On-farm wifi system opens up new world of opportunity for WA farmer

Neil Lyon, Grain Central, 28/04/2017

A WESTERN Australian farmer has boldly stepped into the digital age by pioneering the installation of an intranet network across his entire property to create new management opportunities and better-connect the business remotely.

Darrin Lee

The farm network solution was designed by Origo and installed on Darrin Lee‘s 6500-hectare mixed farming business, Bligh Lee Farms, north east of Mingenew where he and his family grow about 4400ha of crops and run 3500 sheep.

Mr Lee’s first foray into the high-tech era was five years ago when he employed drones for crop and paddock inspection tasks, only to abandon the exercise after crashing the costly machines.

“Initially I got involved with drones. Gravity pretty much sorted that out. They became a nightmare of disasters. They are great for crop plot work but they struggle with broadacre agriculture. They will have a place in the future,” he said.

While his initial experience with drones was disappointing, it pushed him into wanting to see where we could get real value from adopting new and emerging technologies on the farm.

“The key to a value proposition is to maximise profit, minimise expense, save time and have better and more effective management,” he said.

That led him to embark on a cooperation with Annie Brox and Origo to develop a unique farm IT and network systems based on open technology.

On-farm antenna.

The project to set up the whole-farm intranet network was designed to allow him to access a range of digital agricultural tools and have the capacity to collect and exchange data across the farm with a high level of inter-connectivity.

“The solution was to build our own wifi network with everything linking into a common source. I want to capture everything that happens on our place into one system,” he said.

“So, we have put it all into one place. Our seeders can send information, our sprayer, our header, our paddock stations, our farm vehicles. All our information now comes into our own farm house and onto our own farm server developed by”

So how does the network work?

The key to it all was to tap into the ADSL2+ port in the nearby town of Mingenew, 17 kilometres from the farm. (This is an interim solution as Mr Lee is working with a range grower groups and agriculture industry partners to create true internet access services for the industry).

Antenna set up on the roof of a house in Mingenew to beam the wifi signal to Darrin Lee’s farm.

“We put an antenna on someone’s house in town and shot the beam out to the farm where we can redistribute it to give us our own paddock wifi network,” he said.

It links into three, strategically-sited, 23-metre-high towers that give point-to-point connections and coverage across the entire farm.

The system has opened up a range of new monitoring and management opportunities for Mr Lee:

  • “We have a couple of cameras set up on our bulk fuel storage and bowser. Another camera looks down the driveway so that when we are away we can monitor who comes and goes.
  • “We have four complete weather stations that measure temperature, windspeed and direction, humidity and rainfall. Every second of the day that information is collated and downloaded to our in-farm server.
  • “We have 10 moisture probes throughout the farm so we know what the water holding capacity is for every soil type on the property. We can go into that platform and see where our moisture is, how much we have and what I can do with it.
  • “We have a bore monitoring system right over the farm that we can go back into and see where the base of the water is below the surface.
  • “If I’m away and there isn’t enough water in the tanks for the sheep, I can go into my network, see where the level of the tank is and turn it on or off.”

Mr Lee said the “brains trust” of the system was the farm server that gave him the capacity to control information and access the system from afar.

On-farm weather station.

“We have our own private farm cloud where we can store all our yield maps, documents and information. I actually have control of that data,” he said.

“I was in Sydney the other day and, with our virtual private network, I can link into our private farm server. I can interlink back into my own information. Anywhere in the world I can link back into my farm server and grab information.”

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