Tag: Pilots

A day in the life of an agricultural consultant, and how APOLLO can improve it

Agricultural Consultants – Greece
Georgios Savvidis is an agricultural consultant from Pella in Northern Greece. He is one of three consultants from the area taking part in the APOLLO project in the hopes of testing the services on their wheat and cotton fields. We asked him about the challenges he faces day-to-day and what role the APOLLO app could play as part of his toolkit.

Could you describe an average day in the life of an agricultural consultant?

Agricultural consultants are generally trained agronomists who provide advisory services to farmers, own or work in agricultural supply shops. An ordinary day includes field visits, discussions with farmers about crop problems and recommendations on how to deal with them. Within the Agricultural Cooperative of Pella, we have been implementing the Integrated Management System for peaches several years now, so we are addressing cultivation problems with a more holistic and environmentally friendly approach.

Credits: Giorgos SavvidisWhat kinds of problems do you encounter in the field? Are there one or two that particularly stand out, in your region?

Most problems caused by biotic factors are successfully dealt with on an annual basis. There are some exceptions through, such as the outbreak of Taphrina (a plant fungus which causes leaf curling in peach cultivations) which has affected crops in the area over the last two years. The biggest issue we have had to tackle in recent years has been the adverse weather conditions, which have crippled the production of tree crops. As far as arable crops are concerned, we had a big problem with cotton bollworm (Heliothis armigera), a few years ago, but we were able to neutralise the threat.

What tools do you currently use to address them? How do you expect APOLLO to improve them?

The tools we use include:

  • Agricultural alerts for our region provided by the Ministry of Agricultural Development. They are open to all, through the Ministry’s website and other agricultural websites,
  • Observation on the field with regular visits, which is often very time-consuming.

The way we tackle serious problems like disease or pests is by trying to suppress their outbreak and prevent further spread. The downside of this method is that by the time we intervene, the damage is already done. With APOLLO, we hope to prevent outbreaks in the first place, and to intervene in a timely and effective manner whilst they are still small enough to control. An additional bonus would be the time saved by not always having to be physically present to check on the crops in the field.

“The potential to use satellites in support of agriculture has opened up new horizons that are constantly expanding.”

Credits: Giorgos SavvidisWhat do you think the most useful advance in farming has been in the last few years?

The potential to use satellites in support of agriculture has opened up new horizons that are constantly expanding. APOLLO is a prime example of the kind of application which such technologies are making possible.
Can you think of any tools that contemporary agricultural consultants must employ in order to stay competitive? How do they differ from those that you used in your earliest days as a consultant?
An agricultural consultant’s competitiveness depends on firstly, effectively identifying emerging crop problems and, secondly, intervening in a timely manner. Therefore, any tool which improves these abilities is desirable, as it allows the consultant to “buy some time” and work out how the problem should be targeted for best results.
There are several tools like this on the market at the moment – and APOLLO will soon join them – but this was not always the case. in the past, a consultant had to search for crop problems in person, and work out the nature of the problem and its location in the field without any scientific and/or technological help.

Do agricultural consultants in your region have experience in smart farming methods?

Yes, a small percentage of agricultural consultants has relevant experience, mainly in irrigation scheduling for maize.

What motivated you to get involved in the APOLLO project and try its services?

I wanted to have a tool that would help me to identify crop problems reliably and rapidly. It also seemed exciting to have a hand in creating such a tool and seeing how it would work first hand.

Photo credits: Giorgos Savvidis

What APOLLO offers to farmers in La Mancha Oriental, Spain?

Our partners in La Mancha Oriental, Agrisat, speak about their region and explain how APOLLO will help local growers overcome some of their major challenges.

1. Tell us about Agrisat!

AgriSat is a Spanish SME based in Albacete (Spain), founded in May 2014 as a spin-off of a series of EU and national projects dedicated to the development and demonstration of the operational use of Earth observation (EO) and web-based Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for water management and farm advisory services. We draw on 20 years of experience in leading-edge technology, which has been rigorously tested and applied in the form of decision support tools for operational irrigation and farm management in a wide range of environments. Our mission is to make this knowledge and the corresponding easy-to-use tools widely available to the water and agriculture sectors and thus, to help farmers save water, energy, and inputs while maintaining or increasing yields and ultimately increase farm profitability in an overall context of sustainable agriculture.
In APOLLO, we are responsible for the co-creation of services with the help of users, as well as for the pilot implementation of the platform in Spain. 20 farmers from our region are participating in the APOLLO pilot.

