Smallholder farmers, often owning five hectares of land or less, play a critical role in global food security—with approximately 570 million of them producing up to one-third of the food consumed worldwide. However, they face numerous challenges, including limited access to modern technology and the increasing impacts of climate change. Edge computing is helping to revolutionize agriculture, and the Linux Foundation is at the forefront of this transformation.
The foundation developed Liquid Prep, an intelligent mobile app-based watering solution, as part of the IBM Call for Code initiative in 2019. The app gathers soil moisture data from a portable sensor, fetches weather information from The Weather Company® and accesses crop data. Powered by IBM technology, it analyzes data and provides watering guidance to farmers, such as whether to water their crops now or conserve it for a better time.
In 2021, Liquid Prep became an open-source software project hosted by the Linux Foundation. The next year, Texas A&M AgriLife joined the IBM Sustainability Accelerator, a pro bono social impact program that helps agricultural communities in arid and drought-prone regions in the US. The Accelerator actively supports software development and enhancements for the app to give farmers insights for more effective water usage. This helps them increase their crop yield while also decreasing economic and environmental costs.
Challenges and scalability
As Liquid Prep continued to evolve, the need for a single sensor to measure plants in more than one location became evident. The software also needed new features to support farmers with multiple crops and various sensors for different soil and crop varieties. The variety in available IoT sensors also necessitated a system to efficiently manage the wide array of devices so that farmers wouldn’t need to rely on IT professionals to use the software, deploy the sensors or gain value from the provided insights. The IBM Sustainability Accelerator enabled the creation of low-cost soil moisture and temperature sensors. Now, this real-time data can be uploaded to the IBM Cloud® to be analyzed.
The role of Open Horizon as an edge computing platform
To ensure the solution is scalable and easy to use, Liquid Prep began working with Open Horizon, an open-source edge computing project from the Linux Foundation. The project, originally contributed by IBM, seamlessly places the Liquid Prep software and other supported solutions onto devices without writing code or needing physical access. It automatically updates software installed on edge computing nodes and devices without human intervention, making it a seamless solution for agricultural use cases.
Open Horizon is complemented by IBM Edge Application Manager (IEAM), an enterprise-class offering that provides comprehensive support and a user-friendly management dashboard for easy machine learning deployment and workload management.
IBM Research® continues to collaborate with Texas A&M AgriLife Research to develop ML models that provide even more insights to farmers so they can make smarter decisions about their crops. These models are to be distributed to the edge devices autonomously through Model Management Service (MMS), one of the many supported components of Open Horizon. To demonstrate these capabilities, IEAM is powering the AgriRegio Projekt—an ongoing Germany-based initiative that implements resilient farming practices by using offline-first principles.
More enhancements to Liquid Prep
A notable enhancement to Liquid Prep is the introduction of a mesh network that uses the ESP-now communication protocol. Liquid Prep’s adaptability through Open Horizon enables integration with solutions such as LoRaWAN, which expands its reach and versatility in various farming scenarios.
Liquid Prep’s journey transcends agriculture. It has the potential to be applied in water management, sustainable energy and more—wherever smart IoT sensors, applications and workload placement play a crucial role. This technology is not just transforming farms; it has the potential to help shape the future of sustainability and smart resource management.
Liquid Prep empowers smallholder farmers and demonstrates technology’s potential to address global challenges. From winning the Call for Code Challenge to presenting at the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, Liquid Prep is a showcase for technology’s positive impact and we invite you to access GitHub for how-tos for Mesh and Edge gateways. With its continuous evolution and adaptability, Liquid Prep is poised to help revolutionize the way we approach agriculture and beyond.
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Vice President, Software Networking and Edge
Product Manager, IBM Edge Networking