Soil moisture sensors piece of cake to install

The sensors update information through a LoRaWAN or cellular network, enabling 
access to data any time farmers want it 

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — A rubber mallet and a smartphone are all the tools needed to install Sensoterra’s line of soil moisture sensors.

“You stick them in the ground, you whack them real hard until they’re snug to the ground, and they are installed,” said Bas van der Velden of Sensoterra at InfoAg in St. Louis, Missouri.

“You take your phone and scan the QR code. It takes the location of your phone, and that’s the entire installation. You can do it in under a minute.”

The start-up company began operations in the Netherlands in 2016.

“We created these because we actually had a need for these ourselves. We needed to measure newly planted trees,” van der Velden said.

However, the company didn’t really take off until 2017, when it changed the technology to be LoRaWAN compatible.

The LoRa Alliance is a non-profit association of more than 500 member companies that use low power wide area networks (LPWAN) based on radio technology and work to develop the LoRaWAN open standard.

“Since then we have sold over 5,000 sensors all around the world in over 30 countries. By the end of this year, 2019, we expect to double or even triple that,” van der Velden said.

“We do that by selling these sensors through resellers who sell them to farmers in their neighborhood.”

Once the sensors are installed they update information through either a LoRaWAN or cellular network, enabling users to get soil moisture data anytime they want through a free Sensoterra app.

“We guarantee the battery for three years,” van der Velden said.

“We have them tested and it turns out they can last for up to five years, but we guarantee them for three years, even if they are 365 days in the soil, measuring once every hour, so 24 times a day.”

He said users can pull the sensors out of the soil when readings aren’t needed to extend battery life.

“So when you take them out, make sure these (the bottom tips of the sensors) don’t connect to the ground,” he said.

“It will go into sleep mode after 48 hours of no measurements, and then it will report only once every 24 hours. That will extend battery life significantly.”

The battery cannot be changed because the air and watertight case cannot be opened.

The sensors are available in multiple lengths to monitor 15, 30, 60, and 90 centimetre depths.

Another product the company sells takes soil moisture readings at multiple depths (10, 20, 30, 45, 60 and 90 cm) as well as soil temperature readings at the 35 cm depth.

“Price depends on if there is a cellular network available or a LoRaWAN network available, but the retail price would come anywhere from US$250 to $270 per sensor installed, and it include three years of connectivity.”

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