Hira Bhana - Environmental IoT Monitoring Tech for the Future of Farming

Hira Bhana Banks on Adroit Environmental IoT Monitoring Technology for the Future of Farming

Sixty years of market gardening has given the Bhana family incredible knowledge of the climate, soil and seasonal challenges of farming in Pukekohe, but now they’re embracing Adroit’s IoT technology to help them thrive for the next generation.

Growing a Sustainable Business

When the Bhana family migrated from India in 1935 and started farming in the famous Patumahoe clay loam of Pukekohe, they couldn’t have known that their small plot would become one of the largest producers for the growing city of Auckland.

But, thriving on a diet of fresh vegetables, the Bhana Family Farm grew its original 25 acres (10 hectares) to now exceed 600 productive hectares, (1,500 acres), growing potatoes, onions, carrots, lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, a bit of pumpkin and some seasonal watermelon.

Bharat Bhana, one of four brothers who inherited the farm – the first to be born in New Zealand – says that the key changes in his lifetime are a move from seasonal produce to growing it all year round, including their crop of onions, 70% of which are exported.

“When my parents first started, they were growing as much as what we grow now, though probably more of the leafy vegetables, beans, tomatoes, things like that,” says Bhana.

Those days used to be seasonal, so you had a tomato season, you had a cauli/cabbage season in the winter, a lettuce season – whereas today we grow lettuce all year round. Potatoes are grown all year round. You can get onions all year round. The only seasonal things that we do here now is a bit of carrot, which takes about five months of the year. And a bit of pumpkin, which we sell over about four months of the year,

Bhana family migrated from India started farming Pukekohe

Monitoring Precious Water Resource

This huge, intensive operation has seen the Bhana family members develop an incredible body of knowledge that allows them to maintain the farm and deal with ever more-intensive red tape behind the scenes. Bharat Bhana says that water is top of mind when it comes to efficient farm management, but that, until now, required judgment on which plots to water which came from experience and instinct.

He also says that this knowledge of water and climate and plants, developed over years of trial and error, is difficult to pass on to others. And as the government imposes new requirements on water management, soil runoff, nitrate leaching and reporting, the Bhanas are looking to technology to play a role in the future of their farm.

“Since we’ve got younger members coming into the family, it takes a lifetime to learn what the older members have learned,” Bhana says.

“As we expand, everybody’s got more things to do, so sometimes they might not get around the crops as much as the older generation used to. With new technology, they can actually see exactly when water is needed.

“Having that technology, we can actually put on less water than what we were putting on in the old days. Sometimes less is more.

That is one of the things that we have to be careful of – of looking after our water resource – because it’s not there in abundance, it’s getting scarce,

water monitoring for efficient farm management

Adroit Solution

Adroit responded to the Bhana family’s needs by installing a sophisticated network of highly accurate and cost-effective Dragino sensors to measure soil temperature, moisture and electrical conductivity. Sensors have a battery life of 10 years and provide a soil measurement every 20 minutes.

The sensors mounted in Adroit designed deployment pipes that can easily be moved by the client as required. Two sensors are installed at each location, at different depths, providing the farmer with a clear understanding of the soil moisture profile.
Sensor data is securely delivered in real-time to the Adroit Platform, via the private Spark IoT LoRaWAN network, hosted on the AWS. The Adroit platform dashboard is easily accessed via an app and provides visualisation, reporting and analytics to aid and improve decision making on the farm. Data can be viewed on any device and is easily shared with other programs and reporting formats.

This solution allows the Bhana team to set parameters that enable automation of farming processes, resulting in consistent, high-quality decision making. Adroit Environmental IoT solutions can be installed quickly and easily, and are scalable to meet the needs of almost any agricultural operation.

As a local provider, Adroit understands that each farm, orchard or winery is completely unique so being able to customise all aspects of a monitoring solution, is key to achieving the right results.

sensors at different depths providing the soil moisture profile

Installation and Feedback

Bharat Bhana says that the whole process of getting the new Environmental IoT technology set up with Spark on the farm has been easy and cost effective.

“Once we decided what technology we’re going with, the IoT technology was quite easy to install, and it didn’t take long before we mastered how to do it. I haven’t had much to do with the installation of it – my son and my nephews do that – but it has been an easy road because the Adroit people came out, showed my nephews and my son how it’s done, and now they can install sensors themselves.

Data comes through on the Bhana’s phones, so those who’ve got the app, can check conditions at any time and plan which paddock or block needs to be dealt with next.
“You can look at it at 10 o’clock in the morning or 12 o’clock at night. And that gives us a very good indication of when we need to irrigate. We can look at the data, whenever we feel like it, and can make some real decisions on when the crop actually needs water and how much water it needs,” Bhana says.

“There’s a difference between putting on 15 mls and 50 mls. And by making that decision, we are actually saving on water usage. So, we’re ticking one of those boxes of being environmentally sustainable. We may be coming in a little bit more often, but using less, which is good for the plant, and good for the environment. We’re helping look after our resources for the future generations.

“Overall, I think that by having this technology is probably making our farming a lot better, and we’re actually giving the plant what it needs, when it needs it, and we’re not overburdening them,” he said.

soil conditions data displayed on phones

Future Challenges

Bhana says that the data is assisting with the creation of a farm plan and it also means when the Regional Council calls with questions around the farm’s water rights and usage, they’re able to respond quickly and with accurate data.

“All of these things that we need to do now. Every year you’re going to have to fill out a farm plan and give it in to your Council, to tell them what crops you got going in that paddock, how much nitrogen you’re going to use, how much water you’re going to use…
“I’m not too sure where it’s going to end up. All I know is that hopefully in a few years’ time, I can retire and let somebody else worry about it.

“I think the aim of any farmer and a farmer is we’re trying to produce a product that is environmentally sustainable. At the same time, to do that, we’ve got to be sustainable ourselves as we can’t do it alone, so we’ve got to have workers. We can’t do it by hand, so you’ve got to have big machinery. So, all of these things come into it.

“I’ve got a great view of sustainability on any farm, because if we’re not sustainable, what are future generations going to do? That’s something that our family is very strong on. That we believe that we’ve got to leave something behind for future generations. If our parents and our forefathers didn’t leave anything for us, what would we be doing?”
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