The new year is well underway, and as we continue to pivot around the challenges thrown at the agriculture sector from Corona, and the below expected rainfall from LA Nina shows how important it is to keep abreast of the changes taking place and having the correct mechanisms in place to respond to adversity. Primary production is reliant and connected on integration of several natural resources such as energy, water, and climate. He aim to provide a project spread to help farmers to continually improve, become more efficient, resilient, and to meet the goals set for a sustainable and productive future.
Increasing efficiency is one way to improve your company’s bottom line. It means doing more with less. An Australian Financial Review article recently suggested that Australia could experience a $2.2 trillion productivity boost in all commercial sectors with aims for Agriculture to become a $100 billion dollar industry by 2030, provided businesses adopt smart technology and automation. Smart farming and precision agriculture involve the integration of advanced technologies into existing farming practices to increase production efficiency and the quality of agricultural products. Smart systems on farm involve the use of end node sensors capable of capturing the data on variables such as energy, weather, and water. Couple this with spatial or drone monitoring from above and a comprehensive image of what is occurring on your site can be formed. We hope to be testing this concept deploying a whole of systems approach across two farms. We will be adopting a similar approach as seen with AgVictorias on Farm Internet of Things trial, stay tuned for news and project updates as we begin to kick off.
To capture the data requires connectivity and understanding of the underlying principles. Connectivity through the communications networks is becoming increasingly important as these technologies become mainstream. It often comes with issues often seen in regional areas, the technical language, and the various networks. There are different types of services available such as mobile coverage or satellite connectivity each with inherit positives and negatives when accessing the service. Improvements are being made in regional areas such as the mobile blackspot program and solutions available on sites that exhibit low connectivity when connecting smart systems.
Other networks that are used to connect the end node sensors includes Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) and LoRaWAN. These are a Low Power Wide Area Network radio technology which allow data to be sent back from the end nodes (e.g., water sensor) to a central Wi-Fi gateway, typically in your house or a control box. In this instance if you have Wi-Fi access a network can be formed onsite. Unlike cellular devices, such as the Wattwatchers in QFFs real time energy monitoring trail, the ‘data packets’ sent to the gateway are small. This allows the end nodes to be operational for years. They do this by entering a so-called deep sleep mode and are woken by a transfer or receipt of a data packet. As such these systems are not recommended for large data capture like video feeds but work well in other applications such as checking if gates are open or water troughs low. The data can be displayed in such a way that it is easier for growers to make decisions on farm and can help display trends over time. The NB-IoT systems are generally a cheaper alternative in comparison to LoRaWAN as you can tap into an existing network such as Telstra’s. You can find out more on NBIOT HERE and click HERE to view Telstra’s coverage map to see if you can tap into this system.
It is important to consider the costs and return on investment if adopting IOT technology. The use of these smart systems means farms will have real potential to reduce resource use, including energy, from the adoption of this technology.
While these smart systems are great it is important to understand that they can come under attack. Hackers can target smart farms as the systems are relatively new and can be underdeveloped. Cyber-attacks can pose a real risk with a potential downturn in production, income loss, or credibility as a company. This could be for economic reasons or complex country and trade relationships. These attacks can occur in various forms. Data stored in the cloud can be accessed or altered from leakage or injection attacks or altered for instance on automated weed spraying equipment, herbicide application rates could be altered, and crops destroyed. It can also be due to a malware attack, frequency jamming, viruses, or phishing. To read more in depth on the topic of the various types of networks and attacks that can be experienced click HERE.
LoRaWAN sensors have inbuilt security to protect the messages sent, though the gateway and data host can be susceptible. A simple roadmap to protect your systems should first include all the devices that need protecting, then by listing the networks that these have access too. You will need to note all the devices that enter your networks, as this could be from additional access permissions, and protect all entry and exit points. This can be done by updating firmware, having strong passwords that are changed regularly and shoring up encryption services. A written plan can help guide you on the process and ensure all bases are covered. Be sure to train all those involved in the use of the infrastructure.
It is important to remember that the data can come from a host of places which may be overlooked as a source of attack. There are arguments forming on who owns the data which may be the technology or software provider, or the farm. To mitigate against this the National Farmers Federation has worked on the farm data Code of Practice, to view click HERE.