So you’re in the market for a water level monitor…

Farmbot Monitoring Solutions is an Australian owned agtech company. Their locally manufactured range of sensors specialise in all things water-related, but can track everything from level monitoring to flow, to staff safety and rainfall. We spoke to Farmbot’s Head of Sales and Business Development, Nick Bradley, to find out which questions farmers should ask agtech providers, and how to be confident you’re getting the right product to suit your needs.

AgTech Finder: First, let’s talk remote water level technology. What is it, and why do farmers need it?

Nick: Water monitoring is the number one, most useful agtech on the market. The traditional manual way of checking water levels – by driving around and checking visually – is time consuming, labour intensive, and as soon as you drive away there’s no way of knowing something is wrong.

With remote water technology, you can monitor levels, flow and more remotely. Instead of doing three or four water runs per week to check your tanks, you can spend this time more resourcefully. You can save on diesel consumption and reduce the wear and tear on vehicles

ATF: What if you’re a small business? Is it worth the investment?

Nick: There’s been misinformation in the market that this technology is prohibitively expensive, or only suitable for corporates and big stations, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. The small operators I work with across Southern Australia often only need three or four Farmbots, which cost $1 per Farmbot, per tank to run on our cellular model. The savings in terms of time, fuel, water, and money are no less real than they would be for a largescale business.

The thing that resonates with most people I talk to is the reduction in stress levels. I recently had a customer, who added Farmbots to the tanks across their property, ring me to say ‘I’m on the beach playing cricket with the kids, and for the first time in my life I’m not worried about not being on the farm.’

ATF: How has water monitoring tech changed over time? What does the latest tech look like?

Nick: There have been different forms of telemetry over time, for example 15 years ago many pastoralists used UHF radio systems. They served their purpose, but since then there have been a number of domestic solutions coming onto the market, including high-quality, affordable ‘plug-and-play’ technology like Farmbot, with cellular and satellite connectivity options, easy-to-use apps and platforms, and real-time alert systems. They’re practical and user-friendly, and suitable for businesses of all sizes.

However, farmers need to be aware that some products on the market have connectivity restraints and aren’t robust enough to handle long distances. They may be limited to the home or office wifi-proximity. By asking the right questions you should be able to make a confident purchase.

ATF: Let’s get into it! What are the top questions farmers should ask a water monitor provider?

Nick: When you’re approaching new technology for the first time, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which product will meet your needs and deliver value for money. Aside from the obvious considerations – how much does it cost? How many do I need? – I suggest focusing on three things: barriers to adoption, reporting and alerts, and support. With that in mind, ask your potential tech provider the following questions:

QUESTION: What is the installation process?

Can you install it yourself? Is it ‘plug and play’ out of the box or does it require infrastructure and/or technicians to set it up? If so, how much does installation cost? How long will I have to wait for delivery and installation? What additional equipment (e.g. connectivity solutions, computers, phones etc) do I need to interact with the product?

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, not harder. Look for a product you can install, set it up, and run yourself without the cost and inconvenience of contractors and additional infrastructure. For example, Farmbot products are plug-and-play straight from the box, with self-installation that will be ready to use in 15 minutes.

QUESTION: How much mobile coverage do I need to use this product?

What you’ll find with many providers is that they’re limited to one connectivity solution, or they require you to install additional connectivity infrastructure. The product should meet your situation, not the other way around.

At Farmbot, we offer both cellular (3G to 5G) and satellite options, because in the Australian context connectivity is a real barrier to adoption. So many of Australia’s graziers and pastoralists live and work in isolated areas with no connectivity service. In order for us to supply coverage nation-wide, it’s essential that we provide both solutions.

QUESTION: How accessible is my data? Is there an easy-to-use app or dashboard?

Take a look at the software in advance and make sure you’ll be comfortable using it. Does it give you information you need, when and where you need it? Can you interpret the report? Is the information presented in a way that makes decision-making easier, or more complicated?

QUESTION: How frequently will the water-level data update on my dashboard or app?

Many providers send their data from the sensor to the dashboard at set intervals. In some cases, they’ll only push data once or twice a day, so if you’re running critical commercial operations reliant on water, finding out 12 hours after a catastrophic event like a leak is far too late.

Farmbot provides you information when you need to know it with real-time alerts. If there is any rapid change in water level you will be notified straightaway. If there is not change, our cellular models update a minimum of 12 times per day, and our satellite option updates at least five times per day.

Make sure the frequency can be calibrated to suit your business.

QUESTION: Does this product send me alerts in real-time?

If something goes wrong, will I be notified in time to resolve the issue? Can you set bespoke alerts (for example, minimum and maximum tank levels, or alerts for an excessive rate of fall)? Will I be notified immediately when these alerts are triggered? How many people will be alerted? Will you send me constant notifications, or only when it is useful and necessary?

QUESTION: What customer service do you offer in the management of your dashboard and tech?

If I don’t feel comfortable managing the whole system myself, will you assist me to set up and manage my device and alert system? How comprehensive is your customer service? Can you help me remotely?

Nick Bradley is the Head of Sales and Business Development at Farmbot Monitoring Solutions.

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