By the very nature of its business, an agricultural holding comprises a large area, which needs to be protected against intruders coming in, as well as animals getting out in some cases. While perimeter fencing is a must-have, the agriculture sector is increasingly turning to modern high-tech electronic technologies, particularly in light of the violent farm attacks seen in South Africa over the last few years.
In this article, we examine some of the challenges facing farmers in different parts of the country, and some of the solutions being used to overcome them.
Securing the perimeter
According to Jason de Freitas, new business development manager at Nemtek Electric Fencing Products, electric fencing has for many years been the go-to product for effective perimeter protection, not just in agriculture but also general security applications.
“The cost of implementing an electrified fence is way lower than that of a fixed wall or structure,” he says, “plus the added benefit of the fence being monitored. Many of the farmers utilise agricultural fencing which is generally used for the control of animals around the farm. We have, however, seen an escalation in the farmers enquiring about security fences, which are now being utilised around their houses as an additional security measure and an additional line of defence. The farmers that spend the time in getting to know the technology available today, often utilise many different products together to secure their properties, such as cameras, alarms and lights.”
Generally, for these applications, farmers install a very robust fence, with between 20 and 24 lines that are monitored every second. It is able to divide the system into multiple zones, which allows for better identification of problems as well as intrusions. Most of the hardware is galvanised to prolong the life as well as give strength to the fence. The wire is between 2 mm and 2,24 mm thick, making it difficult to cut, and can also withstand grass fires to a certain extent.
Securing the Free State
Siteguard has developed a number of solutions that it’s rolled out to farmers mainly in the Free State area, across a mix of different types of farms. Calie Engelbrecht, CEO of Siteguard, explains that since there are many violent farm attacks in that area, the focus is on securing the houses first and foremost. The two main technologies employed to that end are radar and cameras, aided and enhanced by some clever software techniques.
The cameras are monitored offsite at outsourced control rooms situated in different places in the country, such as Hout Bay, Somerset West and Kroonstad. To ensure that positive detections are not missed, while also importantly reducing false alarms, Siteguard relies on Irisity software, for which it is also the official distributor in South Africa.
Irisity software, developed by the Swedish company of the same name, is an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can be trained to identify different objects (whether living or inanimate) as well as behavioural patterns. This means, for example, that it can be taught that sheep moving around in a certain area at a certain time, are no cause for concern; whereas a person or different type of animal should trigger an alarm in the control room.
“The use of Irisity means that we only get positive detections,” Engelbrecht says, “which makes it much easier to monitor than it would be to do it manually without any software. Each detection is handled by the control room within seconds, and we monitor the control room to see how quickly they react.”
Upon being alerted to a detection, the controller can verify it visually via the camera and then contact the client and also the police or whatever other emergency vehicles are in that area. This operating procedure is managed in conjunction with the client, based on information such as what times patrols are out in certain areas, communication via a WhatsApp group or two-way radio, so the client will be notified as well. “The controller can also phone the client and tell them a person is only at the perimeter, or even further away using radar, giving the farmer time to react using whatever his emergency protocols are,” he elaborates.
Utility power is always available on the farming sites, but solar is also an option if required for a particular application. A bigger challenge in many cases is getting a decent Internet connection, in which case Siteguard relies on a local wireless provider or 3G network, and installs additional power sources if required to ensure good signal strength. If the power supply to a site is disrupted through a failure or deliberate act of sabotage, or if the Internet connection is lost, the control room receives a notification and can then contact the client to ascertain what the situation is on-site.
One of the solutions Siteguard has developed for its agricultural clients, is a radar detection system mounted on a trailer which can be towed to anywhere the farmer wants it deployed. It communicates wirelessly with the farmhouse and/or with the control room, and can be moved around depending on the situation or requirement.
Another solution is a small box (roughly 30 x 30 x 20 cm) with a camera inside, which can be mounted on a pole or be free-standing, making it suitable for fixed or highly mobile applications. This system runs entirely off solar power, which is stored in a battery pack during the day to provide at least 15 hours of backup power during the night-time hours.
Whatever solution farmers employ, they can view their camera feeds and radar data using a software app that runs on mobile devices, or on a PC in the farmhouse. They receive training on things such as how to ensure a strong wireless connection, but are otherwise not required to be experts in security technology since all the monitoring, as well as configuration, is performed remotely.
“We currently have 59 clients in the agricultural sector, which is growing month by month, and 99% of the systems we install are proactive. It’s not about selling something and running away, but ensuring a recurring monthly cost – particularly important to this type of client,” Engelbrecht concludes.
Securing the ‘Berg
In the Underberg and surrounding region of KwaZulu-Natal, the biggest external threat faced by farmers comes in the form of theft (mainly of money and guns), rather than the violent attacks experienced in other parts of the country. Berg Protection Services, whose clientele comprises 72 farms in addition to a number of other types of businesses, has aided in virtually eliminating crime in the area through the use of a layered approach to security.
“The last house break-in we had was in September 2018,” states managing director Brett Deavin. “Smart use of the available technologies has been vital in achieving this, since one of the biggest challenges we face is the vast area that needs to be covered. Owing to this, our focus is on preventing rather than reacting to incidents, because even just a five minute response time can be too long.”
Deavin emphasises that the security challenges have evolved as the very nature of farming has changed dramatically over the last few years. “It used to be the case that they had a lot of spare time, but when you’re looking at herds of up to 2000 on a dairy farm nowadays and the business pressures they are under, farmers have no spare time on their hands to sit and worry too much about their security. The farmers used to collaborate to do patrols, but they don’t have time anymore.”
The multi-faceted approach taken by Berg Protection Services begins with an experienced security specialist embedded in the area, whose job is to perform continual risk assessments. Electric fencing forms another layer, as do electronic alarm systems. “All of the farmers in Underberg have a very sophisticated alarm system outside. When there’s an incident they don’t need to leave their house, but instead wait for our reaction units to respond. So people know you can’t just approach a farmhouse – you might get through the electric fence but as soon as you get close to the house the beams are going to trigger an alarm.”
Problems with Internet connectivity are par for the course in many of these remote areas, but the radio network for voice communications is second to none, according to Deavin. “The Underberg has the best radio network in the country, with 800 people connected. We split them into different areas, so in the event that the cellphone system goes down we can call. Every farmer has a radio in their bakkie and at home.”
The most effective solution serving as a first line of defence is off-site monitoring with cameras, which are installed at all main road intersections. Using licence plate recognition, Berg Protection Services’ 24-hour control room is flagged when a stolen or missing vehicle or duplicated plates are detected, and all the movements of that vehicle can be tracked throughout the area, allowing a response force to pinpoint the exact location where the vehicle must be intercepted.
“The success we’ve shown in securing this area is a very positive thing in the context of all this negativity,” says Deavin. “I’ve been working in this area since 2003 and we’re sitting with the lowest crime rate ever, so something we’re doing must be working.”
For more information contact:
Berg Protection Services, +27 33 701 2235.
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