The era of ‘Digital Agriculture’
The latest FAO data estimates that in 2050 there will be 9,000 million people worldwide, who should at least eat 3 times a day. For this, agriculture will have to increase yields up to and over 70% in some regions of the world, and this increase in production has to be done sustainably, using less water, fertilizers and having the same agricultural soil available to preserve the environment.
Thus, it poses a difficult challenge that will require resources and all available tools at our disposal. One of these tools and technologies that is beginning to be used by the agrifood sector companies is BIG DATA.
“Despite the technological development, the only sure thing is that we will continue eating 3 times a day, so agriculture will remain a profession with future”.
This new technology allows farmers to be able to make more accurate weather forecasts and to predict where and when to attack a pest or a particular disease. Before scrutinizing the potential of Big Data for the agricultural sector, we will throw some light on this new tool available to our industry…
What is Big Data?
Briefly, Big Data allows the management and analysis of huge volumes of data that cannot be treated conventionally while exceeding the limits and capabilities of commonly used software tools for capturing, managing and processing data. Therefore, the goal of Big Data is analyzing a large amount of data in real time to help decision making for better management of our agriculte.
How Big Data works?
For example, to collect all the data from a farm, a network of sensors and probes that record information of soil, chemicals and fertilizers applied, climate and tasks performed etc , even price & market data for crops harvested in order to adjust the harvesting timing, must first be installed.
All this data is stored on a computer server that correlates and interprets , finally giving the farmer a detailed report, which can be received multiple ways (tablet or smartphone, allowing the farmer to have control over the property variables at all times).
Although the initial investment may be high (7,000-10,000 € for 50 hectares) in the long run the farmer end up saving on agricultural inputs, and increasing yields, making the initial investment worthwhile; being able to obtain significant benefits.
What can bring Big Data to agriculture?
In general, and as discussed in the previous section, Big Data allows the farmer to display all the production parameters of its operation in real time, and improve the decision-making process, since it can incorporate data on markets and prices of grown crops, allowing not only to increase productivity, but also the best time to harvest and optimizing the set of farm operations.
What can farmers get through the data obtained from Big Data technology?
- The application of this technology allows the fragmentation of the whole extent on farms. This has a great advantage as it allows decisions on each plot, adjusting every agricultural task to one portion of the estate, allowing the savings below.
- Reduce water usage up to 40%. Thanks to the probes installed in the soil of the farm it is possible to measure soil moisture at all times, making it easy to adjust the parameters of irrigation not to waste any drop of extra water. In addition, updated weather forecasts, can help a farmer in predicting rain, and thus delay irrigation or adjust to such weather conditions, so that water savings could be even higher.
- Boosts performance up to 20%. Another key aspect of Big Data is that it permits adjustment of the different agricultural labors on farm land, from pruning to harvesting, which translates in to making more optimized working schedules allowing for example to perform pruning at the right time or collect the product at its optimal ripeness while adjusting the crop harvest at the best market prices. All this results not only into an increased crop yield, but also into an increased profitability.
- Improves the traceability of food from farm to table. Additionally, Big Data records all stages through our agricultural products and crops, from planting until it reaches the consumer, adding more value to crops and allowing farms to increase profitability. In IDEAGRO we consider traceability a key aspect, and that is why we clearly focus on understanding and applying any new technology that can increase sustainability of agriculture while improving food safety and security whilst ensuring enough food for the worlds ever increasing population.
IDEAGRO as a company always interested in new technologies and tools has already used the wide possibilities of Big Data.
The most recent experience was as part of the project “Zero Residue”, co-funded by the LIFE + program of the European Union (ref. LIFE 12 ENV / ES / 902). The project aims to improve the sustainability and the quality of the production of Stone fruit to create a more competitive and healthy sector.
In the course of the project a Zero Residues (ZR) methodology will be developed. This will demonstrate that this new approach to produce, store, process and market stone fruit without residues, creates a new trend in fruit production, with higher quality, more attractive and healthier at more a competitive price. On the other hand, ZR methodology helps to improve various environmental problems generated, for example, integrated pest management will dramatically reduce pesticide doses, and instead, will prevent degradation of soil and groundwater contamination.
Furthermore, the implementation of new technologies will increase the shelf life of the fruit after harvest by use of innovative micro perforated packaging and the use of atmospheric controls. As for fruit waste generated due to the imperfections of quality this will be transformed into an interesting product for baby food factories, thus leading to new sales channels. Finally, a certificate will be developed, which can only be obtained if the production meets the requirements of zero residues. All knowledge is made available to other producers in order to spread the information as much as possible.
Under the project, IDEAGRO implemented in collaboration with project developers a Zerya® Predictive Models, an app that will help to manage crops protection against pests and diseases from any computer or mobile device. To develop the ‘predictive models’ of the app, IDEAGRO resorted to intelligence data or better known big data technology, offering stone fruit producers a chance to prevent fungal diseases and pests proving consumers with heathier products and ensuring a more sustainable agriculture.