IoT and 5G to significantly boost tomato production. Source: Shutterstock

IoT and 5G to significantly boost tomato production. Source: Shutterstock

A peek into China’s smart IoT and 5G-enabled tomato farms in Wuzhen

TOMATO farms in China are a source of export revenues for the country. However, despite the country’s overall exports of tomato products increasing for the last five consecutive years, revenues (turnover) has been falling consistently.

In fact, compared to 2017, tomato products that were exported from China grew by 4 percent last year — but only corresponded to a growth in turnover equal to 0.2 percent.

As a result, the government, along with agriculture experts and farmers in China are exploring ways to boost the quality of the produce and, as a result, improve turnover.

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), some farms are beginning to leverage technology — more specifically, the internet of things (IoT) and 5G — to boost quality and productivity.

In China’s Zhejiang province, a small town known as Wuzhen is now home to 18 different kinds of tomatoes, from red, yellow, and orange, to green and purple.

The produce is part of a trial that has leveraged IoT and 5G to build intelligent glass greenhouses. Conceptually, it’s a form of a smart farm and it seems as though initial results have been incredibly positive.

“Each tomato plant is set in a hydroponic rock wool cube, with a catheter to transport water and nutrients,” according to the SCMP.

“A variety of sensors monitor temperature, light, water, humidity and fertilizer levels and send that data over the 5G network in real-time which allows a control system to adjust settings more accurately to maximise crop yields.”

The smart farm is backed by China Mobile who is providing the 5G network for the trial and is being run for Daoji Agriculture.

“We are all exploring 5G applications at the present time as there is not much 5G equipment available yet,” said Daoji Agriculture’s Smart Farm Programme Lead Zhao Yu told the SCMP.

“5G networks are faster and more accurate – with 4G, the [management] system froze frequently and we needed to wait for the analysis. 5G gives us the result immediately.”

Although not much was disclosed in terms of improvements to production overall, the reality is that such ‘greenhouse’-powered, IoT-driven, 5G-connected smart farms tend to boost yield significantly as seen in a previous trial in China with strawberries.

Overall, it seems as though China is pioneering the research and deployment as far as smart farming is concerned. Given the role it plays in global food production, it is a great idea for the country’s farmers to explore new technologies — especially with the support of the government.