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Sensors are everywhere. In cars, on phones, in fields, on tractors, and now in smart greenhouses. Over the past few years, sensors have become increasingly accessible and capable thanks to lowering costs and rising demand. Innovative use cases and inventive approaches have seen these smart solutions evolve to provide growers with essential information and insights that they can use to adapt greenhouse environments to improve yield and transform plant health. When added to artificial intelligence, analytics, big data, automation, and Internet of Things (IoT), sensors are the key to unlocking the full potential of the smart greenhouse.

Of course, sensors aren’t new. They’ve been used in multiple applications for years, providing greenhouse growers with essential monitoring and control capabilities that they can use to manage their environments more effectively. However, the data they create and the ways in which greenhouse growers can use this data to improve conditions, transform yield and micro-manage their greenhouse conditions, has become the new standard in precision farming.

Today, sensor data can be used to achieve a multitude of useful functions. It can be used in conjunction with automation tools to create a smart greenhouse that’s capable of using the data to adapt temperature, water, and nutrients automatically. And that can be controlled from a smart device, from anywhere at any time. It can also be used to refine greenhouse growing methodologies to ensure maximum yield throughout the year, and create microclimates within increasingly tight parameters, along many other intelligent use cases and approaches.

What do sensors measure in a smart greenhouse?

Sensors sit at the heart of the smart greenhouse, offering up the data that computer-controlled systems need to adjust grow conditions on demand. The technology is always on, always monitoring, collecting data that’s used to instantly address plant growth problems or abnormalities. Data that provides greenhouse growers with actionable insights that they can use to consistently improve greenhouse conditions.

Sensors measure data from multiple touchpoints throughout the air zone and the root zone, covering light, temperature, oxygen, moisture, and nutrients, among other factors. Each area provides valuable insights that can help growers refine their approaches, but it’s the combination of all this data into one cohesive picture that really adds immense value as each part of the ecosystem impacts the other.

Sensors and data in the Air Zone

Light is, of course, one of the primary influencers of plant growth and sensors need to accurately measure and adapt light conditions for optimal plant growth. Light sensors can provide data on different lighting conditions so that the greenhouse can adapt to specific lighting requirements. Another aspect of the air zone is humidity. Sensors need to track overall humidity within the greenhouse to ensure it remains within optimal limits.

Perhaps one of the most important sensors is temperature. The right temperature is essential to healthy plant growth and yield, especially if the greenhouse has to manage growth in a variable climate. Extreme heat and cold can negatively impact growth. Sensors can be used in conjunction with control systems to automatically adapt greenhouse conditions to ensure the optimal temperature is maintained. Finally, sensors should be used to measure air speed and CO2 – both critical for greenhouses to ensure good air quality. Combining all these measurements together into one sensor that provides consistent feedback through to the grower can tangibly increase grow quality, yield and greenhouse capability.

Sensors and data in the Root Zone

The root zone comprises oxygen, root zone moisture and temperature, and nutrients.  Sensors can be used to help manage the amount of moisture, optimise nutrient levels, and manage oxygen values so that plants are provided with exceptional grow conditions.

The data provided by sensors sitting in each of these zones – air and root – can be collated with the data provided by sensors within the air zone to provide growers with a complete picture of greenhouse conditions, and will help them to refine elements individually.

How sensors help growers in smart greenhouses

From intelligent insights to real-time environment management to consistent growth optimisation, the smart greenhouse powered by sensors and technology offers up plenty of big benefits along with big data. These include:

01: Improved cost efficiencies

When you have granular insights into every part of the greenhouse, from energy usage to humidity to resources, then you can optimise every one of these elements to reduce waste and cut costs. Just from an energy perspective, being able to carefully manage light placements and usage, you can shave money off the bottom line.

02: Translate cost efficiencies into plant efficiencies

Such in-depth insights into the quality and health of plants offers growers the ability to reduce waste. Sensors can help growers catch abnormalities or issues early, and they can help minimise risks around temperature fluctuations or soil nutrient loss that may have previously gone unnoticed until too late. This puts the greenhouse into a cycle of refinement that allows for growers to constantly, in real-time, manage air and root zone variables effectively.

03: The perfect environment

Using sensor data, greenhouse growers can balance a multitude of growing variables on a single device. The data constantly measures temperature, humidity, air quality and other such elements and analytics and intelligent systems then translate this data into accessible insights that growers can use to ensure that they are consistently creating the perfect growing environments. This ticks every box from climate control right down to the nitty-gritty of nutrients.

These three different points are as interconnected as the sensors and data that inform the smart greenhouse. Each variable and factor provides growers with information that they can use to constantly refine and optimise their greenhouse environments. The data can be analysed in real time, and with the right systems in place, it can be collated alongside specific algorithms and analytical tools to intelligently evolve the environment over time. Machine learning and AI can be used to assess the data over time and provide a coherent picture of a greenhouse’s evolution and optimisation, and potentially predict what will happen so greenhouse environments and systems are less reactive and more proactive.

In collaboration with academic experts from Nottingham Trent University, Light Science Technologies are developing an all-in-one indoor farm sensor that’s capable of monitoring key areas across your environment, including light, water, air, temperature, humidity, oxygen, root zone moisture and nutrient levels.  This sensor will provide information that can anticipate changes to the growing environment and minimise the impact of adverse events, providing customers with the ability to create an optimal growing environment and maximise plant productivity and yield.