Automated Greenhouse Monitoring Systems

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Max Litvinov

Oct 14, 2021 | 21 min read

Blog

Beneath a darknet cover of a greenhouse lies one of the most sophisticated robotics systems typical of the 21st Century.

Temperature, humidity, nutrition, and soil moisture content are being monitored and regulated in real-time while the farmer, who owns hundreds of such establishments, is in the comfort of his urban home somewhere in Europe, receiving notifications on his mobile phone.

This is how agriculture, in the form of greenhouses, has advanced to the present.

Once shunned for being time and energy-consuming, farming has of late become big business with the introduction of automated greenhouse monitoring systems and the IoT(Internet of Things).

The smart greenhouse is a revolution in agriculture where farmers can create a self-regulating microclimate suitable for cultivation. They achieve this by using sensors, actuators, and other monitoring and control systems that optimize the right conditions for plant growth, achieving sustainable production.

While commercial farming prioritizes the highest yield attainable, the use of greenhouse management software has proven to be resource effective. In addition, the automation of atmospheric conditions rules out the possibility of extreme temperatures, which may affect yields.

These are only some of the perks of automated greenhouse monitoring systems that have further propelled their popularity. Many farmers in developed countries use smart greenhouses, with Europe topping the market. 

Software developers have maximized this development, designing customized greenhouse monitoring systems for their clients.

Appvales is one of the leading software development companies to design, build, test, and launch a greenhouse monitoring application that suits your specific needs.

Let’s take a look at the extent to which automated greenhouse systems have penetrated the market.

Smart Greenhouse App Design Inspiration

Smart Greenhouse Market Size

There is a notable surge in demand for automated greenhouses.

Designing Buildings Wiki reports that the global smart greenhouse market, which was valued at US$680.3 million in 2016, may reach US$1.31 Billion by 2022, growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of around 14.12% between 2017 and 2022.

This development results from the rapid increase in the adoption of the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence by farmers and agriculturalists, particularly in Europe.

In another forecast, smart greenhouses are projected to reach US$2.1 billion by 2025, up from US$1.4 billion in 2020. According to the same report, Europe’s greenhouse market is projected to be US$836 million by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 7.4% during the forecast period. 

Various factors contribute to this rising demand for automated greenhouses.

Let us dive into details.

  • Rapid infrastructure development 

The rapid adoption of technology in emerging economies of Japan, China, and India drives the smart greenhouse market in the Asia Pacific. As a result, these countries are currently lucrative markets for smart greenhouses.

  • Urbanization and the quest for urban farming

The prevailing scarcity of arable land in urban areas has led farmers to adopt new solutions such as smart greenhouses and vertical farming for developing fresh produce.

Hydroponic greenhouses are the answer in municipalities where space is limited and fresh food costs are too high for the low-income population. They can create urban agricultural hubs, driving job growth, scaling to keep up with population growth, and supporting local green initiatives at the same time. While they take up less space and use less water than traditional farming methods, they can produce multiple yields than conventional farms.

  • The emerging trend of rooftop farming in urban setups

Rooftop farming is another invention that boosts automated greenhouse farming. The new practice uses green roofs, hydroponics, aeroponics, or air-dynaponics systems. It leverages high-rise buildings to develop rooftop farms. These farms retain rainwater, decrease the likelihood of pests and human interference in crop cultivation, and reduce air pollution. Thus, the increasing adoption of rooftop farming in urban areas is expected to be a growth opportunity for the smart greenhouse market.

  • Research and education institutions 

These institutions have also adopted the use of automated greenhouses for public and private research. They are the key end-users of smart greenhouses as they carry out research activities related to different flowers, fruits, and vegetables. They also provide hands-on experience to students in college and other institutions of learning.

  • High increase in global population unparalleled by food production

This increase in the global population has resulted in high demand for food production, making greenhouse farming a force to consider as the world tries to meet nutrition targets. 

Furthermore, food insecurity is a growing global concern, particularly in Africa, where climate changes have adversely affected food production, leaving the majority undernourished.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of The United Nations states that nearly 660 million people may still face hunger in 2030 due to the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global food security. Astonishingly, this figure is in excess of 30 million, pre-pandemic.

  • Malnutrition and the need to boost agriculture

Automated greenhouses have guaranteed the production of food in small geographic areas. There are particularly hydroponic ones mainly found in Europe and which do not require the use of much space.

Automated greenhouses can produce food all year round, unlike traditionally where these foods were only available seasonally and regionally. Climatic conditions in the smart greenhouses are regulated to enable the production of highly nutritious foods.

According to a Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations 2021 report, the number of undernourished people in the world continued to rise in 2020. In that year (2020) alone, the number of people who faced hunger globally was between 720 and 811 million.

The world has not been progressing towards ensuring access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food for all people. We have also witnessed minimal efforts towards eradicating malnutrition. What’s more, the COVID-19 pandemic made the situation even worse.

The need to address global malnutrition will see the agriculture business thriving, and what more great opportunity would that pose if not in smart greenhouses?

  • The need to address climate change

Globally, climate change is causing an increase in temperatures, rainfall variations, and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather. These events have added pressure on the global agriculture system – which is already struggling to respond to rising demands for food due to population growth.

