Revitalising the Earth: harnessing technology for land regeneration

7th June 2024
Paige West

Due to the effects of over-farming and extreme weather events, such as drought, wind, or flooding, the demand for significant technological intervention becomes ever more pressing across countless nonarable and depleted areas of land worldwide.

To foster agricultural recovery, a wide-ranging set of social, economic, and regulatory changes are needed, but central to all aspects of this discourse is technology.

 Mark Patrick, Director of Technical Content, EMEA, Mouser Electronics further discusses.

Farmers are integrating satellite imagery, drones, soil sensors, robotics, and data analytics supported by artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) into regenerative or ‘smart’ agricultural practices. By utilising these state-of-the-art tools, farms can optimise their operations, combat land degradation, increase yields, and improve resource efficiency. These tools provide insights that are unprecedented and enable farmers to proactively anticipate and adapt to future changes.

While escalating agricultural costs and hindered accessibility to resources pose ongoing challenges, the possibilities technology presents are vast. The integration of technological advancements can pave the way for sustainable land management and agricultural resilience, offering a glimpse of a brighter and more sustainable future. In this article, we will explore the transformative potential of technology in revitalising degraded lands, looking at some of the available tools and potential strategies.

Smart agricultural tools

Although it is still in its early stages, the smart agriculture industry, which utilises sensing, communication, and analysis technologies to improve farming efficiency, productivity, and sustainability, is already flourishing. It reached a value of $22.65 billion in 2023 and is projected to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.7% from 2024 to 2030.

Faced with escalating agricultural challenges, smart agriculture is emerging as a vital initiative. Encompassing a wide range of tools that leverage the power of the latest and greatest technology, smart agriculture is revolutionising the way we assess and improve our land use, leading to more sustainable and efficient farming practices.

Satellite images

Despite being the tool farthest from the land, satellite imagery is one of the most transformative instruments at our disposal. When monitoring expansive agricultural areas, which are often challenging to survey from ground level, satellite imagery offers an aerial perspective of the land, unveiling hidden patterns of erosion, vegetation health, and land utilisation. This information provides guidance for targeted interventions that enable us to tackle the problem at its root cause.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has long supported smart agriculture by providing publicly available and regularly recorded data from its satellites for free. Alongside accurate images for visual analysis, ESA’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) provides insight into the ground moisture level, helping farmers plan irrigation and warn them of drought or water stress.

Soil sensors

Replacing traditional ground lab tests, smart soil sensors offer continuous real-time data about the soil’s condition. These sensors monitor moisture levels, nutrient content, and pH levels, providing a detailed picture of the soil’s health and its capacity to support plant life. In degraded land, the deployment of sensors like Seeed Studio’s MODBUS-RTU RS485 Soil Sensor (Figure 1) provides intelligent insight capable of highlighting underlying issues with the soil.


Figure 1: Seeed Studio's soil moisture and temperature sensors are IP68 rated, allowing for long-term submersion in soil. (Source: Mouser Electronics)

The sensors combine soil moisture, temperature, and optional electric current measurements and can help identify soil issues and enable smart feedback and resource management, particularly for water.

Intelligent automations

Automation in agriculture has opened up new possibilities for efficiency and precision. Tasks from irrigation to pest management can all be automated, allowing for the optimal use of resources, all while improving crop health and yield.

Furthermore, complementary applications can also help achieve higher levels of efficiency. Solutions like agrivoltaics (Figure 2) use automated and moveable solar panels to cover animals or crops, allowing for energy generation alongside protection or enhancement of growing conditions.

Figure 2: Adjustable solar panels being used to shade the crops being grown underneath. (Source: Ipman65/

As critical electronics components within these solutions, like microcontrollers and wireless and RF modules, continue to evolve and innovate, the applications and efficiency of the automations will increase, while the cost of deployment can be reduced.

Strategies for improved growing conditions

When applying regenerative agricultural measures, there are a few important areas to define. The initial step is to evaluate the specific issues with the land before establishing the intended purpose - e.g., whether it will be used for grazing, farming, or recreational activities.

It is then vital to outline the resources, in both financial and physical terms, that are available to ensure the transformation is feasible. While the global impact of land regeneration and re-wilding has been significant, there are still limitations to consider.

