Smarter Agriculture and Horticulture – A Sensative Use Case

Introduction

Agriculture is a field buzzing with technological innovation, and this is a pure necessity. Agricultural operations must be changed and optimized to support the growing global demand with an exponentially increasing global population and an alarming scarcity of arable land. Farmers also feel the pressure to increase their yield due to decreasing market prices and rising operational costs. This pressure typically results in monoculture cultivation, leading to soil degradation in an extension, which farmers commonly counter by overfertilization in conjunction with strong pesticides. These developments are daunting and benefit nobody from a long perspective, so the time has come to make agriculture “smart.” 

The European Commission established the EIP-AGRI (The European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability) to combat these issues. EIP-AGRI has launched several related projects have, some in their early stages and some with clear positive results. 

EIP-AGRI has four main fields in their projects:

  • Smart Agriculture
  • Smart Horticulture
  • Smart Surveillance
  • Smart Storage

This article will look at the Smart Agriculture and the Smart Horticulture projects, as these have come the furthest in their developments.

In both instances, the goal is to give farmers tools and processes that help them achieve better mapping, surveillance, efficiency, productivity, sustainability, profitability, and precision.

Smart Agriculture

There are three main goals in the smart agriculture projects – Achieve improvements in agricultural operations, create a digital infrastructure, and collect valuable data on farming conditions. EIP-AGRI lays an invaluable foundation for farmers by creating a digital infrastructure that will help sustain the cultivation demand for decades to come. The network creates the digital infrastructure by combining long-range communication (LoRaWAN) for sensors collecting data and Sensative’s DiMS IoT platform Yggio for making sense of the data. An essential component for the digital infrastructure to last is the employment of open technology that allows new systems and components to be integrated in the future, which is why the projects utilize Yggio.

drone quad copter green corn field

Collecting data from sensors will enable farmers to optimize watering, fertilization, distribution of crops, and more. The data will also be invaluable for planning new investments and restructuring the physical infrastructure. By utilizing AI / ML (machine learning) to combine sensor data with other data such as weather parameters, satellite and drone images, and topographical/geological/soil layer maps, a cause and effect matrix becomes visible, and farmers can optimize their operations accordingly.

Smart Horticulture

smart horticulture

The goals of the horticulture projects are similar to those of agriculture. The projects aim to improve horticulture growing (indoor cultivation, hydroculture), create a digital infrastructure, optimize utilization of available growing space, and collect valuable data. The digital infrastructure is much the same as in the agricultural projects, with the difference that short- and mid-range communication (WiFi, LoRaWAN, Z-Wave) stands in focus. The focus on a shorter communication range is due to the growing areas being more compact than outdoors, allowing faster and more frequent updates from sensors. The optimization of growing space includes using empty farm buildings and adapted facilities in urban areas.

As in the agricultural projects, collecting data from sensors will enable farmers to optimize watering, fertilization, distribution of crops, and more, allowing for better planning of resources and farming strategy.

Main parameters monitored

Agricultural monitoring

Soil: Temperature and humidity

These parameters are measured at two different levels in the soil (20cm and 50cm deep). The goal is to characterize soil type, geological layer, hydraulic properties, and field treatment (plowing and more).

Weather: Temperature, humidity, pressure, precipitation, and solar irradiation (meteorological conditions)

The goal with these parameters is to identify freezing- and dew points, cloud formation, and more.

Crop status: Measures from images on crops, captured from satellites and drones, including leaf canopy temperatures, evaporative cooling, transpiration (via heat maps), and leaf canopy chlorophyll content (via fluorescence maps and spectral analysis)

The goal here is to get an accurate overview of crop developments over time, allowing participants to identify trends through AI.

Advanced modelling

The collected sensor data is combined with factors influencing growth, water- and nutrient uptake, and distribution of crops, including growth models, statistical analysis, and AI / ML (machine learning).

iot soil moisture

Horticultural monitoring

Surrounding- and ambient conditions

These parameters are monitored to continuously establish surrounding weather conditions and ambient conditions for the farm building (or other spaces) and their interrelated dynamics over different seasons and annual cycles.

Properties and flow rates: Air, water and nutrients

These parameters are monitored continuously to establish properties, flow rates of inlet- and outlet air, water, and nutrient sources. When transferred to the hydroculture platforms, the data will be used to hygienize and secure the quality of air- and water sources (tap- or rainwater), control conditions for efficient usage of resources (recycling and low consumption of water, nutrients, and heat) and optimize plant growth and development.

