Emily Payne - - Agtech

What is LoRa? The Technology Enabling Precision Ag Worldwide

Growers across the globe can use precision ag solutions to gain real-time analytics—even without a broadband connection in the fields. This is thanks to new technology allowing us to transmit data over long ranges, using relatively little power.

Communication between the fields and growers’ dashboards is facilitated through a LoRaWAN™-based network. Semtech’s LoRa® Technology allows Teralytic soil probes to send small data points (NPK, moisture, temperature, salinity, etc.) as often as every 15 minutes over long distances. After installation, growers can see an updated, real-time snapshot of what’s going on in their fields every day.

Our goal is to help make this process as easy as possible for users. Luckily, it’s as easy as installing probes and a gateway, and letting the solution run.

But what is a LoRaWAN-based network? We’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions from growers about the LoRaWAN-based network, how it works, and how it’s helping farmers across the globe.

What is LoRa technology, and what is a LoRaWAN network?

LoRa is short for Long Range. LoRa Technology, developed by Semtech Corporation, is a long-range, low-power wireless platform that has become “de facto technology for Internet of Things (IoT) networks worldwide.”

With these characteristics of LoRa Technology, smart IoT applications can more easily take on challenges in energy management, natural resource reduction, pollution control, infrastructure efficiency, and disaster prevention. Currently, LoRa technology has more than 50 million devices connected to networks in 95 countries, powering smart homes and buildings, supply chains, logistics, metering, and (of course) agriculture.

The LoRaWAN-based network refers to this entire set of equipment—from the infrastructure to the devices themselves, like the Teralytic probe—that communicate between each other. The LoRa Alliance™, an open nonprofit association of collaborating members, determines what’s called the LoRaWAN specification, which is what drives seamless compatibility between LoRa-enabled devices and infrastructure. LoRaWAN allows those working in the public or private sectors to innovate and differentiate how they use these networks.

How can agriculture workers use LoRa for productivity on the farm?

“Many solutions exist to improve the productivity of the farms,” says Emmanuel Mounier, Smart Agriculture Business Development Director at Semtech Corporation.

Among the most common, according to Mounier, are:

  • Soil moisture measurement to optimize the irrigation system and save up to 25 percent of irrigation water.
  • Cattle heat detection solutions to ensure more than 90-percent successful oestrus detection whereby the farmer, on his own, can hardly detect more than 50 percent on a small size farm and where big farms proceed with a hormonal treatment to trigger the ovulation.

Using a LoRaWAN-based network with IoT applications, a wide range of data points can be monitored to streamline decision management on the farm. One of the main values for growers is in managing the way he or she spreads water or fertilizers in the fields. Tracking soil nutrient and moisture levels to manage inputs with precise control can save both time and cost.

“On top of that," Mounier continues, "certain regulations will change, and in the near future, most of the growers will have to invest in this type of solutions in order to be able to provide the proof to the regulation authorities that the fertilizers they put in these fields have been used by the plant and have not been washed away by an intensive irrigation.”

"Tracking soil nutrient and moisture levels to manage inputs with precise control can save both time and cost."

Do I need cellular service in my fields to use a LoRaWAN network?

A LoRaWAN-based network can be deployed anywhere, even without a cellular or broadband network.

The probes communicate with an existing LoRaWAN-based network, if available. If not, a gateway can be easily and strategically placed on the farm. This gateway, ideally mounted 40 feet or higher to allow the furthest connection, extends the LoRaWAN-based network to communicate with the probes. For orders of 10 or more Teralytic probes, this gateway is free of charge.

The LoRa-based gateway typically sends the data to the Teralytic cloud via cellular. If a reliable cellular connection isn’t available where the gateway is placed, though, we can utilize a satellite-enabled gateway.

Who can use the LoRaWAN network?

A LoRaWAN-based network can be set up virtually anywhere in the world, by either connecting to an existing network or using a Teralytic-provided LoRa-based gateway.

Where is LoRa technology currently being used?

This type of long-range network is best used for meters, sensors, and similar devices powered on battery or small solar panels. The devices, such as the Teralytic probe, typically need to transmit a small amount of data over a large distance. And with a LoRaWAN-based network’s low energy consumption, our probes can run all season long.

Scaling Up

“From workers tracking solutions in a palm tree plantation in Indonesia to animal tracking solutions in south America or Australia, cow monitoring solutions in Europe, China and Russia, irrigation solutions in Israel or California or soil characteristics measurement in North America, there will be always a LoRa-based solution adapted to the need of the farmers,” Mounier continues.

With its long-range and low-power capabilities, LoRa supports smart agriculture innovations driving cost-effective and efficient solutions on the farm. And with the LoRaWAN specification allowing compatibility between LoRa-enabled devices and infrastructure, all sectors, from startups to government organizations, can use it to scale innovative solutions.

Read more about how these new networks are allowing rural growers to wirelessly manage their fields, and how more governments are wiring the countryside.