Future-proofing your farmyard: Getting the key infrastructure right

Technology is rapidly evolving faster than ever as new advancements come on-stream – and the farmyard is no exception to this.

With this in mind, AgriLand caught up with Alan Minnock of ACS in Birr, Co. Offaly, to get the latest on what farmers are installing in their yards.

In the first instance, which will be the focus of this article, Alan pointed to infrastructure as being vital.

The agri-tech expert said that ensuring that your yard has proper internet access is key for various functions including: calving cameras; milking robots; automatic calf feeders; accessing smartphone software to register calves, etc; gate sensors; and GSM remote control switches for electric fences.

“Getting the infrastructure right is where everything starts,” Alan explains.

A typical farmyard has a couple of options – the farmer can put in a GSM router into his shed which works on a SIM card, and connect a camera to that, and they can see that camera from anywhere in the world.

“However, there is an ongoing monthly contract with the network provider for the internet on that. It’s possibly a false economy.

“The other option is, if the farmyard can visually see the house, you can put in a wireless link, which would possibly cost you €350 approximately.

“Then the farmyard is using the internet that’s already in the house. There’s less of a latency then doing that, because you’re on the same network and your cameras operate faster.

“In the first instance, if you’re working on a 3G or 4G SIM card in the farmyard, the signal from the camera has to go from the camera to the internet and then come back down to the receiver’s mobile phone; whereas if you’re on a direct link on a point to point [P2P] or point to multipoint [P2MP] network, you’ve got a faster connection and no ongoing running costs.

Typically a P2P link is where an aerial goes on your house and another aerial goes on your shed, depending on line of sight. So basically what happens is your house ‘talks’ to your shed and your shed ‘talks’ back to your house. There’s no ongoing running costs.

“Then if you decide that you have another outhouse or another shed that’s not physically part of the first building, you can put in what’s called a point to multipoint link.

“So you’ve got your house linked as far as your shed, your shed can then link as far as your outhouse or in turn link as far as another shed, so you’ve got a massive network wirelessly built in your farmyard to link everything together.

“There are generally two frequencies you can work on – 2.4GHz and 5GHz. 2.4GHz is very cheap to buy equipment for at the moment but what you’ll find is the spectrum is very clouded with networks so you could potentially get a lot of interference.

If you go for the more expensive 5GHz stuff, there are less people on that network and you’re getting less interference. This is the infrastructure for your main network. It’s all secure though; you’re using P2P encryption on all your networks so it’s not easy for anyone to get into it.

Turning to the security end of things, Alan pointed to the change that farmyard technology has undergone in recent years, saying: “On the typical camera system, the analogue system that went in a couple of years ago, someone had their username, which could be ‘admin’ and possibly no password.

“On the newer units, they’re registered with your email address and a password which has to have upper, lowercase letters and a symbol.

“If someone does manage to figure out your username and password, the third level of security is a verification code. This makes it more secure,” he explained.