1. What is the innovation?
We bought South West Stone in 2016, it had been selling pre-cast concrete troughs in the Young area for over 22 years. We had numerous customers telling us the problems they have with troughs. Number one being the time it takes for them to manually check their troughs to make sure they have water and also the impact of losing water if the trough experiences overflow. One farmer casually said to us ‘surely this information can come straight to my phone’. This got us thinking!
We wanted to develop a simple, easy to install sensor that would SMS the farmer telling them their trough was low or on overflow. This led us to contact Newie Ventures who developed a LoRaWAN (Long Range Wireless Area Network) low powered device to be attached to the concrete troughs. This would enable customers to receive live updates on trough water-levels straight to their mobile phone, across significant distances enabled through the LoRaWAN-powered IoT network.
2. What benefits does the innovation bring?
Water now more then ever is one of the major concerns for our farmers. Accurate management of this valuable resource is key to ensuring the livelihood of stock – knowing when water either needs to be redirected to reduce wastage or when refilling is needed, will create more efficient processes for our farmers.
Our trough sensor has been designed to be simple, easy to install (no technicians needed) and the information sent is easy to understand (no data to download or try to interpret). As long as the phone has mobile reception, the farmer will receive an SMS warning them that the limits set have been breached. The sensors can be installed anywhere in Australia, no matter how remote, as long as you have a LoRaWAN gateway and reception to receive SMS.
The benefits of this are enormous. Whilst it is not intended to fully replace manually checking of troughs it does provide peace of mind that the information will be sent to farmers when they need it most. It is also hugely beneficial for farmers who manage their properties from many kms away. We have a farmer who lives in Sydney and is four hours from his troughs. This sensor is hugely beneficial to him as when he receives an alert he can advise his colleagues or neighbours to go and check his troughs saving him a four-hour drive. My dad recently got a text message whilst on holidays in Paris telling him his trough was low. He was amazed that he can manage his farm from the other side of the world!
3. What commercial success and/or benefit to society has it achieved?
Farmers are wanting to join the technological revolution! They don’t want to be left behind and as new farmers are taking over they are even more keen to manage their farms using technology. This benefits society by allowing our farmers to have flexibility when managing their farms. Flexibility by being able to work ‘off-site’ but still stay connected to their farms.
The sensor also reduces the risk of livestock death due to them not having water in the trough and the farmer not getting there in time to manually check it (this is a huge benefit!). Also, on the other hand, the benefit of saving water. Numerous farmers tell us the heartbreak they experience when they wake up of a morning and check a trough and realise the trough has been overflowing e.g. if the float valve malfunctions. All that water going to waste is not something any farmer wants to experience.
4. What lessons learnt can you share?
Getting the sensor off the ground certainly had its challenges. Prior to contacting Newie Ventures we were told that this was a very complicated project which meant a huge financial investment and therefore risk. Working closely with Newie Ventures cleared this up for us. Newie Ventures made sure our brief was fulfilled and that was to create a simple, easy to use device for time-poor farmers that aren’t into data collecting and just want a device that works! We have definitely learnt that the right working relationship is paramount as well as being able to work openly and honestly.
5. How many new jobs has this innovation created?
One casual marketing role has been created by South West Stone to accommodate the influx of orders for the novel trough product.