Public Lab Research note

iFarm tech talks

by cfastie | May 20, 2014 02:13 20 May 02:13 | #10485 | #10485

This past Saturday morning at iFarm at Tuckaway Farm in New Hampshire, we heard from eight presenters about their current efforts to apply sensor networks and related technology to environmentally sound agriculture. The talks were brief, relaxed, spontaneous, engaging, and incredibly smart. One of the talks was about the process of deploying wifi over 200 acres of Tuckaway Farm, so there was open wifi throughout the 1830s barn where the session took place. There was also a projector and screen, but nobody used them. This was a show, not a slide show.

Dorn Cox, our host from Tuckaway Farm, started things off and later challenged the group to address the problem of measuring field soil density. Soil compaction is a pervasive limitation on water infiltration and healthy root systems, but is labor intensive to measure and requires expensive gadgets (above). So farmers don't know enough about how badly their soil is compacted and therefore don't do anything about it. There is a need for someone to produce an inexpensive gadget so farmers have more of the information they need.

Bruce Dawson, a beef farmer from Miles Smith Farm in Loudon, NH, described his current project of outfitting his herd with radio ear tags which will allow determination of the location of an animal's head within a few inches. This will allow him to know whether each animal is eating (head up or down), and by reference to a pasture forage map, what they are eating. Data from sensors on the animals could also be transmitted. Bruce has funding to start building this system and showed some prototypes.

Louis Thiery of Apitronics ran a successful KickStarter last fall and now has production units of his open source, programmable, wireless, weatherproof, environmental monitoring and actuation system. Monitoring stations (bees) can include a variety of sensors and report to a base station (hive) which can respond by sending alerts to people or sending instructions to the bees to operate switches or other equipment.

R.J. Steinert introduced FIDO, which can call or send you a text when it senses that the temperature in your greenhouse is not what it should be. It could also sense other variables like humidity or soil moisture, and can be adapted for other types of farm buildings. The software and hardware for this project are open source, and R.J. has posted detailed instructions on how to source parts and build your own at FarmHack.

Dogi Unterhauser and R.J. Steinert worked all weekend deploying wifi at Tuckaway Farm with the goal of providing access to almost all 250 acres of the farm. This will allow Dorn to connect to sensor arrays or remotely operate equipment anywhere on the farm. They described their tests with various hardware and software combinations, but it was all about networks, so I didn't really understand anything they said.

Don Blair described the current status of the RIFFLE which will be an open source, sub $100, submersible, water monitoring sensor. The devices will record water temperature and conductivity, and could easily include other sensors. The first run of 12 circuit boards is being ordered presently, so the first production prototypes can be demonstrated at Public Lab's Northeast Barnraising in June.

Abe Collins, grazier and founder of Collins Grazing, an agricultural consulting firm, spoke passionately about his mission of helping farmers and ranchers grow soil. We all want farmers to adopt management practices that improve water quality and require less carbon emissions and chemical input, so we should all want farmers to have better information about their soil, plants, animals, and water. Abe said that giving farmers better information about critical variables is the first step toward allowing them to find practices that produce better environmental results.

Jeff Warren of Public Lab demonstrated a live video feed from an Infragram webcam which was displayed as NDVI in real time at Jeff described the new red-filtered Mobius ActionCam which is being manufactured as the final Infragram KickStarter reward (and which flew on several UAVs over the weekend). Jeff spent his free time during the weekend restructuring to update the user interface and better incorporate infragrammar into all multispectral processing.

Then we had lunch and went for a farm tour in the hay wagon with wagoner Chuck Cox driving the draft horses. As you will see, that's exactly how you keep them down on the farm.


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