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NB-IoT Apps Enable Agricultural Digitalization

By Zhang Dandan, President, Shenzhou Agricultural Group of Digital China Agriculture, Beijing, China

Trending and Potential Developments for Agricultural Digitalization

Compared with the level of IT application development in other industries, China’s agricultural sector has lagged behind the times and remains quite traditional. Faced with a generation of retiring farmers, the agricultural labor force is shrinking which, in turn, is causing a past demographic dividend to subside. Simultaneously, a new land and property rights system is being established — the result of which is to move agricultural production toward centralization, industrialization, and moderate economic growth. Science-driven agricultural industrialization is transforming farming practices from traditional and experiential to digital.

Based on generations of experience and first published in 104 B.C., the Taichu Calendar included ‘24 solar terms’ to guide China’s seasons for planting and harvest. Agricultural production depends on an understanding of the natural environment and weather patterns. In the modern world of advanced information technologies, it is essential that our agricultural production practices be guided by the powers of data collection and scientific analysis. The adoption of smart agriculture practices is enabling a fundamental transformation from ‘living at the mercy of the elements’ to ‘living with an understanding of the environment.’

Agricultural production contains a variety of meteorological, environmental, soil moisture and fertility, water quality, animal and plant ontology, parcel, circulation, and pricing data. The collection and analysis of this data will greatly improve the quality of agricultural and pastoral products, reduce production costs, minimize pollution, and increase benefits. Therefore, agricultural digitization offers great potential for farming applications.

NB-IoT Enables Agricultural Digitization

Agricultural data collection has the following features:

• A single farm requires the collection of many types of data, but agricultural data is scattered. For a single type of data, collection locations are limited and farms are scattered throughout suburban and remote areas.

• Data collection comes at a high cost, but yields only a minor increase in agricultural production value. Therefore, to be widely implemented, collection sites must have low construction and O&M costs.

• It is difficult to deploy cables and power supplies in the field. Therefore, solar panels or batteries are recommended as power sources, and wireless transmissions are recommended for data collection.

The NB-IoT has the following advantages in terms of data transmission:

• Low power consumption: The power consumption during normal operation is less than 20 mA so that batteries can last for several years.

• Low cost: Both the module and operational costs are significantly lower than those of the cellular network. Moreover, a battery power supply is adopted, which greatly reduces deployment and hardware costs.

• Compared with non-4G transmission, gateway deployment is unnecessary, making devices easy to install.

• With wide coverage and a large number of connections, the Huawei NB-IoT solution can resolve issues related to scattered agricultural data collection.

The NB-IoT technology facilitates production and circulation data collection. And comprehensive and large-scale data collection lays a solid foundation for agricultural digitization.

NB-IoT Application Scenarios in Agricultural Digitalization

Soil temperature, humidity, Electrical Conductivity (EC), and Potential of Hydrogen (PH) values affect crop nutrient absorption, growth, and photosynthesis. Through the use of low-cost, dynamic, real-time data collection with timely adjustments, crops can thrive in suitable soil to ensure high yield and quality.

In agricultural production, if the temperature and humidity are not suitable for plant and animal growth, diseases and pests will frequently materialize, necessitating excessive use of pesticides and antibiotics, which affects the quality and safety of agricultural products. Real-time collection of accurate temperature and humidity data can help predict and prevent diseases, and control pests through preventative environmental measures.

Northern China suffers from chronic water shortage and agricultural irrigation consumes the largest amount of water (65 percent). To promote the scientific usage and conservation of agricultural irrigation, the government is conducting comprehensive water pricing reform with accurate water measurements as the basis. Devices such as water meters and sensors need to be installed in channels and wells with motorized pumps, impeding power supplies and signal transmissions. And the large amount of manpower required for meter reading prevents timely data collection and scientific guidance for irrigation usage.

Utilizing NB-IoT applications, irrigation data can be obtained in a timely, comprehensive, and convenient manner — enabling accurate water scheduling for the entire irrigated area, and guiding data-driven water use. Digital and scientific water use improves the efficiency of agricultural irrigation and helps conserve water.

In the animal husbandry industry, it is difficult to stay informed on the health status of grazing livestock. If no measures are taken to deal with disease, treatment can become complex, and more importantly, the disease may infect more animals and cause great losses. By using NB-IoT-based intelligent collars, you can record the location, behavior, and vital signs of farm animals in real time; track their location; obtain early warnings of disease; and monitor their emotional state to improve production — thereby promoting refined breeding management and reducing risk.

Farmers can also forward the data collected to insurance institutions and banks, which promotes the development of agricultural insurance and loans. In addition, the data can be shared on eCommerce platforms to promote the reservation and pre-sale of livestock, and increase the added value of animal husbandry products.

A large amount of data needs to be collected and transmitted in the modern agricultural industry. As one of the many data transmission approaches, NB-IoT is not applicable to all scenarios. Data collection should be application-oriented, that is, data collection and transmission modes must be selected based on site requirements. The core value of the NB-IoT is enabling more convenient IoT network construction and more efficient data collection.

Shenzhou Agricultural Group Application Practices

The R&D team within the Shenzhou Agricultural Group has upgraded the company’s soil and environmental information collectors based on Huawei’s NB-IoT modules, and has further implemented data collection and transmission in the agricultural park of Weifang, in the Shandong province. At the same time, the R&D team has built an agricultural service platform on HUAWEI CLOUD, which has achieved fruitful results in irrigation and fertilization guidance, and in early warning and analysis of disease and pests with comprehensive data analytics.

In addition, the R&D team has upgraded their water meters with the NB-IoT-based transmission technology, and developed NB-IoT-based intelligent collars for farm animals (currently being tested). With the large-scale deployment of NB-IoT base stations and comprehensive network coverage, these smart devices will be widely used in the future.

The application of NB-IoT will continuously promote the connectivity of everything in agricultural and rural areas, and the large amount of data generated will continuously promote the digital development and achievement of intelligent agriculture with algorithms and computing advances. With years of experience in the agricultural field and Huawei’s Internet of Everything and cloud ecosystem, the Shenzhou Agricultural Group is continuously exploring and developing IoT products and cloud service applications for the modern agriculture industry, enabling agriculture digitization.

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