For this post we thought it would be useful to talk about choosing the right sensor technology for your farm. The first step is thinking about the long-term solution you require, not just the problem you need to solve today. Do you only need one sensor for compliance purposes or are you likely to expand to weather stations, water-level probes and water quality sensors in the future? There are very few companies that can add any sensor to their telemetry system and get reliable data from it, so its important you have a plan upfront and ask questions of any potential provider to future proof yourself.
Getting the data from your farm to a place where you can use it nearly always involves a proprietary telemetry unit, website or both. Therefore, choosing different companies to install different sensors is likely to end up with you having multiple websites or apps to visit. There are ways to get around this through using data transfers, which the team at Water Strategies can work with you and your telemetry provider to facilitate. Also, there are a growing number of software platforms that can be used to assist with this data integration, but be wary of those whose sales pitch is ‘we can do anything and everything’, as this frequently comes with a price-tag and for some its simply not true!
Much consideration needs to be given to the upfront capital cost verses the ongoing maintenance cost when purchasing a sensor. Buying a sensor is the same as buying a ute – a $10,000 ute will have a higher maintenance cost and a shorter lifespan than a $50,000 one. Take an anemometer (measures wind speed and direction) for example. The cheaper ones are typically made of plastic and have plastic bearings, while the more expensive sensors are commonly made of stainless steel. If you are happy replacing sensors every couple of years and with poorer quality data, then the cheaper sensor may be the right decision – if not you need to invest more upfront. Any sensors being used for irrigation scheduling need to be of quality, otherwise you’ll soon find you’ve invested in a lemon!
We’re finding weather stations are often installed with little thought around a maintenance plan or their location. Tipping bucket rain gauges for example, need to be cleaned out on a regular basis (ideally three monthly) to deal with dead grass grub beetles and other insects. The gold standard for reliable and accurate weather station sensors is three monthly site inspections combined with an annual sensor calibration, and for reliable on-farm data you need to be maintaining the sensors at least annually. Also think carefully about where you are installing a weather station. Locating it beside the shed for example, whilst convenient, will impact both wind speed (from the upwind direction) and solar readings (reflection off the shed). To be useful a weather station must be located at least four times the distance away from the height of the nearest tree or building.
Installing and maintaining the right sensors is the first step towards a good quality monitoring solution. The second step is displaying the data in a useful format. Can you use the information to drive action on your farm? Is the data presented in a way that you can use it? Can the data be integrated with other data? Do the right people have access to the data? If you require data in near real time (e.g. for effluent pump control), can the supplier provide this reliably? These are questions you need to ask of any technology provider – make sure to ask for a log-in to their site and have a look around before you purchase. Lastly always ask what after sales support is offered.
Water Strategies offer independent advice to help you find the best monitoring solution for your farm. We have experience across the range of sensors, telemetry systems and integration platforms on the market to ensure we find the right solution for you. Our point of difference is we provide independent advice upfront and then provide on-going support, actively monitoring your sensors and undertaking annual maintenance checks.