2. What makes the La Mancha Oriental region unique from an agricultural point of view?

La Mancha Oriental is located on the south-eastern end of a plateau some 600-800 meters above sea level. The mountain ranges which surround the area are a double-edged sword: whilst protecting the region from damaging storms, they bring about extreme temperatures in both winter and summer, and cause dry, arid conditions in the area. As a result of these geophysical and climatic properties, many of La Mancha’s rainfed crops are extensively farmed. These include cereals (wheat, barley, etc.), legumes (peas, bitter vetch, etc.), and woody crops such as grapes and almonds. In addition, this area favours the cultivation of saffron, which is renowned for its world-class quality. The area supports 100,000 ha of irrigated land, supplied by water pumped from the aquifer by numerous wells.

Credits: Vicente Bodas3. What is the typical profile of a La Mancha Oriental farmer?

Typical farmers in La Mancha are men and women between 40 and 45 years old. Farms range between 10 and 30 hectares in size, with the average plot measuring approximately 2 hectares. The main crops cultivated in La Mancha are maize, winter wheat, chinese and purple garlic, wine grapes, almonds and olives.

4. Do farmers in La Mancha have experience in smart farming methods?

Yes, some of our farmers have been using smart farming methods for a number of years. Popular examples include irrigation scheduling, crop monitoring systems (water and nutritional needs) and – more recently – positioning systems, self-guided vehicles, crop yield monitoring methods and variable-rate nutrient application. Information derived from Earth Observation satellites has been used for 20 years to control aquifer water abstractions in a large part of the area*. More recently, Earth Observation data have been used for on-farm management operations such as irrigation and fertilisation**.
The two most important obstacles standing in the way of greater technological uptake are (1) access to the technology itself, which is often down to its high up-front costs; and (2) lack of knowledge on the use of such technology. The latter is starting to change as more farmers become aware of how much they can do with new and existing technologies.
APOLLO can assist farmers by providing affordable tools and easy-to-use technology that can help them to make more informed decisions regarding the tasks that must be performed on the crops at different times during the growing cycle.

Credits: Vicente Bodas5. Why did Spanish farmers choose to get involved in the APOLLO project?

Farmers in La Mancha see their participation in APOLLO as an opportunity to improve their understanding of how new technology can facilitate their decision making on the job, and ultimately save them time and money.

6. Is there a particular benefit that the APOLLO services will bring to La Mancha Oriental?

APOLLO’s four services can provide farmers in La Mancha with numerous benefits, many of which relate to overcoming some of the local challenges:

  • Tillage Scheduling: Although rainfall in our area is generally scarce, it does become moderate at certain crucial moments during the year, such as the cereal sowing period. This service will enable farmers to plan the pre-sowing tillage at the most appropriate time for the soil at a given parcel. In addition, they will be able to schedule tillage for the entire farm based on APOLLO’s recommendations.
  • Irrigation Scheduling: Although rainfed crops predominate in La Mancha, and water resources are limited, there are a certain number of irrigated farms in our region. APOLLO tools can be of great help in managing limited water resources and optimising water used in irrigating crops.
  • Crop Growth Monitoring: Information on the nutritional and health status of crops is crucial in order to obtain a yield and quality that translates into economic benefits. This APOLLO service ensures that farmers have access to this information for their crops, while also helping them to make decisions when it comes to applying plant protection treatment, for example.
  • Crop yield estimation: This APOLLO service is particularly interesting as regards the planning of harvest logistics, since in many cases this is an extra burden for farmers to have to deal with. Working out the size of the harvest can help the farmer to make decisions on the size and number of vehicles which must be made available for transporting crops, for example, as well as on the harvest’s destination (market or storage).

The APOLLO pilots are already underway in La Mancha Oriental. The first results of the pilots will be communicated in early autumn.

Image credits: Vicente Bodas.

*An initiative under the framework of the long-term project ERMOT which is jointly funded by farmers, regional government, and the River-Basin Authority.
**Introduced by the EU projects PLEIADeS, SIRIUS and FATIMA, and national projects like HERMANA.

