Narrowband broadens agtech horizons

Software providers eye opportunity for sensor solutions


National Issues
 Installation of a rain gauge that connects to a narrowband network.

Installation of a rain gauge that connects to a narrowband network.

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Software providers eye opportunity for sensor solutions

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THE growing fleet of farm management software providers eagerly await the rollout of narrowband technology in NSW, waiting for an opportunity to finally link automated production data with farm management platforms.

Discovery Ag and the National Narrowband Network Network (NNN Co) announced a joint venture dubbed Connected Country.

Starting in NSW’s Central West, Connected country is building Australia’s first rural narrowband network to link an on-farm internet of things for in-field sensors to the web.

Narrowband Networks do not carry enough data for phone calls.

They are designed to link sensors that measure soil moisture, weather, frost alarms and so on to the web, where software systems can aid management of input usage, pasture growth and feed budgeting, cell grazing, crop rotation and so on.

In the US, the large and largely uniform cropping sector is served well by production management software.

Australia’s Maia Grazing is one of the first livestock-focused packages, designed to match feed potential, pasture potential and seasonal trends with stocking rate, to guide rotational grazing and destocking decisions.

“We see lots of opportunities in narrowband. It could potentially unlock many ways to get better production data,” said Maia chief executive Peter Richardson.

“We build grazing management analytics, which benefit from good quality and timely data.

Maia Grazing chief executive Peter Richardson (far right) with director Bert Glover, co-chairman Alasdair MacLeod and channel manager Colin Feilen at University New England's Smart Farm.

Maia Grazing chief executive Peter Richardson (far right) with director Bert Glover, co-chairman Alasdair MacLeod and channel manager Colin Feilen at University New England's Smart Farm.

“The better the inputs, the better our algorithms and output we provide, which helps farmers make better decisions.

Mr Richardson pointed out sensors such (such as a soil moisture probe) can help automate data capture and reduce physical labour while improving accuracy.

“You only need to make one better decision in your grazing business and you can pay for a lot of technology,” he said.

Government-funded mobile blackspot schemes have delivered limited results to improving cellular coverage in the bush.

Farmers still lack coverage in their paddocks, where connectivity to production data is needed. The issue came to a head this week at NSW Farmers annual conference in Sydney.

Narrowband networks run on unused radio frequency over a long range offer a cheap alternative to cellular mobile networks.

The system Connected Country uses is referred to as a Lora network. LoRaWAN is the  patented protocol that enables the sensors to speak to the gateway.

Sensors designed to run on narrowband networks capture production data, which can be linked to farm management software to manage input usage, pasture growth and feed budgeting, cell grazing, crop rotation and the list goes on.

Information collected by any sensor, such as a soil moisture probe, weather monitor or water meter, is pinged to a gateway base station, which loads (backhauls) to the internet, through satellite or a mobile network.

Narrowband networks are already emerging in urban areas, and has gone rural in countries such as New Zealand and the US. Connected Country is the first initiative in rural Australia.

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