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Customer Stories / Ranch Systems Leverages Digi XBee To Deliver Cloud-based Agriculture Automation

Ranch Systems Leverages Digi XBee To Deliver Cloud-based Agriculture Automation

"We tried to create our own FCC-licensed radio product, but it was a big drain on our engineering resources, and we weren’t totally happy with the performance. Digi's robustness was far better than the other alternatives we evaluated."
-Jacob Christfort, founder of Ranch Systems

Founded in 2005, Ranch Systems provides wireless solutions for field monitoring and control in agriculture environments. These solutions range from cellular nodes monitoring a single temperature sensor or tank level to sophisticated farm-wide networks with real-time wireless monitoring and control of the entire farm production and operation systems. Thanks to Digi XBee PRO® wireless modules, Ranch Systems can bring intelligence and automation to improve yields and lower costs.

Business Challenge

Across Northern California, winemakers cultivate countless varieties of grapes that they transform into lucrative, world-class wines. Of course, during the growing season, those crops are susceptible to even slight variations in conditions – temperature, sun exposure, soil moisture, wind, and more. That means farmers must constantly monitor every row of every acre of every vineyard and constantly adjust fertilizer, crop protection, and irrigation to optimize the quality and yield of their harvests.

According to Jacob Christfort, founder of Ranch Systems, protecting and optimizing the crops is the No. 1 challenge for virtually every farm where high-value crops are grown. “Whether it’s grapes and olives or fruit, dates, or nuts, the challenges are largely the same: ensuring consistent and precise conditions and optimized irrigation control,” he said. “When we talked to farmers here in Napa and Sonoma, they expressed a strong interest in the ability to monitor fields and control crop conditions. Most had tried other approaches and abandoned them because they involved a variety of isolated systems that were difficult to manage and maintain. There was no centralized solution to monitor and orchestrate fertilizing and irrigation.

“Fruits like grapes mature according to a heat scale, making it essential to know the heat accumulation through the year. And the plants must be irrigated within a very narrow band as you balance between yield and quality.”

Solution

Aiming to bring new levels of intelligence and control to these sensitive processes, Ranch Systems created RanchMaster, a portfolio of six agricultural solutions all managed by a single platform: weather and climate, soil-moisture tracking, irrigation, tank/pond monitoring, remote cameras, and alerting. The suite combines a broad range of sensors and controllers with wireless connectivity – both WiFi and cellular – to both monitor conditions and instrument the farm’s equipment to manage and apply water, fertilizer, or other treatments; open and close tanks and valves; control pumps and engines; and send alerts, such as frost and heat alert warnings.

The Ranch Systems solution features the Digi XBee PRO series of radios that provide best-in-class wireless range. Supporting RF line-of-sight ranges covering most farm sites and data rates of up to 200 Kbps, the Digi XBee PRO is ideal for Ranch Systems’ agriculture applications.

According to Christfort, Digi was the ideal choice for these demanding systems. “We tried to create our own FCC-licensed radio product, but it was a big drain on our engineering resources, and we weren’t totally happy with the performance,” he said. “We realized that the data logging and field nodes and those functions were where we should spend our time and talent – not on radio connectivity.”

Results

Christfort noted that Digi’s reputation for reliability and value are well-earned. “We’ve used Digi for 10 years, and have really gained the benefit of their experience,” he said. “It’s a well-documented, proven product with good range, good performance, and good price. The robustness was far better than the other alternatives we evaluated. We didn’t initially know about Digi’s long product lifecycles, but that’s a major advantage. They’ve released a long line of modems that use the same form factor, so we don’t need design changes to upgrade our product.”

Although the data volumes aren’t necessarily large, the value is high. Ranch Systems applications often poll data from nodes every five or 10 minutes to ensure the highest level of consistency of the conditions in the field. “We really appreciate the mesh network architecture,” Christfort said. “Our systems use radio connections among the nodes, so on farms where there is a high density of valves and sensors, the radio connections pull in the data from the devices in a feasible, cost-effective way. A cellular connection is then used to send all the data from the field to a central server for monitoring, analysis, and subsequent orchestration of the devices and events.”

With more than 5,000 stations deployed and more than 1,000 farm customers around the world, the Digi-backed solutions from Ranch Systems are optimizing high-value agriculture. “We’re glad to have a reliable partner in Digi to make our systems so dependable for our customers.”

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