Verizon's ThingSpace Helps Winemaker Track Soil Conditions

Hahn Family Wines is testing the new solution to track the moisture level of its vineyard soil, via wireless sensor probes and gateways to aggregate that sensor data and forward it to a cloud-based server, where that information is managed and analyzed.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 24, 2015

California winery Hahn Family Wines is testing an Internet of Things solution provided by Verizon to measure environmental conditions at its vineyard and create analytics to manage water and occasional chemical use for optimal grape harvests. By using wireless sensors and a cellular-connected gateway, the winery can collect data regarding the soil and air that could enable the winery to prevent vine disease, recognize when there is too much or too little water, and ultimately not only improve the health of plants, but also lower operating costs.

Verizon's ThingSpace platform is intended to help developers or end users create applications using Verizon 4G connections to transmit sensor data back to a ThingSpace cloud-based server. ThingSpace includes application programming interface (API) simulators and developer kits to enable developers to create a sensor-based network, simply. ThingSpace, launched commercially last month, is designed for use in a variety of applications, including monitoring machines at manufacturing sites, tracking electric vehicles for colleges and universities, and keeping tabs on the environment around pharmaceutical products in the supply chain.

To transmit its measurements, each moisture sensor is wired to a Banner Engineering SureCross 900 MHz radio.
Hahn Family Wines worked with Verizon to develop its own system, consisting of Sentek Technologies' battery-powered moisture sensors inserted into the soil in which grapes are growing, as well as a weather station to measure air temperature and other conditions, a water meter at the water pump, and two Intel IoT gateways that aggregate data from the sensors. The gateways forward the collected information to a cloud-based server, hosted by Verizon, via a cellular connection.

"Verizon's agriculture IoT platform is designed to gain insights to provide actionable intelligence at a block level," says Kevin Welsh, Verizon's IoT product manager for agriculture. For example, a block on a multi-acre farm is defined as six acres. Growers can collect sensor data for each block and make the necessary corrections to watering or the spraying of herbicides or fungicides, in order to improve the plants' health and yield. "Analyzing data at a block level is designed to result in a more consistent crop yield," he explains, "while also reducing inputs needed, such as disease control or irrigation, to maintain the vineyard or farm."

At Hahn Family Wines, a single gateway is installed on the weather station, while another is located at the water-pump station. To transmit its measurements, each moisture sensor is wired to a Banner Engineering SureCross 900 MHz radio.

The winery had already been using Sentek soil-moisture sensors for years, says Paul Clifton, Hahn Family Wines' winemaker. However, those older deployments required that each sensor have its own dedicated gateway. Therefore, the winery could afford to install only one sensor per 100 acres, due to the cost of the hardware. That made it difficult to understand what was happening in the vineyard acre by acre, he says, since it would be unfeasible to put a sensor and gateway at every acre.

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