Capturing unaffectable variables in plant growth and quality is likely to get a lot easier and a lot less expensive thanks to startups, scale ups and the Internet of Things (IoT). Especially since Lemken and CNH Industrial are starting to (re)sell weather stations.
The aim of Lemken and CNH Industrial stepping into weather data is to equip every field and crop with simple, reliable, inexpensive and easy to use weather stations. Or, as Lemken likes to put it: “Your fields have started talking, are you ready to listen?”
In its crop care strategy, Lemken believes it has to challenge current crop care practices to meet farming, social and environmental needs. “Developing and using adequate technology, sprayers, is not an issue anymore,” says the Head of the Business Unit Crop Care Iljan Schouten. “Each farmer and contractor in every part of the world can nowadays dispose of accurate sprayers. But even the best sprayer is useless if crop protection takes place at the wrong moment. It’s now time to offer technology and devices that help him or her to take better management decisions. To protect and fertilise crops at the right moment, with the right treatment and in the right place.” At last years’ Agritechnica in Hanover, Lemken signed a strategic partnership agreement with AppsforAgri, because the company believes in the added value of weather data for its machines.
It could have chosen to partner with many specialists since there are plenty of experienced weather station manufacturers around the globe. And, there’s also a tendency of multiple (startup) companies that introduce weather stations with IoT connectivity. To name just a few: Evja (Italy), Isagri Météus and Sencrop (France), Prospera and Taranis (Israel) and WolkyTolky (The Netherlands). Yet, Lemken as well as CNH Industrial chose to cooperate with AppsforAgri. Both Schouten and Maximilian Birle, Customer Service Manager EMEA Precision Solutions and Telematics at CNH Industrial, say they chose AppsforAgri since their weather station is inexpensive, simple, very easy to use and reliable.
As a first outcome of the partnership, Lemken will start to sell Lemken branded weather stations, followed by rain gauges and most likely soil sensors as well. The hardware comes with a digital online dashboard and smartphone app. Ideally, every field or every crop is equipped with a weather station costing € 69 each. The approximately 1 metre (3 feet, 3.4 inches) high sensor can be put in the soil in crops or in a (potato) ridge in the centre of a field. It measures the soil temperature at depths of 20 and 5 cm (7.9 to 2 inches) and both temperature and humidity in the crop and in the air above. Each sensor is registered to a user account with a dashboard for which a subscription fee of € 19 per month is applicable for a 3-year duration. The registration is intended to make theft uninteresting. Optionally, farmers can subscribe to a 14-day weather forecast with a 5-day disease pressure forecast for over 40 different crops and over 100 diseases transforming the application into a plant protection forecasting system. This costs € 108 annually per weather station.
From apps to smart farming
AppsforAgri has been around for about 5 years and started out as a developer of smartphone apps mostly dedicated to agriculture and farming. Late 2016, the company acquired fellow Dutch specialist Nieveen & Bouma Agro Weather Services (NBAWS). NBAWS was founded in 2007 and specialises in the effects of weather on crop protection and crop diseases. It developed over 25 models for crop diseases. The acquisition marked the start of a new era: simple, reliable and affordable weather stations based on IoT-connectivity. It uses the LoRa (Long Range Low Power) and SigFox low frequency IoT networks to communicate wirelessly. The technology requires little power enabling battery lifetimes up to 5 years (FieldMate) or even over 10 years (SoilMate). The acquisition of NBAWS granted access to a novel way to save on the application of crop protection products, called SprayWeatherGuide. This plant protection forecasting application is introduced this February.
The app with a dashboard shows the most important parameters, updated every 30 minutes. A 5-day disease pressure forecast for 40+ crops and 100+ diseases is an option. Photo: Lemken
CNH Industrial will sell the FieldMate weather stations, SoilMate soil humidity sensors and the RainMate rain gauges in Austria, Benelux, Germany and Switzerland this year, and intends to introduce it in France and Spain as well. The products and related services will be available through the Case IH, New Holland and Steyr dealer networks. The products will retail at the same price as AppsforAgri: FieldMate retails at € 753 including a 3-year subscription, SoilMate (15 cm probe) retails at € 279 including a 1-year subscription and RainMate retails at € 299 including a 1-year subscription.
Lemken is currently setting up a web shop to sell the weather stations and other IoT products directly to farmers, irrespective of whether they run Lemken sprayers or other Lemken machines. Mr Schouten: “The weather stations don’t require any maintenance nor any sales effort by our dealers. Therefore, we choose to sell online.” Lemken dealers are nevertheless welcome to sell the weather stations against a certain discount. Although Mr Schouten stresses the data ownership lies at the farmer’s level, Lemken intends to ask users for permission to anonymously analyse the data for future developments. And of course, the company is interested in the contact details of farmers buying their weather stations… The products will initially be available in Benelux, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland and the UK, depending on the coverage of the SigFox IoT network. It may also decide to include the weather stations and the upcoming plant protection forecasting feature called SprayWeatherGuide in sales promotion actions. Future joint developments may include the prediction of the optimum drilling moment based on soil temperature and humidity…