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Cutting Costs with IoT - Farmer Slashes Water Consumption by 75% at Connected Avocado Farm

The Internet of Things (IoT) is destined to touch every aspect of human endeavour, making factories smarter, supply chains intelligent and now farms such as the first connected avocado farms, saving farmers vast amounts of water in the process.

Spirent is leading the charge with our open ecosystem partners, such as Oasis Smart SIM, through our connectivity and embedded subscription business and we showcased various connected solutions at the IoT World exhibition in Santa Clara last month.

One particular solution highlighted the advantages of IoT in cutting costs.

Avocado tree

It takes 74 gallons of water to produce one pound of avocados and drought-stricken California produces 95 percent of avocados grown in the United States. Nearly all are grown in Southern California, in a five-county region that straddles the coast from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.

Like the rest of the state, the southern coastal region is locked in a drought and largely cut off from the flow of surface water from the state's big irrigation projects. Avocado groves have been hit badly with sky-high water costs and reliance on water pumped from underground aquifers.

Water consumption is regulated in California with the state entering its fourth year of drought resulting in water regulators imposing sweeping and draconian restrictions on the use of water. The State Water Resources Control Board has even urged Californians to let their lawns die.

Some avocado farmers in California feeling the heat have turned to new methods in growing avocados such as higher density planting which enables some to produce twice as much fruit for the same amount of water.

But a new initiative from Spirent in bringing about connected avocado farms might just be the perfect solution to make further inroads into lowering spiralling water costs.

...towards Spirent connected avocado farms

Kurt Bantle is a senior solution manager at Spirent and has 900 young avocado trees planted in his “back garden” in Southern California. Within his remit to develop Spirent’s IoT offering, he decided to experiment into how avocados could be grown using less water through soil moisture monitoring and automated irrigation.

Kurt divided his farm into 22 irrigation blocks and inserted two soil moisture measurement units into each block. The units contain a LoRa unit for narrow band data communication to a LoRa gateway which has broadband cellular uplink connectivity functionality.

The gateway also contains a Spirent partner Oasis re-programmable SIM which becomes the enabler in remote water provisioning. All soil moisture data is collected from the avocado trees into a cloud and visualised by a presentation layer.

When a tree needs to be watered, the solution turns the sprinklers on automatically to get the correct level of soil moisture for each tree. It then turns them off when the correct moisture levels are reached. The connected trees are monitored constantly day and night.

"Avocado trees typically take 4 acre feet (1 acre foot = 326000 gallons) of water per acre per year. This is not only to supply the needed water, but also to leach the salts which build up in the soil," says Bantle.

"The soil moisture sensors let me drastically reduce water usage by telling me when to water and how deep to water to push the salts past the bulk of the rooting zone. The majority of the roots are in the top 8 inches of soil so there is a sensor there and one at 24 inches so I can see when I’ve watered deep enough to get the salts out of the rooting zone."

The avocado program showed water usage reduction by 75%, but usage will climb as trees get bigger. The goal is to reach a 50% reduction of water usage when the trees are mature. By keeping the salts in check along with keeping nutrients supplied, stress on the trees is reduced and they are able to have better crop production.

The downside for Kurt in harnessing the power of IoT to reduce water consumption of his trees was that he was placed under state surveillance for meter tampering.

The benefits of this connectivity solution can be applied to all types of agriculture, including vegetable and fruit farming of almonds, olives, apples, oranges and tomatoes. It also highlights the potential of IoT to benefit other industry areas, such as smart cities and industry.

Spirent’s Embedded Connectivity solution will be launched during 2016 in a phased manner so that the commercially available solution conforms to the corresponding GSMA specification releases. 

 
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