Optimising land flow

Satellite imagery is key to land regeneration and can be used not only to track progress but also to plan the flow of the land. Plantations or forests that are poorly optimised for the topography of the land are prone to erosion and run-off, whereby nutrients are lost from the soil. The utilisation of satellite imagery allows for the reordering of land using the Keyline principle, which is particularly advantageous in dry, hilly pastureland. This principle identifies the natural flow of water and optimises the delivery of water and fertiliser in line with the natural movement through terraced design, helping to prevent runoff and reduce resource requirements.

According to the European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s ‘Case Studies: Regenerative Agriculture in Action,’ they observed that one farm in Italy experienced a significant difference in pasture growth – the lower pasture reached a height of 1.8 metres, while the ridges measured only around 70cm. However, after implementing the Keyline design, no noticeable disparity was observed.

Precision herding

Satellite imagery can also help assess the effects of livestock on the terrain, facilitating precision grazing practices that minimise environmental impact and enhance animal welfare. This can be integrated with smart herding solutions that incorporate precision positioning modules and IoT communication. As a result, farmers can more effectively monitor livestock, enabling them to expand their access to extensive grazing areas.

The u-blox MAX-M10 positioning module exhibits high sensitivity and low 25mw power consumption, helping to extend battery life in the field. These can then be combined with a Bluetooth-enabled module, such as the u-blox NORA-B1 Bluetooth 5.2 Modules, for local IoT communication. Alternatively, a solution like the u-blox SARA-R4 Series RF Module (Figure 3) integrates both LTE cellular communication and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) positioning into a single module.


Figure 3: u-blox SARA-R4 comes in miniature SARA LGA form factor (26.0 × 16.0mm, 96-pin) (Source: Mouser Electronics)

Deploying distributed intelligence

Compared to systems using hard thresholds or multiple linear regressions, an ML-based system offers greater adaptability and can continuously improve and refine itself as more data is available. One such system is Edge Impulse, a hardware-agnostic solution that enables decentralised intelligence to be deployed at the edge rather than on the cloud. This removes the need for internet connectivity and reduces power consumption-critical elements.

Edge Impulse’s technology has been deployed through hardware such as Arduino’s Edge Control Board to produce ML-enabled smart irrigation. The Arduino controller is specially made for outdoor applications such as smart irrigation and hydroponics, with sixteen hydrostatic watermark sensor inputs and a thirty-four-month battery life on a 12V/5Ah battery. It integrates Bluetooth connectivity for local communication and can be expanded with 2G/3G/CatM1/NB-IoT modems, LoRa, Sigfox, and Wi-Fi by adding compatible Arduino MKR boards. A case study conducted by Edge Impulse combined Arduino’s controller with an array of relays and hydrostatic sensors to establish a control and feedback system for smart crop irrigation. This system aims to maximise crop yield, minimise soil degradation, and reduce water waste.

Building resilient farms

Smart land regeneration is about combining tools and strategies to return the land to an arable state. At the ground level, solutions like the one in Edge Impulses' case study not only allow the controlled delivery of resources such as water and fertilisers but also provide an intricate feedback mechanism within a larger regeneration project.

While smart sensors serve as an effective starting point for identifying significant issues related to soil health, they are integral components within a broader framework of continuous improvement. Visual analysis, facilitated through direct observation or satellite imagery, enables farmers to pinpoint areas where water distribution, soil management, and the distribution of plants and livestock yield positive results. Following this, by gathering data from smart irrigation and soil sensors at these specific locations, farmers can determine variables such as optimal water moisture content and pH levels for the land.

As a result, this information can be utilised to develop more complex predictive models capable of accounting for future weather conditions, animal movements, and other factors. This, in turn, enables the meticulous management of land resources, delivering them as needed, minimising waste, and improving overall efficiency.

Optimising the future

Across the globe, the combination of the farming industry's incredible work ethic and state-of-the-art technology is already having a considerable impact. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), regenerative practices can boost farm profitability by 70% to 120% while reducing fertiliser use by 50% and pesticide use by up to 75% - all while maintaining or increasing yield.

Smart agriculture allows us to work closer to nature in order to reverse the impact of over-farming and extreme weather. Technology like soil sensors and satellite imagery allow us to understand what is wrong with the soil across huge areas in a way that simply is not possible with lab tests. Furthermore, as the equipment remains in place, it can be used to further drive water, pesticide, and fertiliser delivery, while continuously adapting to changes in the land and weather conditions, helping us to meet future food demands in a more efficient manner.

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