Low-power smart sensors that exploit wireless technology are capturing important data on Farming Connect demonstration sites across Wales and sharing the benefits with other farmers and rural businesses.

LoRaWAN (low power long range wide area access network) radio frequency is not new – it is used globally in a multitude of situations.

It is especially beneficial in rural areas where communications infrastructure can fall short but it hasn’t been used extensively in Wales until now.

Farming Connect is leading the way by funding the installation of LoRaWAN gateway devices on demonstration sites. The gateways have a small antenna that can be attached on farm buildings on livestock, poultry and dairy farms.

These can connect to a myriad of sensors which collect data and relay it to dashboards on mobile phones and other devices, making analysis straightforward.

Once the system is set up, farmers can use this data for decision-making within their businesses.

An example is Wern demonstration site, near Welshpool, where sensors have been placed both inside and outside free-range hen housing to monitor humidity, temperature and light levels as well as concentrations of ammonia and carbon dioxide.

This allows farmer Osian Williams to maintain optimum conditions for his 32,000-bird flock.

The sensors are also linked to automatic misters which are prompted to spray non-infective bacteria at set times or when data collected from the sensors identifies spikes, to combat challenges from infective organisms.

Wern is one of 18 sites in the Farming Connect demonstration site network where sensors have been or will be installed.

Sensors have been developed in conjunction with ag-tech companies and farmers to be a specific match for the project themes and the data collection requirements of these.

The installation of the gateways was managed by Dewi Hughes, Farming Connect technical development manager, and delivered by Cymru Digital, a consortium of partners and specialists from across Wales, including lead partner, not-for-profit organisation Menter Môn.

Mr Hughes said a principal aim of Farming Connect is to lead the way and demonstrate new and innovative technology on its network of demonstration sites.

“We want to know if, and how, this technology can benefit the farming industry, so that the Welsh farming industry can lead the way on new technological developments. We are also mindful that this project could benefit the whole of rural Wales.’’

Each gateway has a significant geographical reach so farmers and others in the rural economy, beyond the demonstration sites, have the opportunity to explore and experiment with it, he added.

Matthew Macdonald-Wallace, a specialist in LoRaWAN technology, has worked with Farming Connect to install the gateways.

He says the possibilities the technology gives farmers are far ranging.

“Because these sensors are low power they can run on two AA batteries for up to ten years so it means they can be deployed across the farm, perhaps in soils or crops to pinpoint the best time to plant crops and they can be left there for years to capture and relay data to the farmer,’’ says Mr Macdonald-Wallace, of Mockingbird Consulting Ltd.

Dr Rob Shepherd of EvoMetric is providing the technical services.

With Farming Connect pioneering this technology on demonstration sites, it allows all farms across Wales to explore how this technology can improve farming operations, said Dr Shepherd.

“Rural communications is always a challenge, but this long-range technology will also allow farms within range of the demonstration sites to trial sensors and apps and get early access to new developments within agriculture and technology,’’ he said.

Gaining more information via this technology will allow farmers to make justified management decisions to benefit their businesses.

The findings from the projects that the data is informing will be disseminated to the wider farming industry.

The technology is in its infancy, particularly in the agricultural context, but Farming Connect is supporting Welsh farmers to understand and embrace it, Mr Hughes added.