IoT In The Field: How One Massachusetts Farm Is Connecting Its Greenhouse To Optimize Plant Growth

Like many other small farms, Quansett Nurseries, nestled in Dartmouth, Mass., had little experience with even mobile technology, much less the Internet of Things – until the company teamed up with IoT Impact LABS, Dell, and others to deploy IoT solutions.

"[IoT] is revolutionary for me… you have to realize that agriculture in general is not utilizing most technology," said Fred Dabney, owner of Quansett Nurseries.

The farm is now deploying IoT applications in various ways – and one of the most useful ways has been putting connected sensors into its greenhouses to collect data and determine which parts of the greenhouse fulfill environmental requirements for optimal growth with various plants.

[Related: Dell EMC Channel Chief John Byrne On Dell's New 'Spectacular' IoT Partner Program]

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Dabney wants to use environmental data, like temperature, light and humidity, to zone out his greenhouse, so he can plan which crops could go in various parts of the greenhouse based on environmental factors and the plants' requirements.

For instance, one challenge Dabney faces is effectively producing one of his top-selling plants, basil. But with the IoT solution, he can now see what areas within a greenhouse have the higher temperatures, where the basil will grow best in.

"I could put all my greenhouses into basil production if I could reliably chart what they require," he said.

To roll out its IoT solutions, Quansett Nurseries teamed with ​IoT Impact LABs is a New Bedford, Mass.-based company that helps bring together critical stakeholders, systems integrators and technology companies like Dell, PTC and Analog Devices to deploy IoT projects. The company emphasizes IoT field pilots for SMBs in vertical markets like the agriculture space.

IoT Impact LABS has deployed five sensors in plastic containers – protecting them from water and moisture – throughout the greenhouse. The sensors collect data about the light, temperature and humidity throughout the greenhouse, and feed that data to an Intel-powered Dell gateway.

The data then goes to the cloud, and Dabney can access it through his smartphone or PC – and see what's happening in real-time in the greenhouse.

"Now I can see from my desk exactly what's going on in here, and what the history of it is, see whether there's been any significant change," he said. "Micrograins are particularly sensitive to [heat, temperature and light], if we can change just a small amount we could have a huge difference on our bottom line."

Though few farmers in the area have typically used technology for work, instead relying on manual processes, Dabney stressed that there is an interest and need for IoT particularly as the next-generation of farmers emerges.

"One of the things that's happening in this little area of ours, down in Southeast Massachusetts, is the enormous explosion of small growers who are growing an enormous variety of crops," he said. "Anything that can help the smaller guys get a foothold will have a huge impact. We like the concept of talking to our politicians and saying we can provide you for jobs for young people, and will be able to do that using this technology."

IoT Impact LABS wants to help small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) deploy IoT Solutions by bringing together subject matter experts, systems integrators, early stage IoT companies and Fortune 5000 technology businesses.

"The big growers get access to some of this technology, but our whole thesis is how do we bring this technology to small-to-midsized growers at an affordable price," said Elizabeth Wiley, food security lead at IoT Impact LABS. "This is the exact situation where you're taking a sensor that is $50 and you're mapping it to this whole stack that can provide what would normally be cost-prohibitive for a small to midsize grower."