IoT Agriculture: How to Build Smart Greenhouse?

Smart Agriculture solutions account for 6% of all IoT projects. The global agriculture sensor installed base will reach 600 million units in just four years. By 2050, the agriculture Internet of Things will boost food production by 70%. In order to cut operating costs and make the most of the available arable land, farmers eagerly jump on the IoT bandwagon, and their journey most often starts with building a connected greenhouse. Technology-wise, how do they bring the innovative concept to life?

IoT Greenhouse: First Step towards Smart Agriculture

From pesticides to temperature and the quality of soil, the number of factors which affect plant growth is truly endless. Thus, a farmer can either employ an army of agricultural workers to monitor crops 24/7 or go out of business.
Now there’s another option: you can trust routine tasks like light management and plant development monitoring to smart sensors and software with built-in analytics capabilities.
A connected greenhouse is a farming facility which incorporates the Internet of Things microcontrollers, sensors and software; it often works in sync with other tech solutions implemented in agriculture including automatic watering and HVAC systems. Smart sensors capture data on plant growth, irrigation, pest usage and lighting and send it to an on-premises or cloud-based server; a web admin console enables farmers to configure the system’s settings and integrate it with other solutions, while a mobile application generates alerts and reports on IoT greenhouse performance.
Pavel Shylenok, CTO at our custom software development firm, believes creating a wireless IoT greenhouse (as opposed to a wired one) is the only way to transition to insight-based farming without major capital investments; the cost of developing and maintaining a system featuring a thousand miles of wiring will certainly affect the price of agricultural products (diminishing as they are). In order to cut operating costs and make the most of the available arable land, farmers eagerly jump on the IoT bandwagon, and their journey most often starts with building an IoT greenhouse.

How to Build a Smart Greenhouse?

First and foremost, you should partner with a reliable IoT development company previously involved in Smart Farming projects. Your vendor will then choose the right techology stack for the project based on the size of your farm, the sort of plants you cultivate and the IT solutions you’ve already implemented.

Step 1: Choosing Hardware Based On Project Requirements

An IoT microcontroller unit (MCU) lies at the heart of any connected greenhouse system. Depending on its capacity and computing power, a microcontroller can use firmware or a classic operating system to process sensor data and transfer it to a server. Unless you want to install a portable camera enabling real-time plant monitoring, you can opt for a simple ESP32 controller which supports multiple types of sensors, uses Bluetooth connectivity, consumes little power and can be inserted into soil or attached to stems.
More sophisticated IoT greenhouse solutions which feature cameras are powered by microcomputers like BeagleBoard, Arduino and Raspberry PI. They use classic C++ embedded software to process sensor data and display certain Machine Learning capabilities (for example, such systems analyze the amount of green or red in the picture, estimate harvest ripeness and send the data to the central base station).
As a rule, one microcontroller covers up to 30 meters of arable land, so you only need five sensors to smarten up a one thousand m2 greenhouse. MCUs are then connected to your electricity grid. Since microcontrollers consume very little power (150 mA with both BLE and Wi-Fi data transmissions active and just 5 mA with the deep sleep mode on), the implementation of an IoT greenhouse solution will hardly affect your energy bill.
Have any questions? Ask our team!

Step 2: Evaluating Connectivity Options

The next step is to enable communication between the microcontrollers which comprise the IoT system. You can opt for a standard Bluetooth mesh network where nodes exchange data and re-transmit the messages sent by a remote MCU until it reaches the intended destination. Additionally, your vendor can enhance the network with a configurable server which manages other MCUs. You can distribute several Wi-Fi routers across your greenhouses, thus enabling sensors to connect to the Internet and send data directly to the server. The choice of a connectivity solution depends on the type of sensors and MCUs you’re going to implement, the strength of Wi-Fi signal and the total area of arable land.

How Much does It Cost to Design an IoT Greenhouse?

Based on our Industrial Internet of Things development experience, we estimate the cost of a custom IoT greenhouse solution (minus hardware) at $100-150 thousand. The sum covers the development of embedded systems (LUA/C++), a web-based application (the MySQL and PHP stack) and a mobile client for alert notifications, as well as consulting services regarding the choice of hardware components.

Agriculture IoT: En Route to Intelligent Farming

By 2022, the global IoT greenhouse market will top $ 1.3 billion - up from $ 680 million in 2016. By 2022, the global IoT greenhouse market will top $1.3 billion (up from $680 million in 2016). However, the Internet of Things applications in agriculture are not limited to connected greenhouse solutions. There’s precision farming powered by GPS tech, drones which lower replanting costs by up to 1000%, autonomous equipment, sensor-based cattle monitoring systems, etc. Agriculture companies embark on the Internet of Things projects in order to automate time-consuming tasks, optimize pesticide usage, prevent overwatering, reduce operating costs and improve the overall land productivity.
Unless you follow their example today, you’ll most likely lose your market share to tech-savvy competitors.
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