Root environment

These parameters related to the root environment will be used to optimize uptake and optimal proportions of different nutrients via distribution of an aerosol (fog) or stream, creating highly efficient uptake conditions for the plant roots (free access), which allows for optimization of plant growth and development.

Parameters will be on measures of recycled fluid conditions (water and nutrients as dissolved salts), including Tf  (TR), ECf (extracellular fluid), pHf, DOf, and ff), to optimize uptake of water and optimal proportions of different nutrients (nf: Nf, Pf, Kf, and more).

Shoot environment

These parameters related to shoot environment till be used to optimize absorption of light (photons), uptake of carbon (CO2), and transpiration of water, which allows for optimization of plant growth and development.

Parameters on shoot conditions include Ta (TS), TL, RHa (RHS), ca (cS), Ia (QFDa), IL (QFDL), fa (fS), and more.

Advanced modelling

The collected sensor data will be combined with growth models, statistical analysis, and AI/ML (machine learning). The idea is to simulate and control the dynamics between surrounding weather conditions and ambient conditions in farm buildings (or other spaces) over seasonal- and annual cycles. The goal is to achieve resource-efficient climatization via air and heat exchange by using minimal additional heating, cooling, or humidification sources.

smart horticulture

Mapping

In agriculture – An improved overview and control of spatial- and temporal variations over crop fields. Analysis points include topography, geology, soil type-, treatment- and conditions, changing weather conditions, and crop status via satellite and drone imaging.

In horticulture – An improved overview and control of spatial- and temporal variations of the dynamics between surrounding weather conditions and ambient conditions in a farm building (or other space) during seasonal- and annual cycles.

Surveillance

In agriculture – Improved monitoring of crop fields by looking at proactive field treatment, irrigation, nutrition, frost prevention, and crop protection. These analyses include weather forecasts and changing weather conditions.

In horticulture – Improved monitoring and control of optimal conditions for plant cultivation in hydroculture platforms through the smart distribution of air-, water-, nutrients, and energy.

 Efficiency

In agriculture – Optimized irrigation and nutrition (at the right time and place with hydroponic distribution) by using less water and fertilizers.

In horticulture – Optimized supply of air-, water-, nutrients and energy to save on resources. This optimization includes internal recycling of resources by using alternative sources for water (tap-, rain- and grey water) and nutrients (stock solutions and surplus heat).

Productivity

In agriculture  Optimized uptake of water, CO2 and nutrients, and optimized transpiration and respiration result in increased growth and harvests.

In horticulture – Optimized plant growth and development by free access to all resources (water, nutrients, carbon, and light) and optimized climate conditions (TR, TL, RHS, cS). These enabling conditions result in non-limiting cultivation and significantly higher yield and productivity.

Precision

In agriculture – Increased precision in farming and agriculture through mapping and surveillance, proactive field treatment, and optimized irrigation and nutrition. These measures result in better growth predictions, resource efficiency, productivity, harvests, distribution, sustainability, and profitability.

In horticulture – Significantly improved precision in horticulture through strict cultivation control, including mapping and surveillance, optimized supply of resources, and complete control from seed to harvest. These measures result in better growth predictions, resource efficiency, productivity, yields, distribution, sustainability, and profitability.

 Profitability

In horticulture – Profitability increases through more cost-efficient usage of resources, increased harvests, better quality, quantified sustainability measures, and optimized pricing and delivery.

Sustainability

In both instances, these projects adhere to many of UN:s sustainability development goals (Zero Hunger, Clean Water and Sanitation, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and more).

These goals are connected to resource use efficiency, recycling, regeneration and renewal (water, nutrients, carbon, heat, electricity, and more), crop quality (nutrient content, structure, taste, and more), elimination of pesticides and pollutants, biodiversity, reduction of greenhouse gases, reduction of food waste, local food distribution, fair trade, local economy, and more.

Conclusion

As we can see from the long list of achievements, EIP-AGRI has launched a range of worthwhile projects that will help European farmers increase their yield while simultaneously living up to sustainability standards in the future. These projects are only the beginning, as we are likely to see a digital revolution in agriculture unfold in the coming decades, helping us keep the planet hospitable for all its citizens.

eip-agri iot projects

To learn more about the EIP-AGRI projects, visit their website.

These projects are funded by the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI) with support from Jordbruksverket

Europeiska jordbruksfonden jordbruksverket

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