Meat And Livestock Australia farm trial tests IoT on real farms

Published: December 1st, 2019

CASE STUDY: The Carwoola Pastoral Company operates four agricultural properties located in New South Wales near Bungendore, Queanbeyan and Yass, with a total footprint of 6,500 hectares. The properties are used primarily for mixed grazing purposes, with some winter fodder crop and also irrigated lucerne.

In 2019, Carwoola teamed up with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) to deploy and test a range of connectivity and AgTech technologies to gain deep, practical insight into the benefits current IoT technologies can bring to farming businesses. The purpose of the demonstration site at Carwoola is to evaluate and learn about IoT technology in a livestock farming application, establish an idea of what return on investment can be achieved, and to build a best practice model for future adopters.

The IoT’s potential benefits for farmers

The potential benefits of IoT technologies in farming are broad and depend on the nature of the farming enterprise as to which technologies are suitable. Among the range of potential benefits are:

  • increased efficiency
  • improved water management
  • remote management of geographically distributed sites and resources
  • farm performance insights
  • environmental monitoring
  • asset monitoring
  • farm security

The trial at Carwoola

Darren Price, General Manager of Carwoola, has seen the business move from a traditional farming business to one with some of the most extensive AgTech deployment in Australia.

Darren went through a process of creating a list of areas in the business he either saw as pain points, or opportunities for digital transformation. MLA then went to the market to find what solutions were available to service Darren’s needs.

“Many other industries seem to be advancing themselves through IoT and improving their processing and supply chains,” said Sean Starling, then General Manager, Value Chain Innovation at MLA. “However, when it comes to agricultural applications, a lot of new tech companies seem to be over-promoting how advanced the technology is, and how ready they are to achieve practical results.

“We wanted to help the farmers sort the hype from the facts.”

Integration challenges

After requesting information from around 150 domestic and overseas technology providers, MLA settled on 20 to support the trial. Each solution provider supplied a solution for one or more aspects of farm operation.

“At the moment you can’t go to one solution provider to get everything you need for the farm, so we had to find ways to integrate the data from disparate systems”, said Sean.

“Among the suppliers, there were a few that provided dashboard applications,” he continued. “We asked them all to use data provided by the other companies and build dashboards for Darren to evaluate, and in the end he settled on the one he preferred.”

The role of NNNCo and Goanna Ag

One of the partners that Darren and MLA teamed up with was National Narrowband Network Company (NNNCo), along with its infrastructure partner Goanna Ag.

The two companies are rolling out a publicly available LoRaWAN IoT network in rural areas. The network is an extension of NNNCo’s existing network coverage and covers an area of approximately 3 million hectares. NNNCo is also providing the essential data layer platform (N2N-DL), enabling scalable data decoding, decryption and delivery from any sensor into the Goanna Ag platform.

LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) is a type of connectivity that uses unlicensed radio spectrum to enable wireless wide area communication between low power sensors and (in this case) a farm gateway. It is one of a number of low power narrowband IoT network technologies currently available, and is the largest deployed IoT infrastructure technology in the world.

A major benefit of LoRaWAN technology is that it enables farmers to solve on-farm sensor and device connectivity by their own means if they are willing to be involved in the provision of on-farm IoT communications.

The solutions provided by NNNCo on the Carwoola properties include cattle grid monitoring, shearing shed environmental monitoring, mobile asset tracking, and farm gate status sensing.

Farm gate and cattle grid monitoring

The Parabeam cattle grid monitoring solution uses an infrared beam sensor that connects wirelessly to a base station, while the Netvox Outdoor Gate Sensors were also deployed to provide remote gate monitoring, logging and alarming. Combining the two allows the farm business to be aware of any entry or exit of vehicles, people or stock, wanted or unwanted.

Environmental monitoring in shearing sheds and pump houses

Elsys Eye sensors are being utilised to collect real-time data on temperature, humidity, noise and CO2, allowing the environment of the shearing shed to be optimised. In particular, more efficient heating and cooling maximises the health and comfort of workers, and has the potential to lower energy costs and environmental impact.

Mobile asset monitoring

The Oyster Tracker GPS device allows Darren to monitor the location, status and motion of vehicles and other assets. Offering a battery life of five years, these rugged devices can be exposed to rain, dust and environmental conditions. In the trial, the Oyster Tracker is being used to monitor quad runners and feed carts.

Monitoring is ongoing

Reflecting on his experience of integrating so many technologies from so many solution providers, Sean said: “At the moment, there is no ‘one-stop shop’ for this type of application. We have engaged an independent organisation to track the uptime of the systems in use. In about six months we hope to see sufficient data to evaluate the reliability of the various infrastructure options we are trialling.

“Overall, the different technologies, different network standards, and different business models all combine to make complete farm automation a distinct challenge.

“However NNNCo and Goanna Ag were among the best to deal with, for both business and technical issues, and I would recommend their services to others.”

Image: Carwoola Pastoral general manager Darren Price