Ag-Tech Co. Captures Intelligence at Durian Plantations in Malaysia


Sustainable Hrvest is deploying its LoRaWAN IoT-based solution for Malaysian fruit farmers to manage real-time data and analytics about soil health, watering status and weather.

Jan 02, 2024A popular Asian fruit known as the durian is both challenging to grow and highly profitable for those who sell it in China, Thailand and beyond.

Malaysian agriculture technology company Sustainable Hrvest is bringing a technology-based solution to durian fruit farmers to help them with productive harvests and healthy crops.

The startup's cloud-based platform consists of its cloud-based software management; its own soil moisture, PH balance and flow rate sensors; and Semtech LoRaWAN connectivity so that sensors can transmit data from the most remote sites. The solution is expected to be taken live at 30 farms by the end of this year, after which it will monitor weather and moisture conditions to improve farming practices, lower costs and increase yields.

Durian is known in Southeast Asia as the "king of fruits" for its large size and strong odor. It is difficult to grow and harvest, yet it remains in high demand. This means farmers must be accurate, timely and efficient in order to maximize yield, says Tan Han Wei, Sustainable Hrvest's co-founder and chief technology officer. Durian fruit requires some specialized farming, he explains, and can take five or six years to reach maturity.

Using LoRaWAN for Better Farming

Durian tress are highly sensitive to over- or under-watering, Wei reports, as well as plant disease and pH changes. Because the plants are slow-growing, the loss of a single tree can be significant. "It's very important to take care of the trees," he says, and that requires managing the health of the tree, the soil and any conditions that could affect future growth.

To capture and manage such data, the company opted for the low-energy and low-cost demands of LoRaWAN transmissions. "LoRa was an easy choice for our team," Han Wei recalls.

The technology has been able to reliably transmit data from the Musang Valley Plantation, a 700-acre plantation, covering sensor data related to 11,000 durian trees. The land includes many steep hillsides that make managing the crops challenging, Han Wei says. LoRa technology monitors the trees, alerts farmers if an issue occurs and thus allows them to take immediate action.

"This response not only saves time," he states, "but also mitigates potential tree loss and revenue. Sustainable IoT and LoRa have completely overhauled farming in Malaysia."

Headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Sustainable Hrvest was launched specifically to provide technology for the durian farming sector. The company serves farms sized from 10 to 10,000 acres, using machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to manage data over time. Its services include preliminary soil analysis, Internet of Things (IoT) consultation, crop specialists and data analysis. Sustainable Hrvest offers its solution on a subscription basis, providing an affordable solution for less experienced farmers to track the success of their fruit.

What a Deployment Consists Of

After the company visits a new customer's plantation, it installs soil sensors, the LoRaWAN gateways and weather stations, then begins collecting data. The software's AI and ML functionality provides real-time data and alerts, as well as long-term analytics. The goal is to help users better manage their water and other treatment plans.

Users can create GPS locations for each sensor, set up zones and select crop types, such as Musang King (a durian cultivar combining sweet and bitter flavors) or blackthorn (a hybrid durian variety). All of the benchmark data is shown on the dashboard.

The hardware installed onsite consists of a soil moisture, nutrient and pH sensor, which allows such data to be captured when the probe is inserted in the soil near a tree's roots. Sensors are inserted into the soil at two points: one at a depth of 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) and another at 60 centimeters (23.6 inches), where the root zone extends. The system provides pressure measurement for irrigation lines, along with a weather station to track local weather data.

A Semtech LoRaWAN electronic subscriber identity module forwards the collected data to an area gateway at preset intervals. The software gathers data from the sensors, as well as from the weather station, to determine the amount of rain that has fallen, in addition to the soil conditions and water pressure. If the software identifies an issue, such as a zone within a field where watering is needed or can be turned off, an alert can be displayed on the dashboard or be sent to an authorized party.

Technology Benefits

Han Wei says the company opted to deploy LoRaWAN technology as a low-power, long-range connectivity network that works where other networks might not be available. For instance, many plantations are located in highly rural areas, on the sides of steep slopes, and they tend to lack cellular connectivity such as 4G.

"That's why LoRaWAN is one of the best options," he explains. "You can have your network just the next day."

The system's long battery life, which benefits from Semtech's low-power chip, is critical, Han Wei says, because "whenever [farmers] plant in a rural area, they don't want to go and access the sensors to frequently change batteries." The devices are not solar-powered, he notes, because as trees grow above the sensors tracking soil conditions, the leaves tend to shade the area where a panel would be installed.

LoRaWAN for a Challenging Environment

The devices can be set to transmit only at specific intervals in order to conserve battery life, such as every 30 minutes or every hour. "I would say that most of the time, this sensor is actually asleep," Han Wei states.

In the meantime, the software is designed to make recommendations including how often watering is required. That data can reduce a farmer's water costs and electricity consumption, he says, if their water pump is being over-used. The technology can also detect other problems, such as a worker accidentally cutting an irrigation pipe.

This would result in a drop in water pressure, which would indicate a problem. A user would then receive a notification to visit the site. The software could also identify other problems at a plantation, such as soil being packed too hard for water to penetrate. That could cause one zone to take in too little water, and others to take in too much. Farmers could then be directed to use organic matter to soften the soil so the water can penetrate.

Savings for Farmers

Such a modification can save cost for farmers, since fertilizers and watering are wasted if they fail to penetrate the root zone. Additionally, farms can use the technology to monitor employees' activities, workers wearing a LoRaWAN badge that can be tracked as they go about their work in the fields. In this way, the owners of farms located elsewhere can view what is taking place in their fields, along with when a specific part of the plantation was treated and by whom, or when it's time to visit a specific zone of the farm.

The company has been collaborating with local universities to study the sensor results, and to identify ways in which to improve on the product. The technology has been in place for approximately three years, Han Wei says, with the current season starting six months ago. Some of its farms include the Musang Valley Plantation, as well as Klaufield Durian Orchard and EcoFarm.

As more data is collected, Han Wei states, "It's constantly evolving and becoming more intelligent as time goes on."

Key Takeaways:
  • The highly challenging and lucrative durian farming industry is benefitting from a LoRaWAN solution from Sustainable Hrvest that monitors soil and weather conditions.
  • During the next year, the company plays to deploy the solution at 30 farms throughout Malaysia.

23 Jan 2024

Smart farming is the key to a sustainable future.