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Precision Farming of Hazelnut Orchards

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PANTHEON (Precision Farming of Hazelnut Orchards)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-04-30

PANTHEON aims to improve the current management of real-world hazelnut orchards. Briefly, the main drawback of current hazelnuts farming procedures is that, for plantations bigger than 10 ha, it is very hard to perform a per-plant monitoring and to answer to the needs of each individual plant. In current best practice, decisions are made by assessing the status of a few plants and extending the treatment to the entire sector of these plants, which in the case of larger plantations, may arrive to 50 ha. This has a relevant impact on the environmental and economic sustainability of the orchard, as it may result in unnecessary/non-calibrated treatments for a large number of plants, thus leading to product waste (economic loss) and avoidable pollution. The vision is to develop the agricultural equivalent of an industrial Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system to be used for the precision farming of orchards. PANTHEON’s objective is to design an integrated system where a relatively limited number of heterogeneous unmanned robotic components (including terrestrial and aerial robots) move within the orchard to collect data and perform typical farming operations. In addition an Internet-of-Things (IoT) agro-meteorological solar-powered network is deployed to continuously monitor the environmental conditions of the orchard. The information is collected and stored in a central operative unit that integrates the data to perform automatic feedback actions (e.g. to regulate the irrigation system) and to support the decisions of the agronomists and farmers in charge of the orchard. The proposed SCADA system will acquire information at the resolution of the individual plant to drastically increase the detection of possible limiting factors of each plant individually, and react accordingly. Compared to the current state of the art in precision farming for large-scale orchards, the capability of monitoring the state and the evolution of each single tree will be the enabling-technology to allow more focused interventions. This will lead to a better average health of the orchard, and to an increased effectiveness of Integrated Pest Managements (IPM). In conclusion, the ongoing implementing architecture has the potential to increase the production of the orchard while, at the same time, being more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly.
During the first year of activities of PANTHEON, the Consortium mostly focused on:
i. The definition of the requirement, specification and benchmark for the design of the SCADA system;
ii. The identification of the software and hardware requirements for the implementation of the SCADA system;
iii. The identification of the companies to collaborate with for the customization of the aerial and ground unmanned prototypes and for the design and implementation of the IoT agro-meteorological network;
iv. The development of core basic functionalities for the SCADA components, ranging from unmanned vehicles core motion/sensing functionalities, to network communication design and implementation.
v. The development of core basic processing pipelines for the remote sensing activities;
vi. The manual collection of agronomic data for the monitoring of the cultivars.
The PANTHEON proposed SCADA system is expected to bring the following major contributions in the context of environmental and economic sustainability of large-scale precision farming:
i. Increase in production: The SCADA system will improving the general phytosanitary state of the orchard.
ii. Reduced Water Usage: The SCADA system will enable an informed control of the irrigation valves.
iii. Decrease in chemical inputs: The SCADA system will allow a refined per-plant treatment

PANTHEON is expected to contribute in the following ways:
i. Manageability of agricultural technology: This project will contribute to this impact by establishing a user-friendly paradigm for the management of orchards where the SCADA system “hides technological complexity”. In fact, the foreseen SCADA will be able to provide the farm manager with a view of the status of the orchard which will be more comprehensive and precise than possible today. At the same time the complexity of the collection and elaboration of this data (acquisition through robots, elaboration of the images, etc.) remains hidden to the user.
ii. Reduction of human burden for laborious tasks: The outcome of this project will be the automation of some operations, such as the collection of data and sucker’s control, which are tedious and repetitive, and which are currently carried out manually by human operators. These operations will be automated through autonomous robots, whose operation schedule is planned automatically by a central unit. In consequence this approach will require very limited human interventions.
iii. Safety of agricultural technology: The main impact of this project in the direction of safety is linked to the previous point and is represented by the substitution of humans with autonomous vehicles for spraying herbicides for sucker’s control, which will decrease human exposure to chemicals.
iv. Reliability of agricultural technology: PANTHEON aims at developing a full-scale prototype able to operate in a real-world orchard for a long time. To do so, the project will customize and integrate several robotics and IT components. As such, we believe that the project (and the real-world problems we will face) will contribute to defining best-practices for the integration of robotics and IT systems in the agricultural context. An additional contribution of this project is the adoption of fault detection and identification techniques for the early detection of sensor malfunctions, which we believe can be of interest in many other agricultural devices.


Finally, the project PANTHEON is expected to bring additional impacts as follows:

Impact on the Scientific Community– Beside the scientific output of the project, we believe this project will stimulate further research in precision agriculture in the fields of robotics, control, and remote sensing. We also believe that the development of a SCADA system for agriculture, and the associated large amount of data that will be collected, may trigger a rise in new research directions, e.g. agronomy research based on data mining, artificial intelligence and big data methodologies.

Impact on the Industry– We expect that the “real-world results” of this project and its pragmatic approach will contribute in stimulating the industry to invest in agricultural innovation. We are quite confident in this impact, as this project does not aim at building just a “proof of concept”, but at concretely demonstrating the capability of existing technology to solve real agricultural problems. In addition, we believe that the outcomes of this project will be a solid starting point for the development of market-ready products for hazelnut farming, and more in general, for orchard farming.

Impact on the Society – We believe this project may contribute to changing the traditional “low-tech” vision of agriculture, attracting the interest of new generations. Moreover, we believe that our case study can have a large impact on the society by stimulating the vision that advanced technology is the key to increase productivity while reducing the environmental foot-print.
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