This calls for measures to scale up climate resilience across food systems. To address these challenges, governments and agriculturalists are shifting towards greenhouse farming. So, the world can expect to see more adoption in the near future.

  • The prospect of a bigger market share in Europe

The population in Europe has expanded rapidly, and countries are importing fruits and vegetables in frozen form from markets in Africa and Asia. 

Indoor horticulture is gaining rapid momentum in some of the major countries in this region, allowing them to obtain fresh produce from locally cultivated farms. This factor is expected to generate a huge demand for controlled-environment agriculture soon.

Europe has traditionally been at the forefront of implementing advanced techniques in greenhouse horticulture. Countries such as the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy have large areas under greenhouse cultivation.

Despite the increase in demand for automated greenhouses, (particularly in Europe where urbanization is at its highest) high installation prices and high initial investment costs may inhibit growth in non-developed countries such as the Middle East & Africa.

However, favorable government regulations and incentives regarding smart greenhouse lighting technology can push this farming method in such regions.

Having established the market value and the projected growth of greenhouse monitoring using IoT, we highlight some of its significant advantages.

Smart Greenhouse App Design Inspiration 

Benefits Of Smart Greenhouse

A smart greenhouse has a variety of benefits, including;

  • Increase in yields
    Automation and smart optimization of greenhouses provide the plant with favorable conditions as per requirements. Greenhouse automation equipment makes it possible to monitor the plants and adjust fertigation rates, lighting, water, temperature, and air.
  • Protect plants from extreme temperatures
    Thanks to greenhouse temperature monitors, farmers can regulate temperatures. Temperature control is crucial as far as managing the quality of yield and preventing wilting of crops in the greenhouse is concerned.
  • Automatic regulation of atmospheric conditions improves the quality of crops
    Humidity fluctuations, security breaches, heater, fan, equipment, and power failures are all regulated in automated greenhouses to ensure a cost-effective benefit to the farmer.
  • Saves resources
    Smart greenhouse saves time and money especially if you have lots of large greenhouses to manage.
    Besides, advanced computer technology controls conditions for the plants with various sensors to optimize every growth stage, ruling out the need for manual labor and increasing productivity.
  • Analyze and visualize data within a web or mobile application
    Automated greenhouse operations make collecting valuable data such as plant cycles, climate control reports, soil data, and nutrient intake easy. The analysis of this data influences critical decisions on making necessary greenhouse adjustments. Learning the plant cycles will impact planting and crop care measures and processes.
  • Reduce energy costs
    One of the biggest benefits of automation is the ability to reduce overall production costs. An integrated automated system requires capital costs, but the long-term savings are worth it.
    Technology has improved, and with the many options, growers have access to automation systems with any budget. Unfortunately, too many growers are losing money due to inefficient energy use, but an automated greenhouse will ensure your systems are working as a cohesive unit which will save you on overall production costs.
  • You can take fast action
    Notifications and alerts sent by the smart greenhouse monitoring system to your mobile device allow you to detect cases of emergency in real-time. This will allow you to address the issue as fast as possible.
  • Prevents theft and improve security
    Automated alarm systems connected in the greenhouse instantly notifies the farmer of any security threat.

How Does Smart Greenhouse Work

The diagram below illustrates how the automated greenhouse system works.


image source

The key technologies used in the smart greenhouse market are HVAC, LED grow lights, communications technology, irrigation systems, materials handling, valves and pumps, and control systems. The LED grow light segment dominated the market in 2016, used as an artificial light source to stimulate plant growth.

Controllers

The controllers are the heart behind the greenhouse system, where actuators and sensors are connected to the automation software. They include soil, temperature, and humidity sensors as well as shade screens and LED lights actuators. What controllers do is integrate the climate systems with plant sensors, irrigation, and dosing systems.

Sensors

Sensors check and monitor overall internal and external greenhouse conditions like temperature, humidity, light levels, and carbon dioxide. In addition, there is another remote sensor for monitoring plant pH, moisture levels, and nutrient concentration.

The data collected is then processed by the climate control computer. Optimum climatic conditions already programmed into the greenhouse automation software will then regulate the growing conditions.

If the recorded conditions are out of range, the remote monitoring systems will trigger any necessary action needed to balance out the greenhouse again.

HVAC system

Heating, Ventilating, and Cooling (HVAC) systems are designed to maintain optimal greenhouse growing conditions, which vary according to the crop grown, time of year, and local climate.

HVAC systems play a vital role in greenhouses by maintaining an ideal temperature for plant growth, nullifying the adverse impact of changes in the external temperature, and enabling cultivation throughout the year.

The use of HVAC systems for each greenhouse depends on the level of climate control desired by the greenhouse grower. 

Low-tech greenhouses may use shading and ventilation as the primary sources of climate control. In contrast, the medium-and high-tech greenhouses tend to use evaporative cooling and supplemental heating in addition to shading and ventilation. High-tech greenhouses may also opt for refrigerant-based heating and cooling systems, especially for recirculating air systems. 

