- Animal Products: eggs
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer
- Production Systems: general crop production
We will create and field test a farmer-built electronic tool that can monitor greenhouse temperature, record greenhouse data, and alert the farmer to problems in the greenhouse via cell phone text message. This tool will be much more affordable and useful than commercially available greenhouse alarms (which rely on landline connections or internet connections, which usually aren’t available in the greenhouse). The tool will be created through a partnership between a farm and two consultants with expertise in electronics development and software programming. Once developed, the tool will be field tested by several farmers, to ensure that it is accessible and appropriate for various operations. Once we’ve got it right, we will do outreach to ensure that many other farmers can benefit from this useful and economical tool. We will document the assembly of the tool and how to set it up through an online instruction guide and video. The project will also leave open possibilities for future developments: while this tool will be simple, straightforward and approachable for farmers, it will also be flexible and robust enough that more technically inclined farmers could add features to it for greater functionality, such as turning on or off greenhouse fans, monitoring soil moisture and humidity, or monitoring produce storage facilities.
Project objectives from proposal:
I was thrilled to meet recently with some specialists who work with electronics and software programming, who brainstormed with me a solution to this problem. These days there are electronics available that, with appropriate “tutorials” that we will write in this project, could allow farmers to create their own farm-built greenhouse monitoring and alert tools. This will mean that I can go about my farming day while getting regular text message alerts telling me what temperature it is in my greenhouse, or alerting me if something is wrong. Our tool will also record data on greenhouse temperature so I can ensure that conditions for my seedlings are on track. For this project, I will be working with two non-farmer consultants to develop the tool, and with two additional farmers who will help test the tools.
There are lots of potential opportunities to use this type of electronic set-up to monitor various things (temperature, humidity, soil moisture, operation of fans, light levels, etc.) and to do various things in response (send an alert, record data, turn on fans or other equipment, etc.). However, we want to keep this project focused, simple, accessible to farmers, and useful. So we will focus in on a system that will monitor greenhouse temperatures.
Through a simple interface of an LCD screen and buttons, the farmer can set up the monitoring tool to do the following:
-send the farmer a text message alert based on maximum or minimum thresholds (as determined by the farmer);
-send regular updates of what the greenhouse temperature is every X number of hours;
-the tool will also allow the farmer to send a text message to the greenhouse to ask what the temperature is right now, and get a reply.
We anticipate the cost of the parts for this farmer-built tool will be just $134, a fraction of the cost of less useful commercially-available greenhouse alarm systems. There will also be a minimal monthly cost ($5 per month for most cases) to pay for the cellular service to connect the monitoring tool so it can send cellular text messages.
We will begin by modifying a tool that one of our consultants, R.J. Steinert, has already successfully built: a monitoring device that records data on compost pile conditions and then send the data using a cellphone to an online database for analysis. The core of this system is built using cheap and readily available electronics parts that can be bought online and assembled by anyone with a little help from a tutorial.
Our software programmer consultant, Louis Thiery, will then write the programming code to adapt this monitoring tool to read greenhouse temperatures and be able to alert farmers directly via text message without having to go through an online database. Once we have assembled our prototype tool, we will do initial testing in the greenhouse at Hearty Roots Farm (my farm) to ensure that things are working properly. We will tweak what needs fixing to get it running right. Then, we will document the assembly of the tool and how to set it up through an online instruction guide and video.
Next we will offer the opportunity for two nearby farmers to acquire the tool for free in exchange for beta-testing it for us. We will give them the set of instructions that we have developed which indicates how to source the parts, assemble them, and set up the tool. We will learn from them about their experience to see if any further modification (of the tool or the instructions) is necessary to ensure that the tool is useful in different operations and by different users.
So what will this tool look like? It will be a small circuit board with a waterproof case, and a very simple LCD display and buttons that allow the farmer to input temperature threshold alert settings. It will plug into an outlet in the greenhouse, although it will also have 9-volt battery backup in case of power failure (if the power goes out and the fans die on a 90 degree day, we want this thing to send an alert!).