Turn real-time data into insights to guide, measure and prove sustainable farming best practices.
Deploy data management, analytics and supply chain technologies from Hitachi Vantara to establish a data-driven smart farm.
Proved that best-practice farming methods minimize nitrate run-off
Optimized fertilization and irrigation
Increased operational productivity through data-driven planning
55% reduction in administrative work – from quality assurance to compliance
Reduced operational costs; less wear and tear on machinery
Challenge: Create Data-Driven Insights for Efficient, Sustainable Farming
Bartle Frere Bananas is a mid-sized, multi-generational farm in Far North Queensland, Australia, supplying small markets and major grocery chains alike. Its owner, Gavin Devaney, is a Future Farming award-recipient for his adoption of best management practices and innovative technology solutions.
On a path of continuous improvement, Devaney joined the Data Driven Sustainable Smart Farming Project. The project aims to improve environmental outcomes and productivity for Australia’s horticulture sector.
Bananas are the #1 selling product in Australian supermarkets with the majority being grown in Northern Queensland, in the Great Barrier Reef catchment area. Whilst battling extreme weather systems, flooding and rising operational costs, Devaney believes banana farmers must also farm responsibly and sustainably. That means balancing fertilization, irrigation and productivity while being good stewards of the land and maintain the farm for future generations.
Bartle Frere Bananas wanted to gather data from across its operation and generate insights to inform best management practices, productivity, regulatory compliance and sustainability. Devaney wanted to prove that his operations adheres to the farming industry’s best management practices. He hoped to demonstrate that the bananas at Bartle Frere Bananas are carefully grown in a more innovative and sustainable way.
“Australians care where their food comes from and what goes into it. They care about sustainability and the environment. I believe they’d like to know more about how it’s grown and the farming practices that go into putting the food on their tables,” said Devaney.
Devaney’s ultimate vision is to achieve market and consumer confidence by being proudly transparent about the journey of each Bartle Frere Bananas bunch from paddock, through the supply chain, to market.
Solution: Harvesting Greater Insights to Innovate Smart Farming
Hitachi Vantara collaborated with Bartle Frere Bananas and Applied Horticulture Research to identify the data capture, measurement and decisioning requirements of the operation.
The smart farming solution developed for Bartle Frere Bananas forged new ground in terms of the correlation of real-time irrigation data, soil moisture and online nitrate leaching data, weather monitoring and forecasting to inform horticulture best practice.
It required bespoke software development as well as a configuration of Hitachi Lumada Manufacturing Insights designed for a horticulture use case. This project will inform future iterations of the Lumada product suite.
The implementation required the integration of sensor data from dozens of sources including a weather station, connectivity with a cloud platform, curation of the data, advanced data analytics and the presentation of actionable insights.
As project lead, Hitachi Vantara provided overall solution design, sourcing of sensors and other technologies, and implementation including data capture, edge computing, sensors and trackers, advanced analytics, and the output interface.
Collaboration with key partners is integral to this project. Applied Horticulture Research provides agronomy, agricultural science and best practice inputs. ICT International supplies sensors and communication nodes, and assists with the interpretation of sensor data.
The Trios in line nitrate sensor, supplied by Control Components, required sufficient solar power for edge computing, and installation across a representative area of the farm so that its data could be used to improve the digital twin irrigation, fertilization and leachate models developed for the rest of the operation.
Soil moisture sensors were strategically positioned and communicate to the cloud via cellular connectivity to the MQTT broker of Hitachi’s Lumada IoT Platform. GPS trackers on farm equipment and geotags on plants are linked via cellular connectivity and mobile cellular gateways. Nine towers around the farm transmit data from flumes, moisture sensors, and tag readers.
All of this data is analyzed and presented visually, as data, alerts and prescriptive insights via the Hitachi Vantara Control Tower solution user interface at the farm office to inform daily management decisions and long-term planning. Farm personnel can also access this information via a mobile device.
Outcome: Better Bananas Today and the Future
Data now informs the entire harvest calendar at Bartle Frere Bananas. Every morning, Devaney checks the visualizations and decision support, starting with irrigation.
“I was very surprised to find out I was underwatering sections of the farm. We now know to the milliliter how much the soil needs, in real-time. It’s been a revelation,” said Devaney.
Weather tracking, forecasting, soil moisture sensors and AI modeling enable Devaney to determine how much, when, and precisely where controlled irrigation is required. This has resulted in reduced water waste, healthier plants, and energy cost savings since irrigation pumps are only run when necessary.
“Thanks to this solution’s highly advanced approach to environmental monitoring, I have real-time data on run-off,” Devaney said. “We’ve already been able to prove that our farming practices are ensuring negligible traces of nitrate in sediment run off from the operation.”
Devaney now tracks the timing and location of labor movements, plant management at all stages of production, nutrient and sediment movement, product management, and environmental and atmospheric changes. When combined, this data tells Devaney a detailed story on his paddocks and plants, and allows him to make informed decisions on his crop and business management.
Analytics and prescriptive insights from Hitachi’s Lumada Manufacturing Insights suite help predict when the fruit will reach maturity and assist with responsible pest and disease management.
“My team knows exactly which plants need what treatment, each day, and where they are, significantly reducing the time they spend driving from plant to plant,” said Devaney. “We’re saving money too because we’re using less fertilizer and pesticide.”
Devaney has also seen a vast reduction in paperwork and administration.
“The quality assurance (QA) reporting that used to take my office administrator 8 hours per week to complete is now done in 3.5,” said Devaney. “This reduction in QA paperwork, plus having the data analytics and actionable insights presented to me on a screen in real-time are so impressive that, when we demonstrated this solution to a group of farmers they said they wished it could be installed on their farms the next day.”
This solution designed for Bartle Frere Bananas was featured at COP26 in 2021 to showcase data-driven smart farming.
Data Driven Sustainable Smart Farming Project
Part of the Data Driven Sustainable Smart Farming Project, this implementation benefits Australia’s horticultural sector at-large. This project is funded by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, Horticulture Innovation Australia, Applied Horticultural Research, the Australian Banana Grower’s Council, AusVeg, Freshcare, Greenlife Industry Australia, Growcom, Hitachi Australia Pty Ltd and Hitachi Vantara LLC.
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