In 2013, 85% of the peach production in the Mendoza region (Argentina) was lost because of frost. Because less fruit was produced in the region, 600.000 less work days were needed to process the harvest between November 2013 and March 2014, a reduction in work force of 10.600 people. Across the Mendoza region, frost has caused a loss of revenue of 950 million Argentine pesos roughly 100 million USD in the peach business alone.
A frost event happens when the temperature is so low that the crops cannot recover their tissue or internal structure from the effects of water freezing inside or outside the plant. For the peach production, a critical period is when the trees are in bloom and fruit set (Aug./Sept. in Mendoza), during which the temperature needs to be kept above 3° C. Even a few hours below that temperature causes flowers to fall, preventing fruits to grow.
Because of the huge economical impact, countermeasures exist and are used extensively. Today, virtually all industrial peach orchards are equipped with a small number of meteorological stations which monitor temperature and humidity. If the temperature drops dangerously low, the most effective countermeasures is to install a number of furnaces in the orchard (typically coalfueled) and fly helicopters above the orchard to distribute the heat and avoid cold spots. This countermeasure is effective, but suffers from false positives (the helicopters are called in, but there is no frost event) and false negatives (the meteorological stations don’t pick up a frost event happening in some part of the orchard).
What is missing is a dense real-time monitoring solution deployed in the orchard, and feeding a frost prediction model. For this, having a couple of meteorological stations doesn’t provide the measurement density needed. Frost events are micro-climatic: cold and hot air have a different density, wind blows irregularly between the trees, so different parts of an orchard are affected very differently by frost. What is needed are a large number of sensing points (humidity, temperature, wind speed), at different elevations, throughout the orchard.
Low-power wireless mesh networking technology has evolved significantly over recent years. With this technology, a node is the size of a deck of cards, is self-contained and battery-operated. When switched on, nodes form a multi-hop low-power wireless network, automatically. Off-the-shelf commercial solutions are available today which offer >99.999% end-to-end data reliability and a decade of battery lifetime. Rather than being installed at a fixed location, these nodes can be hung directly in the trees. A network is deployed in an orchard in a matter of hours, and if needed, sensing points can be moved to improve the accuracy of the prediction model in minutes. And this solution is cheap, too: for the price one meteorological station, one can build 10 low-power wireless mesh sensing nodes. We use machine learning and pattern recognition to build an micro-climate predictive model by continuously analyzing the gathered sensor data in real time. This model generates early frost warnings. Ones demonstrated, the solution can be extended to other crops, and other regions.
The goal of this project is to dramatically increase the predictability of frost events in peach orchards by using dense monitoring using low-power wireless mesh networking technology.
The project runs from January 2016 to December 2017. It involves:
- building a dense sensing solution based on off-the-shelf networking and sensing products
- developing accurate frost prediction models based on the sensing data gathered
- conducting real-world deployments on peach orchards in the Mendoza region