Using IoT sensor technology to increase yield…one farm at a time

Produceplan.com
6 min readJan 13, 2021
Steven Vandever and Mike Helle Jr. at Helle Farms in Edinburg, Texas

Sostena Inc. is a USA based vegetable seed company headquartered in Davis, California. In addition to working with world class hybrid (non-GMO) seed, we also provide digital agriculture products to help farmers make better decisions around daily business activities like planting schedule organization as well as on farm soil moisture management. It’s a seed + service based approach for the customers. In this article, we wanted to share some of the general benefits Growers are seeing from implementing precision agriculture on the farm.

a GroundSightsensor in a watermelon field in South Georgia

Groundsight, one of our legacy precision agriculture products, remotely monitors field soil moisture as well as soil temperature for both permanent and specialty crop Growers. The cellular powered technology helps Growers optimize their water consumption to hopefully maximize their return on investment — ideally through more uniform and consistent plant reproduction (yield). Bottom line: Some of our customers have realized a reduction of water use by up to 30% while others have increased their packed yield between 10–50%. At minimum, the sensors give Growers another set of eyes to help inform and improve their own decision making. To be clear: this technology is not about telling a Grower how to grow, it’s about giving them data for context around what they are already doing. We think of it as a muscle builder, not a pain killer. The question is always this: How can we give Growers as much usable data as possible to help improve their probability of a positive outcome?

While sensor technology is not new to precision agriculture…what’s different about Groundsightis the way farming companies are using and contextualizing the data. Let’s explore a little further.

South Texas Watermelons:

Helle Farms in Edinburg, Texas is a multi-generation farming operation growing a variety of specialty and row crops including leafy greens, watermelon, honeydew, onions, black eyed peas, corn and other row crop type stuff. We checked in with Mike Helle Jr. to profile how he is using the soil moisture sensors in their melon fields:

“We’re able to control our moisture during the crop flowering phase to help set the most fruit and keep that plant healthy.”

While most sensor technology will give the Grower water readings, the Groundsightprogram actually tracks the crop’s phenological progression and helps the Grower dial in their water data relative to the stage of the plant’s biological lifecycle. Where the technology becomes really powerful in Mike’s cucurbit crops is when he is pollinating the fields and trying to help the plant reproduce. Too much water and the plants will stay vegetative…too little and the fields will become stressed out, thereby reducing yield. It’s a fine line that needs constant context and data analysis to figure out. The sensors update every 10 minutes. What’s amazing is that the difference of a few percentages in water availability can potentially translate to thousands of dollars per acre in sales and/or profit.

UX is another important factor in terms of being successful with the data:

“Originally the sensor was not for everyone — the average age of a farmer is so old and they’re not looking to change anything. I tell people it’s a very valuable tool if you’re willing to try something. The Groundsight™ app is easier than it used to be because of changes to the interface & the ability to scroll through fields and access data a lot faster.”

Needless to say, data display and usability is incredibly important.

Mexican Broccoli:

With crops that are less sensitive to reproductive stressors, Growers are using other features of Groundsight™ to help improve daily operations on the farm.

Fortune Growers of Chicago has a unique challenge: a significant portion of their production is located out of state…out of the country, actually. Farm manager Fernado Aldasoro has a lot of ground to cover. Between scouting the thousands of hectares in Mexico and working with Fortune’s sales forecasting team in Chicago, there is quite a bit of data to track. Sensors plugged in at each field can automatically check in with Fernando and his field managers via email or text message, then update their company’s planting schedule dashboard without a single user having to login to the app. It’s an interactive messaging feature that helps keep harvest projections up to date for the sales team back in Chicago. Granted the feature is still new…but this highlights where the product is heading.

South Georgia Olives:

What about sensors for perennial crops like olive trees? Is there value? We check in with Cooks Redlands Farms in south Georgia to find out more. Josh Gross, Farm Manager in Iron City, works with the rest of the Cooks Redlands team to help manage over 2,000 acres of Olives.

“We have three different farms and more than three types of very different soils. What Groundsight™ showed us is that based on our soil type variances, a singular irrigation program across all our irrigation zones is likely not going to work for our setup. Through data, we are learning that we can’t just put one program in place on the whole farm because the soil types vary so much. Our drainage rates between soil types are that far off. Groundsight™ is a tool to localize our irrigation data and hopefully maintain the health of all the trees. We’ve switched from “water to the schedule” to “monitor and respond.”

In addition to managing moisture data using the sensors, we asked Josh how Cooks Redlands is using the soil temperature feature for Olives:

“With olive trees, they require a certain amount of chill hours. To be able to monitor the temperature of the soil is an essential tool as well. We are trying to see if we’ve reached that threshold the trees need between flowering and fruiting.”

Soil temperature data seems to be vital to understanding this aspect of the crop…another nice feature that is crop specific.

South Georgia Olives

Wrapping up:

IoT technology in agriculture continues to become more advanced every day. Text message alerts, interactive check-ins and crop specific data visualization are now more accessible and affordable than ever. While use cases and applications are wide ranging, the potential value to be extracted from precision agriculture products seems to be ubiquitous. However, as with many programs, these products are only as good as those who are using them. Regardless of seed or sensor type, we should all be thankful for the Growers who make the food on our table a reality!

To find out more about our products please visit www.sostena.com or https://produceplan.com/for-growers/. You can also message our Company directly on LinkedIn.

Disclaimer

In our Products, we use information models, research and data (including historical, estimated and simulated weather and agronomic data), and combine it with information provided by you, to generate the suggestions, moisture profile percentages, growth stages, anticipated transplant dates and other information we provide. The generated information and suggestions are estimates based on these inputs, and we cannot guarantee actual results. Our Products, models, data and suggestions may change over time. Individual results may vary, as weather, growing conditions and farming practices differ across growers, locations and years.

Our suggestions and the Products should not be used as a substitute for sound farming practices, including diligent field monitoring, or as a sole means for making farming, risk management or financial decisions. We want to help you make better decisions, but we are not acting as your agronomist, pest control advisor, financial advisor, insurance agent, commodity broker or agent. Consult those service professionals before making decisions.

--

--

Produceplan.com

Founded in 2016, Produceplan is an easy and effective fresh produce software system that drives your agribusiness growth.