For the past eight years, Servi-Tech Expanded Premium Services has provided remote soil moisture monitoring for many of our partner cooperatives and their growers. Using the knowledge gained from years of private and university research, we are able to turn the raw data from time-proven sensors into actionable irrigation advice, by showing growers how many inches of water remain for the crop, and how much additional water their field is able to hold. This step of going beyond a graph to provide actual inches of water measurements has set our product apart from the rest of the industry, and our website has led the way in providing growers with a fast, but accurate assessment of the soil moisture conditions for every field that they are monitoring. Since the introduction of TheProfiler, STEPS has made steady improvements in the hardware, website, mobile app and in-field service of the hardware.

In the upcoming 2018 summer season, STEPS will be making an improvement to the way we monitor soil moisture, with a system that we are calling TheProfiler Plus. The improvements include lower hardware costs, faster and easier hardware install, additional in-field data points to capture soil moisture variability due to changes in soil characteristics, and the unlimited potential for expanding into the future of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.

At the center of the new system is a new type of in-field telemetry box, which we refer to as a “gateway.” The gateway is a small box with a solar panel that is able to receive the data from surrounding devices, up to several miles away, depending on conditions. It then uploads the data to our secure servers for our website to deliver a fast, meaningful summary to growers. This gateway can be mounted on a pivot to give the added benefit of real-time pivot status and location, or on a grain bin or elevator to provide a greater area of coverage. The gateway will be semi-permanently mounted out of the way of field operations, so once it is in place it can operate for years maintenance free.

The in-field hardware, which we refer to as “soil stations,” will still use the same watermark sensors that researchers praise for their accuracy and growers prefer for their ability to measure inches of available moisture. (In the future, capacitance-style probes could be an option to add to the IoT environment.)

The sensor wires will plug (without tools) into to a small box called a soil station that is equipped with a cutting-edge long range low power (LoRa) radio transceiver that communicates with the gateway. Dozens of LoRa enabled devices can connect to the same gateway as long as they all are within range and have acceptable line-of-sight. The installer simply needs to slide the soil station onto a 3-6 foot length tubing. STEPS has simplified the watermark installation and removal process with a unique insertion/extraction tool that has been developed by STEPS.

The new soil station/gateway setup manages to lower both the cost of hardware and connection fees, as well as greatly reduce the amount of labor that goes into the installation and maintenance of each moisture monitoring location. Building on the successes from the initial offering, TheProfiler Plus gives growers more flexibility in measuring soil moisture using wireless data transmission from multiple locations within a field. Costs can also be reduced by sharing one “gateway” among multiple sensors in one or several different fields, transmitting the information through a single data connection in a more flexible and efficient system.

If a grower has CropView aerial imagery of that field, then the STEPSPRO.COM website will bring together soil moisture data and crop health imagery to get an unmatched view of which acres are best represented by each soil station in the field.

Bringing together imagery and soil moisture is only one of many ways that the STEPSPRO.COM website and mobile app is taking confusing array of sensors and data and turning it into a simple and fast way for growers to monitor their fields. While TheProfiler Plus will be introducing a new and better way to monitor soil moisture in 2018, it will continue to expand into features such as fuel/fertigation tank level monitoring, real-time flow meter monitoring, accurate and affordable in-field weather conditions, automatic pivot health alerts, and more! Trying to use each of these services from different vendors would take hours a day just to check all of the apps and websites. By combining these IoT solutions into one cohesive monitoring and alert system, STEPS plans to give growers all the benefits of these new technologies with none of the hassle.