Hortau: Precision irrigation for smarter farming

Improving crop yields and quality with IoT


A more abundant future

Since 2002, precision agriculture pioneer Hortau has applied its patented technology to help growers across North America optimize crop yields and quality while reducing water consumption, energy costs, and environmental impact.

Hortau’s smart irrigation systems apply both cutting-edge IoT capabilities and personalized agricultural expertise to one of the most fundamental challenges facing the industry today: how to maximize finite land and water resources to feed a rapidly growing population.


The most precious resource

When we think of farming, the first thing we think of is usually the land that produces our crops and feeds our livestock. But as any grower knows, the water available to that land is just as valuable. According to the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture, irrigated farms represented just 14 percent of all U.S. farms, but they contributed nearly 40 percent of total U.S. farm sales — a value of over $152 billion.

In most regions of the world, agriculture can account for as much as 70 percent of total fresh water usage. In an important produce-growing state like California, where irrigated crops may generate $40B in annual value, that number can climb even higher. It’s no wonder that water management and water rights play an important role in state politics, or that growers and governments alike are seeking new ways to increase productivity and efficiency.

For growers, understanding when and how much to water is a complex task. Even with sophisticated groundwater measurement systems in place, it’s often difficult to know how much water is actually available to plants in the field. Watering too much compromises crop quality while wasting finite water resources; watering too little puts plants at risk.


Applied IoT for plant-centric irrigation

We don’t typically think of plants in terms of cognitive ability. But just like people, plants are smart enough to regulate their own growth depending on the resources available to them.

The key to that self-regulation mechanism is a measure called soil tension, which determines how hard a plant has to work to extract moisture from the soil. Soil tension can vary significantly depending on soil type and climate conditions. In a worst-case scenario, this means it’s possible for plants to wilt beyond the ability to self-repair, even in soil that seems well-watered.

Hortau’s plant-centric approach to irrigation uses patented wireless stations to measure soil tension continuously in real time. Growers, farm managers, and field advisors can view this information to see what’s happening under the soil and make irrigation decisions that keep plants healthy and producing.

The benefit for growers is profound. For one pistachio grower, introducing Hortau’s smart irrigation system reduced tree mortality from about 30% down to nearly zero. For an onion grower in California’s central valley, managing irrigation with Hortau reduced water needs by 25-30%. Growers of crops that are sensitive to overwatering, like grapes and cranberries, report improvements in fruit quality.


Multicarrier coverage and streamlined operations

As an early innovator in precision agriculture, Hortau has worked with nearly every cellular data provider over the years. In fact, it’s safe to say that few (if any) companies in the world have as much experience working with cellular IoT. To ensure reliable coverage across the greatest possible area, Hortau has engaged concurrently with multiple network operators across the US and Canada. That also means that Hortau has experienced most of the pain points that a developer can encounter when working with networks that weren’t designed for IoT.

Soracom’s global, multicarrier connectivity lets Hortau pre-provision their stations at the factory and ship them anywhere in North America for easy setup. That broad coverage also makes it easy to move devices in the field without worrying about whether or not they’re on the right plan for a specific location. Consolidating to a single provider also streamlines back-office operations. There’s no longer a need to set up various plans and contracts for different sites, and Soracom’s pooled pricing protects against the overage surprises often encountered with SIM-based billing.

Soracom’s unique, cloud-based architecture helped Hortau simplify the transition from their legacy on-prem systems to AWS by providing a secure, bi-directional cellular link between their edge devices and their AWS VPC, as shown below.



Hortau used SORACOM Canal to establish a private link between their AWS VPC and the Soracom platform, and then enabled SORACOM Gate so that their edge devices and EC2 instances can participate in a virtual private subnet. This allows secure, bi-directional communication using private IP addresses. Hortau also used the Custom DNS feature of SORACOM Air to let edge devices resolve private DNS host names.

Services in use

• SORACOM Air: smart connectivity for IoT
• SORACOM Canal: AWS VPC peering
• SORACOM Gate: private IoT LAN
• Custom DNS: included with SORACOM Air


Helping growers across the Americas

Hortau currently operates thousands of monitoring stations on farms across North America, providing smart irrigation management to growers of everything from row crops like corn to tree nuts, berries, and even hemp.

Hortau is growing quickly in the US and Canada and has begun to help growers in Latin America as well.


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