Laptops, iPods and BlackBerrys are a major part of daily life and doing business. Now they are part of the "simple life" of working on a farm, following technology developments that have helped make monitoring environmental conditions such as temperature easier and more efficient. Wireless sensors that allow growers closely track air temperature and soil conditions in real time work with the portable devices to allow the farmers to monitor their crops remotely. The growers use this information in a variety of ways, such as modifying an irrigation system for optimal yield or receiving automatic alarm notification of a frost.

Oregon Berry Packing Co., Hillsboro, Ore., a family-owned commercial berry farm, has leveraged the power of wireless sensing technology. The company installed 24 HOBOnode wireless sensors to monitor air temperature and soil moisture conditions in their fields.

"We were looking for a way to cut the time and money we spent going out into the field to manually download our data," says Will Unger, field manager overseeing the 240-acre farm. "It would take one of our farm managers several hours to go to nine different field locations and download the information necessary to access the environmental conditions affecting our blueberry and blackberry crops."

According to Unger, the farm manager would go into the field every couple of weeks to download the data. "We wanted a system that would automatically download the real-time data directly onto a PC at our office," he says.

The sensors, from Bourne, Mass.-based Onset Computer Corp., are roughly the size of a small flashlight, and transmit air temperature and soil moisture data without cables to Unger's PC several miles away.

"Installing the sensors was easy," Unger says. "We installed 24 sensors to the wireless sensing network with three repeaters a half-mile apart that transmit the signals."

All of the farm's environmental data transmits from the repeaters directly to a receiver that is connected to the PC via a USB cable. "Since installing the sensors, all we have to do now is look at our computer to get the data," Unger says, noting that for the first time, "we are able to view conditions on the farm as they happen."

The accompanying HOBOnode utility viewer displays real-time graphs of the farm's environmental conditions. The software also has been set to provide Unger with alarm notifications via text messaging and e-mail when conditions exceed a temperature threshold. "The software is straightforward and allows us to easily view our data," he says.

Unger emphasized the importance of the system's alarm notifications, citing an unexpected frost in the spring. "We were woken up by the text message and were able to respond fairly quickly and get the irrigation pumps working to shield our blueberry crop from the cold temperatures," he says. The quick response helped protect the farm's 15-year old blueberry plants.

"Not only does the wireless system save us time and money, the alarm notifications tell us whether we need to irrigate for frost control or heat control," Unger says. "We have peace of mind knowing that we will be notified when situations occur, giving us one less thing to worry about."

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