As the value of grain, livestock and machinery continues to climb, driving down the farmstead driveway and noticing that something is amiss is getting scarier than ever.

Recent advances in video surveillance systems may help set your mind at ease. New Internet-capable video cameras allow you to monitor your farm in real time via a smartphone or computer. Many can be set up to send text or email alerts when they detect motion, giving you a heads-up to check the live video stream in time to take action. With the right software and cameras trained properly, some are even capable of recognizing license plates.

The new video systems won’t break the bank compared to costs just a few years ago. Depending on existing Internet connectivity on your farm, a rudimentary system can be put in place for a few hundred dollars.

“Depending on the installation, a professional-grade system with up to five cameras plus software might be in the several thousand-dollar range,” much less than just a few years ago, says Micah Carlson, marketing director for Dakota Security Systems, a security and communications systems provider for a wide range of businesses, including agriculture.

More complex systems can cost much more, especially if building a wireless Internet infrastructure is
required. “The beauty of Internet protocol [digital] video is that it is scalable,” Carlson adds. “You can start small and build out a system as your needs change.”

DIY or pro installations

Do-it-yourself systems can cost even less than professional installations. Cameras, recorders and associated technology are widely available online, although you will have to be willing to learn as you go for an effective installation.

Some online companies, such as Ayrstone Productivity, which specializes in DIY wireless networking and video systems for agriculture, offer systems designed to simplify setup and installation. The company offers systems that include cameras and wireless routers and hubs to build a network backbone to carry video signals to an office recorder and the Internet.

Bill Moffitt, Ayrstone president, suggests avoiding bargain-basement video systems, such as those offered at home improvement centers. These systems often use analog cameras without the connectivity bells and whistles that make it easy to monitor your farm from afar.

Camera options

Conduct an Internet search for “outdoor network IP video surveillance camera” and you will find hundreds of choices with varying options and varying quality, with price spreads to match. Here are three options at a range of prices that are sure to be on the search list.

The IQinVision Alliance-mx series IQM31NE-85 high-definition camera is designed to capture high-resolution images at 30 frames per second in both daylight and low-light environments and 60 frames per second at lower resolutions. It features two-way audio and a wide-angle zoom lens for taking in a wide view, while offering zoom capabilities to zero in on specific areas. Efficient video compression software minimizes use of network bandwidth. The camera is encased in a polycarbonate bubble and aluminum body for protection from vandals. The camera, which has a suggested retail price of $699, is available from professional installers such as Dakota Security Systems (dakotasecurity.com). For more information, visit iqeye.com.

The AyrScout WiFi Camera from Ayrstone is intended for use with the company’s AyrMesh WiFi system. The system includes a router and hub designed to extend wireless Internet on a farmstead or across an entire farm with multiple hubs. Designed for plug-and-play configuration and setup, the camera offers .3-megapixel resolution from a fixed-length infrared lens with a wide viewing angle. The outdoor version of the camera, which has 60 infrared LEDs to provide night vision at distances up to 30 meters, has a suggested retail price of $224.95. An indoor version of the camera retails for $199.95. An outdoor pack, which includes the outdoor camera, a router and hub, retails for $584.95. For more information, visit arystone.com.

The Logitech Alert 750e outdoor video surveillance system uses the electric grid to transmit images from cameras to a home computer and the Internet. The system, which includes a single camera, plus HomePlug Powerline technology and related software, can be expanded to include up to six indoor or outdoor cameras. The camera captures 720- x 960-pixel video at 15 frames per second through a 130-degree wide-angle lens with a night illumination system providing up to 100 ft. of coverage. Free mobile viewing is available for iPhone, Android and Blackberry phones. The suggested retail price for the base kit is $349.99. For more information, visit logitech.com.

Streamlined video surveillance

The same technological trends that have improved the capabilities and reduced the price of video surveillance systems have reduced the drudgery and expense of 24/7 monitoring of the images these systems capture.

Software to streamline recording of key events while simultaneously alerting you to unusual activity is widely available and often is included with more sophisticated surveillance systems. Still other software is available to automatically scan hours of recordings to identify activity that may merit your attention after the fact.

Here’s a brief look at three software products to build or supplement automated monitoring software that may be included with a turn-key surveillance system.

Blue Iris video management software (blueirissoftware.com) turns your personal computer into a video recording system that uses motion or audio sensing to trigger recording. It can send alerts via email, instant message, voice phone call or loudspeaker. A version for multiple cameras retails for $49.95.

XProtect Go, from Milestone Systems (milestonesys.com) offers similar support for up to eight cameras for free. Versions supporting more cameras, and with additional features, are available for a fee.

Vitamin D software (vitamindinc.com), which is free for a single camera, provides a people-detection option that reduces false alerts triggered by swaying branches, pets and light changes from clouds. Plus it saves time by compiling a daily highlight “reel” of significant events. Versions for multiple cameras are available for a fee.