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Advisory platform for small farms based on earth observation

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - APOLLO (Advisory platform for small farms based on earth observation)

Reporting period: 2017-05-01 to 2019-02-28

Farmers have to address multiple challenges at the same time. From increasing their yields to address the global population expansion, to ensuring at the same time the sustainable management and conversion of natural resources by using less inputs. The way to achieve those objectives, is through new technologies, which are usually costly and of high risk.
Earth Observation (EO) can address these needs by providing information on a wide range of crop and field related variables, such as soil moisture, surface temperature or photosynthetic activity. This information can support decision-making on a site-specific basis, allowing for more efficient utilisation of resources. The benefits of using EO information in the Agricultural sector stem from cost reductions, profitability and potential competitive advantages.
APOLLO provides small farmers with an affordable and easy to use suite of farm management tools based on EO data, and enables them to take better-informed decisions over their practices, in order to achieve maximum production with minimum inputs and as a result maximum profitability for them.
The services offered via the APOLLO platform are: i) Tillage Scheduling, which identifies the suitability of the field for tillage operations, minimizing fuel use and damage to soil structure; ii) Irrigation Scheduling, which identifies when and where irrigation is needed, avoiding yield loss and saving on costs; iii) Crop Growth Monitoring, which remotely scouts the fields and depicts their progress, helping thus in targeted field visits, saving time; iv) Crop Yield Estimation, which supports proper planning of post-harvest logistics ahead, ensuring sufficient capacity; v) Weather forecasting, which is highly localised helping thus farmers to plan their activities accordingly; and finally vii) Zone Management, which optimises the input use within a field, saving on input costs.
APOLLO is a platform that provides agricultural advice to farmers and agricultural consultants, supporting them in carrying out daily activities in a more efficient way. The services that are offered through APOLLO platform are: i) tillage scheduling; ii) irrigation scheduling; iii) crop growth monitoring; iv) yield estimation; v) weather forecasting; and vi) zone management.

Throughout the project lifetime the underlying purpose was twofold: i) to create a platform that responds to the user needs; and ii) to reach the necessary maturity for market uptake.

Since day zero of the project, the APOLLO team made sure that users were involved in every step, from design to implementation of the platform, creating a sense co-creation over the final result. Users felt and were an integral part of the process, since they defined the final outcome. In a few words, APOLLO is a platform created from the farmers for the farmers.

The efforts to reach the necessary commercial maturity were intensified during the last ten months. The actions of all the SME partners were invested in building “the next day” scenario that will ensure the sustainability and exploitation of APOLLO. That shift, was also facilitated by the fact that an MVP of the platform was available in year one and an advanced version in year two. This allowed for time to be dedicated in validating and evaluating the results. The team managed to gather the first results, already in the second year of the project, which were enriched with more data in the following agricultural season. All the outcomes were linked with the business planning. Within that framework all SMEs of the consortium worked together, in order to develop various scenarios that respond to the specific needs of the countries in which APOLLO is going to be exploited.
EO-driven agricultural advisory platform for small-holder farmers
Through continued interactions with farm groups across 3 countries, APOLLO is co-developing a platform for providing agricultural advisory services for farmers regarding several key farming tasks (tillage, irrigation, plant health, yield estimation, zoning management), as well as localised weather forecasts. As such, the platform is tailored to meet their needs and fit into their processes, without requiring large up-front investments and in-field devices. Drawing on free and open Copernicus satellite data, the platform uses this advantage to lower costs for small farmers.

Measurement of actual soil moisture using Sentinels
The APOLLO platform draws on Sentinel 1 Synthetic Aperture Radar data to estimate soil moisture in agricultural fields. This is a highly novel approach that allows APOLLO to determine the level of moisture in the soil over a wide area, which is of major value for irrigation management and in planning tillage operations. Efficient irrigation is important for farm economics as well as for management of water where it is scarce. The use of free and open Copernicus data grants this service a major cost advantage on the market.

Estimation of crop biomass and yield using Sentinel-2 data
The APOLLO crop monitoring service uses crop specific model based on cumulative vegetation index to calculate high resolution crop and high quality biomass. As yield is highly correlated with biomass, it is used to estimate yield to be harvested on the fields one month in advance. This provides to farmers a valuable information for harvest planning and farm economics but is also important input for planning in bioenergy sector.