Sensing+™: a new microclimate data decision-making system

SUBSCRIBE to our fortnightly email newsletter to receive more stories like this. The Yield's Infrastructure Lead John McGee explains how the tech solutions company's approach to on-farm sensing differs from existing systems.

Australian technology solutions company The Yield recently launched a new microclimate predictions system known as Sensing+™ for growers of insensitive irrigated crops.

Sensing+, claims The Yield, “has been designed to make growing operations more efficient, and to give you better insights for less effort”.

The system combines simple-to-use sensing hardware with sophisticated AI and a grower-friendly mobile app. It can measure and convert farm-level microclimate data 24-7, 365 days a year, delivering information from precisely where it’s needed and freeing up growers to focus on other tasks.

Its creators claim the new precision-forecasting system will enable “faster, more informed decision-making”.

In a nutshell: what can Sensing+ do?

According to NSW DPI’s VineWatch, “Sensing+ combines on-farm sensing hardware with artificial intelligence (AI) and user-friendly apps to give growers access to real-time microclimate insights” including up-to-the-minute data on soil moisture, leaf wetness, weather conditions and more. The Sensing+ system also enables growers to record data on irrigation and spraying activities.

Along with collecting and logging data, the system has the capacity to forecast an array of microclimatic conditions up to a week in advance. These include evapotranspiration (ETo), which appears as a ‘water surplus or deficit’ visual in the mobile app.

Growers can set custom alerts so the app informs them promptly when adverse conditions are on the way.

An end-to-end farm sensing system

The Yield bills its Sensing+ system as “end-to-end farm sensing, analytics and apps”. It’s a four-stage process: sense, analyse, predict and inform.

Stage 1: Sense

The new Sensing+ for Agriculture package comes with sensors, soil probes and Bosch-manufactured hardware that growers can position according to the information they need to collect.

Sensors and other data-collection equipment can be placed in different microclimates in and around the vineyard – “field by field, row by row, or in a hot spot”, says The Yield – to record an array of useful information including:

  • photosynthetic active radiation;
  • total solar radiation;
  • air temperature
  • wind speed and direction
  • relative humidity;
  • barometric pressure;
  • rainfall;
  • leaf wetness;
  • soil moisture; and
  • soil temperature.

Sensors grouped in a single location make up a node; this node communicates wirelessly with an on-farm ‘gateway’ that acts as a conduit – storing, then securely passing information to The Yield’s Microsoft Azure-hosted data platform. Growers wishing to expand their sensor networks can do so simply by adding more nodes.

The Yield installs, calibrates and services all its farm sensors and associated hardware, ensuring grower-clients get “a fully integrated solution, without the hassle of...upkeep”.

Stages 2 & 3: analyse, predict

After measuring the relevant microclimate data, Sensing+ uses AI and data science to generate information that helps growers make smart, timely decisions regarding planting, feeding, irrigating, protecting and harvesting their crops.

Drawing on AI and predictive models, the microclimate data collected by the Sensing+ probes and sensors is converted into site-specific seven-day forecasts.

Sensing+’s ability to record, interpret and forecast conditions on a hyper-local level means growers don’t have to depend on information from distant weather stations (or decipher raw data logged by less sophisticated weather-monitoring systems).

Over time, the system constructs a detailed gestalt of the farm or vineyard microclimate across a range of conditions, conveying these insights as current and future predictions delivered straight to the grower’s smartphone or tablet.

Via the mobile app, the grower can view key growing parameters as well as predictions, using these to inform day-to-day decision-making.

Once the system’s amassed enough data, year-on-year reporting can be accessed via the web app.

Sensing+ also provides the grower with a digital record of all the information the system collects, from climatic conditions to irrigation and spraying schedules and inventory.

Stage 4: Inform

By applying sophisticated analytics to multiple data-points, the Sensing+ system is able to arrive at new insights.

Along with calculating individual metrics such as rainfall and soil-moisture, Sensing+™ combines data from all the sensors on-farm, transforming it into new information.

One example is crop water use, or evapotranspiration (ETo) – the combined water loss through transpiration from plants and evaporation from soil, and a key determinant of when and how much to irrigate.

Evapotranspiration, calculated “based on a standard grass sward”, can be adjusted by a crop coefficient (Kc) to determine an ETc reading.

Calculations for both entail combining the unit values of the solar radiation, air temperature, relative humidity and wind speed and direction recorded by Sensing+ sensors, then using standard formulae to convert this data into a single ETo, then an ETc reading.

Security, reliability and data-sharing

The data recorded is housed in Microsoft’s global cloud, a system known for ‘high availability’ (ie. it’s functional and secure). Bosch technology is also used to encrypt growers’ data from the time it’s collected from the sensor until its arrival in the cloud. Here, it is hosted securely on “enterprise-grade” cloud platform Microsoft Azure.

The more data Sensing+™ captures, the more it can tell the grower about how his or her specific microclimate and local environment are likely to react to particular conditions

According to the company website, The Yield is “committed to measuring quality data and putting it to practical use, on and off the farm”, keen to reassure prospective buyers that its customers “own their personal and on-farm data, and are given the transparency, control and incentive to share it”.

The company notes that it will “securely pass aggregated, anonymised data to public researchers working to solve environmental, crop-specific and disease issues” – such as Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS) – but that customers agree to this in advance, “with full transparency provided”.

Pooley Wines in Tasmania was a trial-site client for The Yield's new Sensing+ microclimate prediction system.
Pooley Wines in Tasmania was a trial-site client for The Yield's new Sensing+ microclimate prediction system.
Pooley Wines

Field trials: Sensing+ and Pooley Wines

Third-generation wine-grape grower Matt Pooley of Tasmania’s Pooley Wines, who hosted field trials of the new Sensing+ technology, thinks this and similar prediction tools will have a positive impact on vineyard management going forward.

Having ready access to a ‘micro-level view’ of growing conditions in his vineyard helped Pooley streamline day-to-day decision-making, he told The Yield post-trial.

“As a grower, it has always been difficult to have concrete data to hang your hat on,” he said. “By using this technology, more instantaneous decisions can be made and be more accurate. The data and information coming in from behind the scenes can help me be more decisive, and able to take action quicker.”

Read the Pooley Wines’ case study here. 

Get the app

The Sensing+ app can be downloaded for free from Apple or GooglePlay. 

Further information

For further information about the Sensing+ system, visit the official product page or contact The Yield.

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