Vertical farms, indoor gardens, and other closed plant production facilities typically use refrigerant-based HVAC systems.

Light-Emitting Diode(LED) Grow Lights

These growing lights are specially designed to substitute natural sunlight, stimulating photosynthesis and providing the right color spectrum for plants to grow and flourish. In addition, grow lights are used to provide the proper environment for photosynthesis.

Plants use light to synchronize their internal clocks, and growers can use LED light to artificially extend daylight hours, ensuring that their plants bloom earlier in the year. 

Growers can also adjust the color of the light to stimulate growth. Plants only absorb blue, orange, and red light. As such, LED lights that use the optimal blue to red light ratio can fuel a plant’s growth and increase yield.

Equipment status and control

It checks in on system performance and controls ventilation, fertigation, humidity, extraction fans/foggers, dosing & irrigation systems.

The process

The specific sensors to the level of carbon dioxide, oxygen, the volatile organic compound (VOC), air temperature and humidity, atmospheric pressure, soil moisture, nutrition, and solar radiation all connect to remote monitoring systems to provide real-time updates.

Data from the sensors is sent to a gateway through a wireless network. Then, it is passed to the cloud. From there, it can be used in Web or Mobile interface to send notifications, show real-time charts, etc. Agriculturalists can also use it to trigger automatic actions on HVAC, lighting, sprinkler, and spraying networks.

Hydroponic and non-hydroponic greenhouses

There are two types of greenhouses; hydroponic and non-hydroponic.

In its most basic definition, hydroponics is a production method where the plants are grown in a nutrient solution rather than in soil. Over the past few years, several variations to the basic system have been developed.

Non-hydroponic, on the other hand, is the traditional method where farmers plant crops in soil.

The greenhouse and its environmental control system are the same whether plants are grown conventionally or with hydroponics. The difference comes from the support system and the method of supplying water and nutrients.

Data On Climate Conditions To Gather In A Greenhouse

Daytime and nighttime temperature inside and outside of greenhouses

Both day and night temperatures should be carefully monitored. High temperatures may cause damages such as inhibition of growth, fruit abortion, and even death. Temperatures lower than the optimum will alter plant metabolic systems to slow growth and, again, hinder fruit set. 

Humidity, moisture, and CO2 levels

Excessive moisture causes high humidity levels inside the greenhouse. The most visible effect of high humidity is the condensation that forms on the plastic or structural surfaces inside the greenhouse. Leaf surfaces of the plant will also feel damp to the touch, which can lead to increased disease problems. 

Moisture buildup can be controlled by improving ventilation. The drier and 

warmer the greenhouse, the less likely that disease problems will exist.

Light efficiency and sun radiation effect

Solar radiation provides heat, light, and energy necessary for all living organisms. Optimum lighting is critical for photosynthesis and respiration to take place. The use of LED lights in an automated greenhouse enables shaded plants to photosynthesize more and speed up the growing process than in a natural environment.

pH Level

Automated greenhouses can periodically test the acidity and alkalinity of the soil and irrigation water used. The greenhouse water and nutrients applied may change the media pH over time. Correct choices in fertilizers and management of the irrigation water can be implemented.

Soil, watering, and draining measurements

The system automatically regulates when there is a need for watering and controls excessive moisture that can cause harm to plants.

Plant health and maturity

Automated greenhouses enable a balanced flow of plant essential nutrients. If plants lack any of the nutrients required, the system automatically ensures that nutrients are supplemented through the fertigation process.

How We Built Automated Greenhouse Monitoring App

Description

The IoT project was built to control the overall state in the group of greenhouses. The embedded system was made of 4 sensor groups that communicated with the greenhouse hub, from which information was sent to the API(Application Programming Interface). One sensor group was in control of humidity, temperature and was aware of unwanted moisture. Four sensors were creating a virtual room that was controlled by a hub and API. API was responsible for virtual rooms (each room indicates a single greenhouse), had information from 4 sensors, and could adjust humidity and temperature remotely by accessing virtual room remote control.

Tech stack:

  • Sensors: under NDA. 
  • Frontend language:  JavaScript, React
  • API Language: Python;
  • Framework: Django REST Framework;
  • Database: PostgreSQL;
  • Cloud infrastructure: AWS;
  • Containerization: Docker;
  • Background tasks processing: Celery, Redis

Smart greenhouses are highly recommended and a way to go to ensure maximum returns in agriculture. Despite the high installation prices, you are assured of a return on investment.

The model designed by Appvales is recommended and comes with a proper maintenance and support agreement.

We at Appvales support you all the way to create beneficial products with outstanding user experience.

We can handle end-to-end product development or collaborate with your product team with dedicated engineers.

Our services include:

  • web and mobile development
  • dedicated developers
  • product discovery
  • enterprise applications
  • MVP for startups
  • product design.

You have an app idea. We know how to build it. Let’s talk.

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Appvales is a mobile development partner that helps you design, build, test and deploy apps. We can handle end-to-end product development or collaborate with your product team with dedicated mobile developers.

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author
Written by:

Max Litvinov

CEO at Appvales

IT enthusiast, investor, entrepreneur. Bringing the offshore mobile development to the next level.

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