What if one day, farmers can work on their smartphones, without having to go to the farms?

Tech farmers created the “field sensor” to collect big data of agriculture. In the future, farmers will know exactly when to fertilize their crops and no longer have to work in bad weather.

Xingyan Chen (right) and Mengxun Yu (left) from Open Hack Farm on their agricultural and technological efforts.

On December 15, the Maker Gathering organized by vMaker was held at PunPlace. Open Hack Farm founder Xingyan Chen (陳幸延) and his team engineer Mengxun Yu (余孟勳) were invited to talk about “Open Agriculture: Innovation of Local Tech Farmers,” how they use maker equipment and the concept of open source to create a new image for agriculture when technology meets farming.

The biggest problem in Taiwan’s agriculture: information discrepancies

Chen moved to Yilan and started his agriculture career in 2014. As an IT major, he tried to simplify farming work, solve farming problems and develop farming equipment himself. Most agricultural equipment comes from either Japan or USA, and costs too much to maintain for individual farmers. Chen wants to do something about it.

For two years, Chen has been making affordable lawn mowers, field sensors, portable weather boxes, and even image developer for rice hullers. During the process he began to realize that, making farming tools doesn’t solve the real problem, which is Taiwan’s lack of technology information in agriculture.

There has never been a big data analysis on crops to help farmers make decisions. For example, shading rate, pH value of rainfall, and natural disasters. There is also a lack of an open database which provides information on optimal growth temperature, humidity and soil quality. “There just aren’t enough teachers or information sources for farmers!” Said Chen.

Agricultural equipment in today’s market is expensive. Chen wants to make his own.

Open Agriculture is inspired by Open Source Ecology 

In 2017, Chen was inspired by Open Source Ecology and hence founded the Open Hack Farm, to spread the spirit of open source and try to solve the problem of information discrepancies.

It’s like a maker lab for farmers. The team developed the field sensor and the weather box to detect and collect weather reports, soil temperature and humidity, and monitors them 24 hours a day to store data for agricultural use. They are also building an open database to share data of weather stations and crop growth.

陳幸延貼上了 2017年9月24日

Xingyan Chen at the Open Hack Farm Yilan Base. Via the Open Hack Farm Facebook Page.

The field sensor is developed with arduino, but engineer Mengxun Yu and his team created their own PCB, Agrino. It consists of 3 chips: Main Board, Weather Board and LPWAN Board, is solar powered, receives information on sunlight, solar radiation, atmospheric temperature and humidity, wind speed, wind direction, and rainfall. The data is then sent back to the database server instantly or in batches using LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network), to reduce costs and power the cheap and easy way. The device is being tested at the moment, and is estimated to complete the data integration by the end of the year, when its source code will be open to the public.

Yu is currently a PhD student at National Tsing Hua University. He applies what he learns on agriculture.

Besides the field sensor, the equipment at the base are completely open as well. They include farming tools, seedling equipment, and seed storehouse. This is also a consulting place for individual farmers and young farmers, which makes becoming a farmer a lot easier. With the contribution of all the farmers, massive agricultural knowledge can be acquired and turned into an open agricultural laboratory for everybody.

Agricultural technology won’t replace jobs

However, for traditional farmers, they don’t fully agree with this, for fear of being replaced by technology. Chen stressed: “Technology is but a tool, to help farmers solve their problems, not replace their jobs.” On the future of Open Hack Farm, they already made a plan for 2018, which consists of 3 main goals: Precise agriculture, circular agriculture and low carbon agriculture. As for Taiwan’s overall agriculture, they are doing their best to turn its situation around, and give it the best care possible.

There might be only one person with agricultural experience, but everybody is passionate about both agriculture and technology.

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