farmers to benefit from smartphone app that monitor greenhouses
By Farmbiz | Mon 27 Feb, 2012

A UK company has developed an app stored on a smart phone that can assist farmers monitor and protect their green house crops from ever changing weather conditions, in a technology addition that looks set to aide many of Kenya’s green house horticulturalists. Greenhouses have become dominant in Kenya because they protect crops against strong winds, rain and other unfavourable climatic conditions. In addition, temperatures are usually higher inside greenhouses, leading to increased growth and earlier harvests than for out-door crops.

But controlling the temperatures inside a greenhouse has been a constant problem to farmers around the world. Greenhouse production requires constant temperatures and humidity control – around the clock.

In large-scale professional greenhouse production, this is done with the help of technical equipment, which small farmers cannot afford – meaning farmers need to check the temperature and humidity in small greenhouses all the time.

A greenhouse can overheat very easily in the bright sun, and condensation must also be checked, or crops can be destroyed. This means that ventilation is essential and must be easy to adjust. This is especially important in hot regions, where temperatures inside a greenhouse may quickly rise to elvels that will damage crops.

“I am literally tied up to the greenhouse to ensure the temperatures are right all the time”, said one greenhouse farmer in Ruai near Nairobi.

However, the new app from Telit Wireless Solutions allows farmers to remotely control and monitor plants in their greenhouses, an innovation that can potentially improve yields and reduce labour costs. Telit initiated the smart farm project in partnership with Disys, a South Korean designer of mobile applications.

According to a report appearing in Telcom News, farmers in South Korea have already started using the new smart phones innovation. South Korea cultivates fruits and vegetables in thousands of greenhouses spread across the country, which the new technology is aimed at.

Its urban-based farmers drive to their farms at least twice a day to cover or uncover plants with woollen blanket sheets by switching a motor on or off. However, with the new application stored in a smart phone, farmers are now able to maintain consistent crop temperatures.

Additional smart farm features are planned, including temperature and humidity sensors that can enhance the growth and health of crops while reducing the amount of water and energy required. Surveillance cameras will also be installed to prevent the theft of crops and provide a visual check of the greenhouses for farmers.

The aim is to facilitate mobile and long-distance greenhouse control.

"The system can be used for various other farm applications as well, such as a security and tracking system for livestock barns in case of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks," Dominikus Hierl, chief marketing officer at Telit Wireless Solutions said. "We are currently assessing the global market potential for this system."

Tellit’s apps enable instant communication from the greenhouse to an integrated server using the 3G/4G wireless network. The module's high transmission speeds, small form factor and ability to withstand temperature changes make for easy connection to most M2M applications and wireless data communication devices.

The South Korean government has approved the technology, initially introduced in Seongju, an agriculture-dominated county and the biggest oriental melon farming area in South Korea with more than 60,000 greenhouses.

The technology is now being explored for use in Kenya.

Ms Grace Mungai of Shetia Industrial Chemicals, one of Kenya’s greenhouse makers and assemblers, says the new technology will be of great help to their customers, especially at the Coastal region where it is very hot during the day and humid at night.

“The high temperatures at the Kenyan Coast area have forced us to modify our greenhouses so that the crops can withstand the hot temperatures in that region,” said Ms Mungai.

“Flowers and vegetables are very sensitive to temperatures. We have been increasing the height of the greenhouse as a way of managing the heat, but with the new technology, I think farmers can manage their crop with much greater ease, so long as the applications are not expensive.”

Amiran Kenya, another company that supplies greenhouses in Kenya, has also been making special greenhouses for the Coastal region, with special structures made with solarig covers that absorb sun rays and manage radiation.

For small scale farmers who cannot afford these kind of greenhouses, the company has ventilated structures that enable owners to open them at the top to allow the hot air to escape.

But different crops have different optimum growing temperatures with the optimum temperatures even sometimes different for the root and the shoot, as well as at the different growth stages during the life of the crop.

Solar radiation (light and heat) exerts by far the largest impact on the growing environment, resulting in the challenge in maintaining the optimum growing temperatures, and making the smart phone control of sun blankets key to long-distance surveillance and management.

Written by James Momanyi for African Laughter

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