How farmers use the IoT to stop disease

Agriculture is a difficult industry. It’s not just early starts and physical labor; it’s also the unpredictability. One bad frost or outbreak of disease, and the profits are gone. So while we might harbor images of rustic farmhouses and rural landscapes, farmers eagerly embrace any technology that gives them more control.

The Internet of Things (IoT) offers growers a better understanding of their crops. From asparagus to apples and oysters, farmers are now collecting data and automating processes in order to increase their yields. And added to this cornucopia are now tomatoes and other greenhouse crops.

Insight, when farmers need it

In July 2017, Bosch Japan launched Plantect™, a monitoring and disease-prediction system for greenhouse farming. The biggest threat these farmers face is crop disease. For example, tomatoes are prone to various infections, among which fungal diseases are the most common. Fighting these is challenging, because often farmers do not know there is an issue until it is too late.

It’s an age-old problem. Take one of history’s biggest agriculture disasters, the Irish Potato Famine. Farmers could only tell that their crops were affected after they had pulled the shriveled, inedible tubers out of the ground. Despite the massive technological transformations of the past 170 years, early prediction of crop disease remains a challenge.

Modern farmers have pesticides and other agrochemical solutions at their disposal. But without the knowledge of when to use them, these are just blunt tools. It’s a choice between applying them just in case, which increases overheads and carries ecological implications, or getting caught out.

IoT in agriculture: Graphic showing the difficulties in combating plant diseasesSource: Bosch

End-to-end solution based on the Bosch IoT Suite

Many factors inside the greenhouse can determine the likelihood of disease in plants. These include temperature, humidity, sunlight, carbon dioxide level, and leaf wetness. External factors such as the weather also make a difference. The Plantect™ solution uses three types of sensors to collect this information.

While this is a useful innovation, it’s only a part of what the system can do. Creating a truly valuable IoT solution does not stop with sensors that collect data. These devices are part of a complex system that works together to generate useful insight.

Bosch Software Innovations helped to build this system using various elements of the Bosch IoT Suite:

  • Using wireless communication, the Bosch IoT Gateway Software connects low-energy, battery-powered sensors. The environmental data from these sensors is remotely captured in the Bosch IoT Cloud.
  • In principle, the cloud makes data accessible anywhere, but Bosch IoT Permissions ensures it only gets to the right people. With the ability to manage and authorize users and tenants according to subsets such as roles and group membership, it keeps the process simple.
  • Furthermore, the Bosch IoT Remote Manager allows sensors and gateways to be monitored and updated without having to traipse through every greenhouse.

Smart Agriculture solutions by BoschSource: Bosch

The power to act early 

The resulting system can do so much more than just report back on greenhouse conditions. The Bosch Center for Artificial Intelligence has created an algorithm that analyzes this data and links it with the weather forecast in order to predict the likelihood of disease. Farmers then receive notifications of an infection risk. Given that one of the growers in the trial regularly lost 70 percent of crops to disease damage, this insight is invaluable.

Testing of past data shows that the system predicts the likelihood of disease with an accuracy of 92 percent. This means farmers can now treat crops exactly when needed. One grower in the Plantect™ trial told Bosch that yields increased by around 20 percent: “Right now, I’m expecting to have my biggest yield ever.”

IoT solution straight out of the box

Ryosuke Suzuki

Ryosuke Suzuki has been working at Bosch since 2008. He is responsible for business development in various fields. In 2015, he joined the Future with Japanese Innovation (FUJI) project, a Bosch corporate start-up, as project leader for the agricultural IoT domain. In 2017, the project launched Plantect™ on the Japanese market: a smart solution that collects and analyzes sensor data using AI technologies to optimize greenhouse farming.

Ease of use is a key factor for farmers when adopting new technologies. To start using Plantect™, they do not need special technical skills. The basic package comes with three sensors and a gateway device. Farmers only need to take the sensors out of the box and install them in the greenhouse, and the sensors will then automatically connect to the gateway. Moreover, a gateway can be located up to 1.5 kilometers away from a greenhouse, so that one gateway can serve several greenhouses. Farmers can access visualized data in the cloud anywhere, via a web-based app on their smartphone or computer. Bosch provides the service on a subscription basis. Farmers can choose to subscribe to the perimeter-monitoring function and to the disease prediction-function on top of that. Importantly, hardware comes at no additional cost.

Recognition from society

Within months of its launch in 2017, the Plantect™ solution received special recognition – the Good Design Award. Each year, over 1,000 companies and designers in Japan submit their projects for the Good Design Award. The decisive factor when granting the Award is the importance of the project for society and people’s lives. Experts honored Bosch’s solution both for its design and for the extensive services it provides to meet farmers’ needs. Moreover, the market response from farmers, agricultural equipment distributors, and government authorities alike has also been very enthusiastic. Zero initial investment costs, a plug-and-play concept, handy monitoring and disease-prediction functions – all these factors make the PlantectTM solution precisely what the market now requires.

Without doubt, this sophisticated yet easy-to-use solution demonstrates that the IoT, coupled with other emerging technologies such as AI, is capable of solving problems that have plagued farmers, and humanity, for centuries.

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