in gross revenue. 70% of the flowers delivered to the United States originate in the South American country of Colombia. Did you know 45% of the flowers grown never make it to their destination? Growing flowers at scale requires a very careful planning process involving calculating the available growth rates for the time of year and microclimate peculiarities. Production totals must line up with the amounts the grower has promised to their customers, and the agreed upon supply date. After all, a flower is worth a whole lot more if it is available for Valentine's Day or Mother's Day, than even one day later.

Maintaining control over production quality and quantity requires careful environmental monitoring. Controlling key variables like ambient temperature and humidity in greenhouses provide the grower predictability in flower growth rates. Further, when greenhouse conditions are optimal, the grower reduces their usage of expensive or hazardous countermeasures used in combatting damage caused by weather, fungi, or insects. Successful growers maintain a high degree of awareness of each greenhouse plot and make constant adjustments. If issues are left unchecked, millions of dollars of crop can be wiped out in a matter of days.

How IoT Helps Industrial Agriculture

To help growers meet their production goals, Info Patterns developed AgroPatterns, a suite of hardware and software modules designed specifically for industrial grow operations. When a grower implements AgroPatterns, they gain key insight into plot performance and conditions. The AgroPatterns suite informs agronomists on which adjustments to make to harvest the healthiest crops at the right time, while using less countermeasures.

Each greenhouse hosts an AgroPatterns IoT device that detects and reports environmental conditions every 10-15 minutes. These devices are zero-configuration for the grower, with power provided by the integrated solar panel, and connectivity provided over the cellular network by Blues Wireless Notecard devices. Given the remote conditions and lack of infrastructure, its unrealistic to expect electricity and internet connectivity at the greenhouse location, so being able to handle remote condition monitoring without infrastructure is a key factor in AgroPatterns success.

woman enjoying fresh flowers in a bouquet
Image source Ylanite Koppens.

Scout workers audit each greenhouse plot daily, recording the presence and severity of insects or disease. Scouts work offline, collecting data using a mobile application, and then sync their findings using the internet connectivity at a central office. The data is processed into the AgroPatterns cloud, available for Agronomists to use in their work.

Agronomists access the AgroPatterns dashboards and screens to interpret the data and develop treatment plans for each greenhouse sector, with an eye on maintaining production goals and preventing waste. Depending on the reported conditions, agronomists may choose to devise a plan to counteract adverse growing conditions by introducing beneficial insects, or chemical substances. While these countermeasures will improve growing conditions, they aren't without a cost. Industrial farming countermeasures can be expensive, time consuming to implement, and environmentally undesirable for either the earth or the workers. It's best to manage the growing conditions to expressly avoid the types of conditions requiring countermeasures. Together, agronomists and production managers adjust the care plan in each greenhouse to meet or exceed the growth goals for that flower.

Results

woman presenting vase of fresh flowers

Image source Fernanda Pereira.

Industrial flower growers get 4 key benefits when they use AgroPatterns' software modules and IoT devices to collect and manage production data:

  • Replacing floor workers' handwritten notes with electronic notes that sync to the cloud
  • Empowering agronomists to work with real-time data to make the best decisions regarding toxic countermeasures
  • Reducing costs and exposure to workers
  • Optimizing production processes for the unique needs of the fresh flower industry

Blues Wireless helped Info Patterns develop cellular connected IoT devices very quickly, sidestepping the need to upfit growing locations with expensive technology infrastructure. Each device uses a Blues Wireless Notecard to provide cellular connectivity usable even in the remote, mountainous regions of Colombia. Each Notecard comes with 500 MB of pre-paid data usable over 10 years, reducing connected device fleet operational expenses.

Local staff was able to place devices in the greenhouses and the sensors started reporting immediately. "Blues provided the simplicity and the breadth needed to build this solution," stated CEO Gabriel Coch. "Growers want to make data-driven decisions so they can maximize their yield while avoiding expensive or toxic countermeasures."

Conclusion

The AgroPatterns product from Info Patterns is gaining popularity across the globe, due to its ease of use and low cost. Customers want an out of the box solution for remote condition monitoring without the need for infrastructure like broadband or even electrical outlets. Customers are signing up in areas like Israel and Kenya, eager to gain more control over their industrial agriculture processes by using the latest technology and information. Info Patterns helps make agricultural processes more efficient and profitable, while also being better for the lives of workers, and our environment.

Stay up to date with the latest breakthroughs in Wireless IoT technology and applications. Visit us at Blues.io, or subscribe to our newsletter.

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