Smart sensors tipped to transform UK horticultural sector Apr 19 2018 Electroblog Print Article Apr 19 2018 Electroblog As the UK agriculture and horticultural sector ponders its post-Brexit future – with the likely concomitant loss of Eastern European seasonal farm labour – the deployment of precision farming techniques and smart technologies to the UK industry that is now underway looks to be timely. And the mood of optimism in the farm sector is bolstered by a number of recent reports that point to the rapid growth of the smart sensor market over the next decade. ‘Market Insight Reports’ forecast a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) rise of 18.64% in the global smart sensors market, from $25.96 billion in 2017 to $72.39 billion by the end of 2023. ‘ReportsnReports’ forecasts a 12.6% CAGR growth in the global smart greenhouse market from an estimated $1.26 billion in full year 2018 to $2.28 billion by 2023. Control systems, sensors and cameras will play an increasing role in this market. And ‘Zion Market Research’ sees a 13.09% CAGR growth in the global smart agriculture market from $5,098 million in 2016 to approximately $15,344 million by the end of 2025. The UK farm sector though still has far to go in its deployment of smart sensors before it matches their use in other industries. Indeed, the smart sensors that are now finding their way into agriculture are already widely used elsewhere. Examples include: the automotive, industrial, consumer electronics, medical, security and defence and entertainment sectors. But UK horticulture is moving in the right direction. An example is the partnership announced this March between Fargro Ltd the West Sussex based horticultural distributor and the Dutch wireless sensor provider 30MHz B.V. The agreement offers modular, scalable and user-friendly smart sensing products to the UK horticulture sector. And the move represents a ‘first’ for the UK horticultural sector. The 30MHz technology comprises a network of wireless sensors and an analytical platform. The smart sensors were developed and tested by growers and horticultural research organizations, including Wageningen University and Proeftuin Zwaagdijk in the Netherlands. The technology is said to be quick and easy to set up as the sensors arrive already pre-configured and ready to deploy out of the box. Image Source Analytics are available immediately and alerts and visualisations can be delivered in real-time straight to a smart phone, tablet or desktop. A smart sensing toolkit allows for the right combination of sensors to be chosen by the grower with temperature and dew point just a few of the parameters that can be monitored. Growers connect data to the 30MHz wireless sensor platform, via Klimlink. This link was developed by Wim van Vliet, the agri-technologist. Fargro Managing Director, Richard Hopkins says that the deployment of the 30 MHz sensors will give growers, “real-time insights on their crops and environment.” He continued, “Growers in the UK are always looking for ways to improve efficiency, particularly in the face of growing environmental and climate change challenges. At Fargro, we want to make cutting-edge technologies widely accessible to UK growers of all sizes.” The 30 MHz technology is already in use the Netherlands. Dutch Pepper Farmers Kwekerij Moors uses the sensory data on pepper temperature to optimize the delivery of nutrients and water. And the Dutch flower bulb exporters Jan de Wit en Zonen uses real-time alerts and analytics, also supplied by the smart sensing toolkit. Meanwhile in the UK, the vegetable grower Madestein UK Ltd – also based in West Sussex – has now incorporated 30 MHz ‘smart sensor’ technology to improve the quality of its produce. The business specialises in innovative growing techniques, specifically hydroponics to provide a more environmentally sensitive product range, and undertakes research into the use of LED lighting for sustainable UK production. Jonathan Zwinkels Director at Madestein UK Ltd said, “We’ve just started with Klimlink as well, so we can now pull data from external sources into one central place, and see the interactions. It’s very interesting insight and has had an impact on our crop management team, helping them focus on optimising output and growth while minimising input”. So the message is clear. The challenge for the UK – and indeed all other – horticultural and agricultural sectors is how best to move away from the traditional over reliance on seasonal labour and towards incorporating the very latest in smart technology. To that end smart sensors incorporated into precision farming techniques will play an increasingly important role in achieving that aim. By Nnamdi AnyadikeI have 30 years experience as a freelance business, economy and industry journalist, concentrating on the oil, gas and renewable energy, telecommunications and IT sectors. I have authored a number of well received in-depth market intelligence reports. And I have also spoken at conferences.