Press release A field full of sensors? CurieuzeNeuzen installs 500 sensors in potato fields
CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin (literally translated as "CuriousNoses in the Garden"), Flanders' largest ever citizen survey on heat and drought, is installing 500 smart sensors known as "field daggers" in various potato fields across Flanders to gather information about the microclimate in our potato fields.
Insight into the microclimate around a potato plant
Dry and hot summers affect more than just our gardens, parks or public green spaces. That is why CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin is also studying the impact of extreme weather conditions on potato cultivation.
Potato, one of Belgium's main agricultural exports, is particularly sensitive to extreme weather conditions. They do not like prolonged drought and heat nor extremely wet weather. It thrives in typical Belgian weather: varied but without big extremes. In recent years however we have seen increasingly long periods of drought and heat, with real consequences for our potato crop. 'In 2018, we had 30 to 40% lower yields,' says Jean-Pierre Van Puymbrouck, president of Belpotato, the trade association for the entire Belgian potato chain. 'In 2019 there was a 5 to 10 percent loss, and last year we lost another 20 percent loss.' The quality of the potatoes is also at risk.
500 smart ‘field daggers’ installed across Flanders
Although CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin is primarily focused on the effect of heat and drought on gardens, 500 smart temperature and soil moisture sensors will also be placed in various potato fields. The participating fields are spread across Flanders and were selected in consultation with ILVO, the inter-provincial Potato Production Research Centre (PCA vzw), INAGRO, the Hooibeekhoeve, Agristo and Clarebout. This broad partnership shows that the entire sector is convinced of the need to use new technology as part of sustainable production that can withstand the climate of the future.
Track the measurements day by day via WatchITgrow
The sensors measure very precisely, every 15 minutes, both the temperature and the soil moisture. The temperature is measured in 3 places; low against the ground at 12 cm height, at the soil surface and under the ground (in the top 10 cm). Here in the top layer of soil the soil moisture content will also be measured. These detailed measurements will for the first time provide insight into the microclimate in which the potato plant grows.
All data are automatically uploaded daily via the Internet of Things into WatchITgrow.be, VITO's online information platform that assists farmers in monitoring their plots smoothly and efficiently. WatchITgrow uses various data sources including satellite images, weather data, soil data, Internet of Things and user data to generate information on the growth and health of the crops. Thanks to this information, the grower can intervene or make adjustments where necessary and sustainably improve production.
WatchITgrow is an online information platform that assists farmers to monitor their plots smoothly and efficiently. WatchITgrow uses various data sources including satellite imagery, weather data, soil data, IoT and user data to generate information on crop growth and health, create task maps and much more.
A unique dataset and soil analyses
Unlike the sensors in gardens, parks, schools and businesses that were placed in early April 2021, these soil sensors are not placed in the field soil until late May, early June. Thus, they collect data from plant emergence until harvest. Participating growers can monitor all measurements as well as the analysis results of the soil samples via a personal dashboard in WatchITgrow.
Meanwhile, researchers are also working with the data to gain a unique insight into the microclimate in the potato fields. It is also important that all this is combined with soil analyses, carried out by the University of Antwerp. In this way the capacity of the soil to store carbon will be studied, as well as the presence of organic material, which is crucial for the health of the soil.
The ultimate goal of the CurieuzeNeuzen project is to bring the knowledge gained to the potato grower so that he or she will be able to better respond to hot and dry periods with targeted and objective information.
CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin is an initiative of the University of Antwerp and De Standaard in close cooperation with Rabobank, Orange, VITO, VMM, the Department of Economy, Science and Innovation, the Department of Environment, Bio-Planet, DPD and Aquafin.