Complete Automation of a Micro-irrigation System with LPWAN Technology

10 Nov, 2022

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Complete Automation of a Micro-irrigation System with LPWAN Technology

Precision agriculture uses IoT for productive farming management. This article explains the development of a smart irrigation system to improve crop yield and save potable water in orchards.

Our very existence is dependent on the agricultural sector, in specific the production of crops. Essential to growth and development, production yields, and crop quality is water and the precision of its usage. As among the most crucial inputs for crop production, proper water management is essential to the sustainability of the agriculture system. 

The Challenge of Traditional Irrigation Practices

Agriculture is a substantial user of water. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, farming accounts for almost 70% of all water withdrawals and up to 95% in some developing countries. Inefficiencies with traditional irrigation practices waste half of this water. By 2025, two-thirds of the world population could be living in water-stressed regions if current consumption patterns continue.

With warnings that we must control water usage in coming years, resourceful management is a key aspect of precision agriculture.

IoT Evolution in Smart Irrigation Decisions 

Together by leveraging sensor data and network communication, precision agriculture uses IoT for productive farming management. The LoRaWAN technology enables this wireless connectivity. Soil monitoring sensors capture and collect real-time data: soil temperature, soil moisture, and volumetric soil water content, eliminating the need for manual readings and improving operations. Applied trigger actions to switch irrigation systems on and off ensure correct water supply to crops. These data-driven insights allow for accurate precision and prediction of routine watering frequencies to prevent water under and over usage. With a single algorithm, all irrigation systems in an agricultural space are monitored. Together this system forms the smart irrigation decision that the Italian-based project WAPPFRUIT developed and implemented to improve crop yield and save potable water in orchards.

Smart Irrigation IoT Technology with akenza and WAPPFRUIT

The regional project WAPPFRUIT is headed by the research group Micro&Nano Electronic Systems (MiNES) of Politecnico di Torino, which is involved in developing embedded systems for agriculture and biomedical fields. Because of their high dependency on water for agriculture and the need for the adoption of a smart irrigation system, MiNES collaborated with akenza to develop the complete automation of the micro-irrigation system using cutting-edge LPWAN technologies. How are water requirements measured and how is data visualised? The system architecture manages two types of IoT motes. Integrated soil measuring units were fixed throughout the orchards. These motes collect all physical data quantities and send the information via LoRa. Akenza receives, decodes, and stores the data from the soil sensors. Downlink messages are sent to electrovalves connected to the drippers, controlling proper irrigation in the orchards.

On the left, the developed Printed Circuit Board by the WAPPFRUIT project. On the right, one of the measuring boxes deployed in the apple orchards is connected to six soil sensors.

Water is managed with the integration of akenza’s self-service IoT platform, allowing a multitude of end device sensors to interface together in a central place. This single-dashboard allows for a strong personalization and evaluation of reliability so the customer can focus on the system deployment. MiNES found it impactful to use the system import functions to retrieve all data from the network server, downlink message automation when a condition happens in the selected motes, and the notification systems to have faster, proper decision power.

Benefits of Smart Irrigation for Tackling the Challenge of Water Management

MiNES met its goal of innovative water management through simultaneous and real-time control of irrigation sectors. Some benefits of smart irrigation with IoT include:

  • Higher crop yield: Proactive measurements on flooding and low irrigation control water levels, contributing to crop quantity and quality. 

  • Water conservation: Only using what is needed lowers the impact on the environment.

  • Cost and energy savings: Optimized water resources reduce needless waste.

  • Improved efficiency: Automated sensors detect moisture if there is an irrigation need avoiding useless activations due to the scheduled irrigation. 

IoT Smart Solution Expansion within the Agricultural Sector

By using the akenza platform and managing connectivity, devices, rules, and data in one place, MiNES reduced the time to prototype and focused on the research to manage proper water consumption. Beneficial to precision agriculture and the further automation of crop management, IoT integrations expand beyond irrigation. Monitoring soil fertilization, pH, nutrients, humidity, and Co2 levels evaluates and controls crop management. Pest and climate control are both examples where IoT enhances and enables precision agriculture in other crop management operations. 

About MiNES and WAPPFRUIT

The main goals of MiNES of Politecnico di Torino are the study and the realization of micro&nano systems for several application fields, in particular for electronics and sensors. Their laboratory facilities are set up to cover the different technological requests for the implementation of complete systems, where the integration has a key role.

The MiNES Group is a joint group between Politecnico di Torino and Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT@DET) that deals with the design and fabrication of Silicon based microsystems and nanosystems, technological transfer, and education.

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