IoTea and One Company’s Vision for Smart Agriculture

Seeed engineer installing the SenseCAP (Source: Seeed Studio)

In the digitizing and evolving world we could survive without a ton of things, including oil, credit cards and TV – but not food. Surprisingly, even though as living beings we are in vital need of stuffing our stomachs with nutrients, the industries responsible for serving us edibles are on a downward slope. Agriculture, forestry, and fishing in China accounted for only 7.19% of the country’s GDP in 2018, down from 26.6% in 1990. This does not necessarily imply that agriculture has lost its importance, but rather shows that other sectors of China’s economy have gained more muscle. More alarming is that the new hot sectors of the economy are poaching people from more traditional walks of life. The labor supply has been decreasing by roughly 12 million people a year in the industrial and agricultural domains, while in return skyrocketing in the service sector. 

Farmers all over China are giving up their crops and moving to big cities to become couriers, delivering food and small packages. The boom in the e-commerce and O2O sectors allows them to earn twice their usual income by simply riding around the city on a scooter. What is left for agriculture as the workforce is dwindling is to readapt and become smarter and more technologically advanced. The value of China’s smart agriculture is projected to shoot to $26.8 billion in 2020 from $13.7 billion in 2015, according to market research firm ASKCI Consulting Co, Ltd.

For Seeed Studio, the company catering to the global community of makers from its headquarters in Shenzhen, agriculture is the latest idée fixe. The terraces of the company headquarters are planted with lemons and grains and repurposed as greenhouses, while ultra-low power consumption sensors are dotting every corner. The company has high hopes for its latest product, SenseCAP, a wireless sensor network enabling long-distance environmental data collection.

Deployment of SenseCAP at a wax apple greenhouse (Source: Seeed Studio)

Born from Seeed’s fixation with IoT, SenseCAP takes that notion to the next level. The sensor network is built to provide farmers with precise production and management indicators. The sensors pick up any real-time environment data that may have an effect on the growth of the crops, including air temperature and humidity, CO2, light, soil temperature, soil conductivity, photosynthetically active radiation, etc. Seeed was among the first to be certified by Microsoft Plug & Play (PnP) with their innovative product.

Although SenseCAP will only be officially launched to the market at the end of October, it has already been tested in real-life cases. Seeed Studio took up several pro bono projects to test and market the SenseCAP, helping farmers grow apples and other fruit.

Breakdown of the SenseCAP system architecture (Source: Seeed)

In another notable project, Seeed set out to help farmers grow tea through deploying sensor nodes, and gateways throughout a tea plantation to collect real-time data of factors that may affect the quality of the crop during cultivation and production. The solution wittily titled IoTea aims to increase management efficiency, reduce costs, and can be applied in agriculture, forestry and livestock farming, according to a company brochure. 

Meanwhile, the 2019 Maker Faire that Seeed Studio is hosting in Shenzhen on November 9 has adopted sustainable development as one of its main themes. IoT and, even IoTea, have already shown their potential in tackling environmental and efficiency issues bearing on the farming industry and with more attention being paid to the topic, we would not be surprised to see the Maker Fair Shenzhen 2020 celebrating smart agriculture.