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Advisory platform for small farms based on earth observation

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Big data for small farms enhance resource use and profitability

Feeding the world’s growing population under increasingly extreme environmental conditions is challenging farmers globally. The hand that feeds us needs a helping hand, so EU-funded researchers developed an affordable farm-management platform.

Food and Natural Resources
Space

Copernicus and Apollo, united historically by their connection to the Sun, came together under the auspices of the EU-funded APOLLO project to expand the implementation of precision agriculture. With a focus on small farms, a platform of advisory services for informed decision-making should increase profitability, competitiveness, sustainability and food security for the future.

Putting big data in the hands of the farmers

Making extensive use of openly available Earth Observation data such as that provided by the European Union’s Copernicus programme, the APOLLO platform was designed to optimise the utilisation of agricultural resources. As project coordinator Machi Simeonidou explains, “APOLLO services are available anywhere, at any time, through the web interface and mobile application. The web interface provides full access to all APOLLO services and data, while the mobile application is used for basic reporting and alerting.” Tillage and irrigation scheduling services provide daily information to optimise soil preparation and resource use. Tillage scheduling helps farmers reduce soil degradation and use less fuel for tilling, reducing costs and emissions. As agricultural irrigation accounts for 70 % of water use worldwide, reductions in water use have important economic and environmental benefits. The APOLLO crop growth monitoring service provides continuous information on crop conditions. Early alerts of infestations and nutrient deficiencies aid in quick action and reduced losses. The crop yield estimation service helps farmers estimate expected income and make decisions about whether to sell or store produce. Move over Farmers’ Almanac and make room for the APOLLO weather forecast and alerts service. APOLLO delivers highly-localised field-level weather conditions including temperature, humidity and wind magnitude and direction. Finally, APOLLO helps farmers create ‘management zones’ through the farm management zoning service. By grouping areas with shared characteristics, farmers can better allocate resources and more efficiently manage land use and crop productivity.

The ground is fertile for tremendous growth

Farming is not a historically data-driven sector of the economy and APOLLO’s team put on their sales and marketing hats to bring farms onboard for pilot studies. In the end, the team surpassed their initial recruitment goals, and, in the process, proved the value of their platform. According to Simeonidou, results from pilots in Greece, Spain and Serbia demonstrated “significant savings of fuel and water during tillage and irrigation with the same or higher yield. Moreover, the APOLLO platform allowed farmers and crop consultants to monitor and better schedule their activities, enhanced their understanding of in-field variability, and supported their transition from conventional to precision agriculture practices.” Approximately 70 % of beta testers found APOLLO services useful and planned to incorporate them into their daily activities and 74 % stated they will recommend them to others. APOLLO’s modular architecture will support both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) sales. The team is currently in discussions with potential customers. Simeonidou summarises, “APOLLO services enable the use of less farm (or agricultural) inputs and higher yields – and therefore reduced costs, increased profitability and competitiveness and enhanced environmental sustainability.”

Keywords

APOLLO, service, farmer, platform, water, crop, agricultural, data, weather, irrigation, alerts, tillage, Copernicus, soil, big data, precision agriculture, farm management

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