5G Connected Farm – Improving Turnaround Time for Soil Sampling

THE CHALLENGE

The UK is experiencing unprecedented rises in energy prices, which is resulting in a massive impact on fertiliser prices and availability of supply. In addition, there is a significant increase in demand for grains (all exacerbated due to export restrictions from Russia and the war in Ukraine).

Nitrogen prices have peaked at over four times higher (over £1,000/t) than 12 months ago and that, along with a lack of fertiliser supply guarantee, has meant there is now a vital need for farmers to consider better soil sampling and testing strategies in order to make accurate and timely fertiliser application decisions to meet crop demands and secure the sufficient supply of food.

Conventional methods of determining soil-based fertiliser recommendations are manual and slow, with data and recommendations often provided up to 4 weeks after testing. There are also considerable technological limitations relating to collecting and transferring data and the process can prove very expensive.

Unfortunately farms generally lack effective digital communication infrastructure due to their rural location and any attempt to improve the timeliness and efficiency of soil and plant analysis through technology has been hampered by the inability to cope with the processing of large data sets.

Telet demonstrated that providing St Giles Farms with a 5G mobile network (that provided high-speed bandwidth across a set of fields capable of handling large datasets quickly) could be the game changer for farmers and the agricultural sector enabling them to use near-real-time, cloud-based soil sampling techniques.

THE APPROACH

As part of our participation in the DCMS 5G Rural Connected Communities programme, we asked Precision Decisions (part of Map of Ag) to trial a 5G

mobile network at St Giles Farms, a 1400 Hectare Crop farm on the Shaftesbury Estate and develop two agricultural use cases – Soil sampling (for better nutrient use efficiency) and Real Time Crop Sensing.

We asked Map of Ag to complete the project using 5G connectivity to transmit data in near real-time from the farm to cloud-based analytical services and back again to demonstrate any potential benefits of 5G over the current (conventional) practice.

It is important to note that the principal approach for the conventional method and a 5G approach is the same:

  • to gain a perspective of the in-field variability and understand where soil samples should be taken.
  • to measure the soil nutrient concentrations in these areas.
  • to create variable-rate prescriptions that can be then implemented.

In contrast to manual techniques, Map of Ag took soil samples using Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) (developed for the Mars Rover space project), and crop measurements for nutrient status using a handheld spectral meter to assess the viability and benefits of a data-driven (uploaded via 5G) approach.

Soil Sampling

The aim was to:

  • Enable soil sample equipment with 5G for data transfer.
  • Install 5G on tractor and enable variable-rate applications.
  • Ensure the successful scanning of fields and uploading of data via5G.
  • Ensure the successful identification of sample points and data transfer back to sampler.
  • Collect soil spectra samples and upload data to the cloud for analysis.
  • Interpret soil sample maps for recommendations.
  • Transfer variable-rate file to tractor.
  • Carry out the application of fertiliser.

Crop Sensing

The aim was to:

  • Scan crops using a spectral device.
  • Transfer data to the cloud for analysis.
  • Transfer recommendation to the tractor.
  • Carry out the application of fertiliser (when appropriate).

RESULTS

In summary, key findings of the project indicate that in the two use cases, enabling rural 5G communications could have a significant positive impact on determining soil-based fertiliser recommendations in the following ways:

  • Higher Levels of Accuracy – achievable through the development of new sampling and testing strategies.
  • Speed – The speed of delivery and information capture and supply was shown to represent a saving of 20 days of time compared with conventional practice.
  • Savings in Fertiliser Use – There are potential benefits of over £78.90/ha that can be delivered on the farm.
  • Improved Workflow – 5G communications can de-risk and improve the workflow by wireless data transmission.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions – there is potential to reduce agricultural carbon emissions on this farm by over 728,116t of CO2e per year.
  • Scale – The information collected and scale could be increased by over 700% which, while this has not been qualified in our trial, could significantly improve the accuracy of the measurements provided.

Please click here to contact us for a discussion about how 5G can benefit your farm, and to request a copy of the full report.

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