In the land of agriculture, the Internet of Things is blooming. From home garden sensors and sprinkler controllers to industrial-scale farming applications, there are now dozens of ways to wirelessly measure the health of soil, automate irrigation to reduce over-watering, track equipment and monitor weather conditions.
The one thing nobody ever seems to slap a sensor on? Plants.
Phytech, an Israeli company, may have been the first to realize the untapped potential to gather data directly from plants themselves.
“Your plants hold a world of knowledge – they ‘know’ how much water, nutrition and light they need, they know when they are ‘stressed’, and they know exactly what they need to create the optimal conditions for copious crops,” the company’s website reads.
Like flowery Fitbits, Phytech’s patented sensors attach gently to a growing stem or fruit to directly monitor the plant’s vital signs. They measure micro-variations in the diameter of the plant’s parts, which indicate growth as well as hydration as the plant sucks water in or loses it to sun-baked air. Combined with other sensors to detect moisture in the soil, local weather conditions, and the exact amount of water being delivered by the irrigation system, this provides a detailed window into the health of a crop.
Data from a group of sensors is collected by a hub out in the field, which sends the encrypted information to Phytech’s cloud servers over the cellular network. Farmers can view real-time data and analyze trends through Phytech’s mobile app and website. Armed with precise quantification of their plants’ wellbeing, they can start to make better-informed decisions and potentially automate plant care through other smart farm systems.
The most direct benefit is cutting down on water use through a more carefully targeted irrigation schedule, which provides precise amounts of moisture to plants at the first sign of stress instead of in large daily deluges — reducing water consumption by 20-30 percent while increasing crop yields. That should be especially interesting to farmers in drought-stricken regions like California.
Phytech systems are in use at hundreds of orchards, fields and greenhouses around the world, and can be configured to the needs of dozens of crops. Learn more at Phytech.com.