On 30 November 2020, the EIF debate titled ‘What is needed for smart farming?’ tried to disclose which benefits could agriculture in the European continent reap from the ongoing digitisation of the economy and society, and explored what the building blocks are for successful smart farming in Europe, both in practice and in policy.
The debate, hosted by MEP and EIF member Franc Bogovič, was moderated by EIF Director General Maria Rosa Gibellini and featured the following speakers:
- Diego Canga Fano, Principal Adviser, DG AGRI, European Commission
- Sergej Krajnc, CEO, Termodron (innovative Slovenian start-up)
- Ben Hatton, Sales and Key Account Manager, Proagrica
- Javier Veglison, Strategy and Business Development, Hispasat
MEP Franc Bogovič started the debate with an important reflection: the agricultural industry will need to increase its productivity by at least 70% in order to keep up with the demand in 2050. This, without placing any burden on the environment: the solution at hand, said MEP Bogovič, is precision agriculture. Precision agriculture, or smart farming, integrates advanced technologies in existing farming architecture.
Farmers in the 21st century have access to different technologies able to increase the productivity and quality of agricultural products, together with the production efficiency. Moreover, smart farming reduces the ecological footprint of farming, makes agriculture more profitable for farmers and has the potential to boost consumer acceptance. Smart farming is also important to raise attractiveness among young farmers, as supported by the CAP together with digitalisation in agriculture and knowledge transfer. Support to small farmers is also needed, stressed the MEP.
According to Diego Canga Fano, in order to harvest the potential of digitalisation in agriculture, we need to create an environment enabling farmers, including the small ones, to make effective use of digital technologies. This depends very much on the development of data solutions, together with broadband connection and digital competences of the rural population. The creation of a common European agricultural data space is crucial to drive the digital transformation of the agricultural sector, and start-ups, SMEs and the scientific community are key actors in this process.
The European Commission adviser mentioned some present impactful actions that the EU as a whole is taking to boost innovation in agriculture: SmartAgriHubs, Internet of Food and Farm project (IoF2020), the European Innovation Partnership 'Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability' (EIP-AGRI), the joint Declaration ‘A smart and sustainable digital future for European agriculture and rural areas’ signed by most Members States.
Talking about the future, the CAP will further increase the focus on digital solutions as a means to meet the targets of the Green Deal, and a portfolio of instruments will be available in the field of digitalisation and data technologies in agriculture. Digital innovation hubs testing and experimentation facilities, as well as a common European agricultural data space, will be supported by the new Digital Europe Programme.
Sergej Krajnc, concretely presented the work of his co-owned start-up, Termodron, and how it integrates, implements and provides services in the sector of precision farming. Since most of the precision farming is based on the smart machinery, there is the need for both internal infrastructure (i.e. smart planters, sprayers, seed and fertiliser spreaders) and external. Machinery needs additional smart terminals to send instructions to the communication interface on which also the tasks are imported and integrated by farmers or external service providers.
Mr. Krajnc explained how new earth observation technologies, in particular drones and satellites, provide the possibility to elaborate the general picture of the crop from different perspectives. Based on this information and other data sources, the target application maps are prepared together with farmers, and these maps are then imported and integrated into their machines for automated executions of the tasks. Termodron’s mission, highlighted Mr. Krajnc, is to integrate all these complex technologies under one umbrella and provide them in an easy way to farmers to get the maximum efficiency possible.
Ben Hatton put the attention on the fact that, across the different answers of “what is needed for smart farming?”, there is one constant: data. Agriculture 4.0, the next green revolution and the smart farm are driven by data: one of the biggest challenges as well as one of the biggest opportunities.
Over the last 5 years, tremendous success has been made in the depth and breadth of the data generated: new sensors in the market, more flexible software solutions, vast improvements in APIs that allow the transfer of data between systems. Nevertheless, not much progress has been made in the basic analysis of data where data islands, incomplete data, dirty data and heterogeneous data cause some disruption. According to Mr. Hatton, the future of smart farming is exciting and has huge potential since the amount of data that is being gathered, analysed, applied and shared, is exponentially increasing.
Javier Veglison brought the perspective of connectivity to the debate: in fact, there is no digitalisation if there is no connection and, truth is, there is still a lot of work to do in order to properly connect the real world and especially rural areas. Hispasat’s solutions to boost the digitalisation of the agricultural sector and the rural world focus, in particular, on broadband connectivity and IoT connectivity.
In order to show how this works in practice, Mr. Veglison provided examples of successful application of such connectivity inside Hispasat: Florette, that allows employees to send data on crop management from tablets and smartphones in real time; Digitanimal, sensors installed on 130 animals which send information on their position and health conditions, sent afterward for analysis via satellite; Agrolinares, providing Wi-Fi connectivity via satellite to a cacay tree plantation in Colombia, where applications include weather sensors, security cameras and daily reports on the evolution of the crop as well as internet access to employees.