Theme Precision agriculture and data technology

ILVO combines promising new technologies with the so-called tacit knowledge held by researchers and stakeholders. The aim here is not to maximize productivity, but to optimize it: in other words, to produce as much food and feed as possible with the least possible impact on the environment, by minimizing the use of (artificial) fertilizers, crop protection products, water and veterinary medicines.

This approach will only be truly successful if various data sources are integrated and if the innovations are implemented in practice. That is why we are putting maximum effort into the further roll-out of the data-sharing platform DjustConnect and we involve farmers, fishermen and food producers as early as possible in the development, evaluation and demonstration of innovations. In this way, precision agriculture and data technology can effectively contribute to the systemic change that the European Green Deal and the Farm-to-Fork strategy are shooting for.

Better tools

In arable farming, everything starts with the soil. Technology can map the spatial variables in the soil. Together with traditional soil analyses, this new data provides insight into the causes of local yield differences. With the Soil Passport, ILVO goes a step further by integrating even more data, such as crop history, crop monitoring, weather conditions and the spread of diseases and pests. This makes it possible to quickly and effectively estimate the yield of a crop during its growth and to identify problems that may arise.

In addition, we are working on site-specific applications such as precision fertilization, precision irrigation and targeted treatment and monitoring of diseases, pests and weeds. Precision management of soil fertility, crop protection, nutrients and water comes one step closer. To promote the implementation of these precision techniques in practice, we test and demonstrate them on-farm. These new technologies also offer opportunities for the selection and breeding of crops. With new sensors both below and above ground, we accelerate the screening process for desirable characteristics such as drought tolerance in new candidate varieties.

In the animal sector, livestock farmers also have access to an increasing number of sensors and more data. Both the animals and their environment are systematically monitored. By linking that data to data on production and health, digital systems send out increasingly accurate warnings, which can promote the welfare and well-being of both animal and farmer.

Transparency and tailored policy

Affordable sensors make it possible for farmers and cattle breeders to monitor, adjust and prove their climate, environmental and animal welfare efforts on their own. This also offers opportunities in terms of policy: where today policy is necessarily written on the basis of averages, such a degree of monitoring and transparency allows us to evolve towards an individually tailored, results-oriented policy.

Big data, machine learning and AI

We are all collecting more and more data. Much of it remains untapped, however, because the various data sources are insufficiently linked to each other. The users also do not have enough insight into the large amount of data they collect. ILVO is working hard on the development of an AI4Agrifood platform, which makes use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. That platform should make it possible to better understand and control complex interactions in biological systems and generate useful advice for farmers. By creating a more intelligent integration of data streams, we can offer new farmer-managers a dashboard that will help them make better choices based on objective data. The Soil Passport that ILVO is helping to develop is a first concrete example of this.

Collaborating with the farmers

“Everyone is doing precision agriculture, except the farmers.” This commonly-heard statement does not exactly make ILVO happy. That’s why we choose a co-creative approach within our Living Lab Agrifood Technology. Farmers and companies are involved in the development of new applications from the very beginning. Sometimes new sensors are even developed or tested on-farm, with the farmer.

Within ILVO’s agri-food research landscape – our own farm with experimental animal housing – we are using data technology and precision agriculture techniques. The techniques we develop there, and the resulting insights, flow back into research and are translated into wider farming practice. We take care to use an appropriate business model and monitor the userfriendliness, involvement and development of digital skills in the end user. We actively disseminate our results, including through physical demonstrations. This makes for successful implementation of technology and system changes at the same time.

Sharing data

For year, ILVO has been doing pioneering work in the field of data sharing technology. With the development of the data sharing platform DjustConnect, we have guided the agri-food sector into the world of the API economy. DjustConnect is based on an innovative reference architecture and is committed to data sharing with respect for privacy, security, interoperability and equal access for all. Trust and data sovereignty are ensured; the farmer, as the owner of the data, stays at the helm. With DjustConnect, we go beyond a demonstration: we develop concrete, usable applications and thus create effective added value for farmers.

Towards a single data market

To take data sharing to the next level, more research is needed into the possibilities of data access, data governance and data usage. The strategic importance of a European data space can hardly be underestimated. The aim is to create a level playing field in legal, operational, technical and functional terms. The first steps are currently being taken in projects such as GAIA-X, a German-French project that aims to unite the cloud and edge services of European providers in a federal data structure. ILVO follows the developments closely and collaborates where possible.

The data and information flow must also go beyond the farmer: it must connect the entire chain. The European Data Strategy strives for one European data market in which data can be shared without any hindrances. For example, this will allow agri-food sector to communicate with consumers about its efforts regarding healthy and sustainable production. It also allows for data-driven (results-oriented) regulation, whereby policymakers can take into account the specific situation of each agricultural approach and adjust their policies accordingly. In this way, precision agriculture and data technology become powerful tools to achieve the systemic change of the European Farm-to-Fork strategy

Contact an expert

Photo of Simon Cool

Simon Cool

Living Lab Agrifood Technology Coordinator

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See also

Press release 16/09/2022

Potatoes as viewed by the drone: the results

Drone in front of leek field copyright ILVO
On a technology test field, ILVO conducted an unusual potato-precision farming trial during the 2022 growing season. Every three days, a drone with a camera took images of the plants (and any weeds).