Why farmers in Ruma, Serbia are interested in APOLLO

One of the APOLLO project’s three pilot areas, the Municipality of Ruma in northern Serbia is an agricultural haven with a great deal of development potential. We sat down with the Bojana Lanc and Uglješa Trkulja from the Farmer’s Association of the Municipality of Ruma – a partner in the APOLLO project – to find out more about Ruma and its farmers, and why they are interested in the APOLLO project.

What makes the Ruma region unique from an agricultural point of view?
Ruma is a municipality in the Vojvodina province of northern Serbia. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin between the Danube and Sava rivers and not far from the Fruška Gora mountain, the “jewel of Serbia”. Agriculture has been a part of life in in Ruma since the times of earliest settlements, thanks to its flat, fertile plains and favourable micro-climate.

About 55.000 people live in Ruma, of which almost 11.300 work in agriculture, almost exclusively in family holdings. The area contains some 6.000 agricultural holdings and this number is increasing. Crop production is still the dominant agricultural activity, but some younger farmers are rapidly diversifying into fruit and vegetable production.

“UPOR is working hard to raise the profile of the agricultural sector and encourage incentives for local agricultural development”

With industrial development booming in recent decades, the area is grappling with the twin challenges of rapid development and modernisation faced by many pre-accession countries. Besides establishing sustainable development in the region, there is a great interest in environmental sustainability, and specifically in preserving local biodiversity.

Agricultural sustainability and efficient resource management could help the Municipality of Ruma and its surroundings to become a development model in Serbia. UPOR is working hard to raise the profile of the agricultural sector and encourage incentives for local agricultural development, recognising the many possibilities for small enterprises dealing with the production of agricultural machines and equipment, processing and upgrading agricultural product

Credits: Ugljesa TrkuljaDo farmers have experience in smart farming methods?
Smart farming is something which is not unfamiliar to our farmers, although it is probably safe to say that the full potential of using smart technologies in agriculture in this region is not yet realised. Despite Ruma’s thriving agricultural sector, neither small farmers nor local agricultural consultants have access to, or make use of advanced agricultural information on its full capacity.
This is partly due to the ongoing transition, both at state and individual level, from a centrally-planned agricultural system. As time passes, the role of modern technology in improving both yields and profits is increasingly being recognised. Within APOLLO, small farmers, agricultural consultants, and members or affiliates of the Association, will have the chance to access new technologies and be directly involved in testing and implementing the APOLLO services.

 

How many farmers are taking part in the APOLLO pilot?
At the moment, there are twenty farmers involved at the territory of the municipality of Ruma. Crop samples and the necessary data for the project have been collected from their fields on several occasions. There is a clear interest for farmers from the surrounding municipalities to be involved, a goal we are working towards. For the moment, they are providing us with their views and user needs. We are preparing the ground to involve them as a group which will test and evaluate the first version of the application in real conditions.

 

“There is a clear interest for farmers from the surrounding municipalities to be involved – a goal we are working towards.”

Is there a particular benefit that the APOLLO services will bring to your area?
Prevention of economic losses caused by diseases and pests affecting the crops is very important. Therefore, information regarding crop growth will be crucial. Land moisture is important, but at the moment, only a small number of crop cultures, seed crops, is being irrigated. On the other hand, yield estimation and the quality of products – mainly their content in protein – are becoming more and more important.

 

What are the main crops growing in Ruma?
The main crops cultivated in Ruma are: barley, maize, sunflower, sugarbeet, winter wheat and soybean.

 

What is the profile of a Ruma typical farmer?
In Ruma, farmers are mainly young people in their mid-30’s as well as middle-aged men and women (45-50 years old). Whilst generally sceptical of change, there is willingness to try different methods that are proving to be successful. Ruma farmers are keen on participating in discussions regarding the status of the agricultural sector in their area and to provide their suggestions for solving problems. They are practical in everyday life and work, interested in learning from the experiences of other farmers (especially in other countries), and ready to cooperate.

Image credits: Ugljesa Trkulja

 

With farmers, for farmers: the APOLLO co-creation process

APOLLO services aim to help primarily small-holder farmers in Europe and beyond to achieve more sustainable farming practices, fewer losses and potentially increased agricultural yields. Placing benefits for farmers at the forefront, a co-creation approach is being implemented to guide the APOLLO services’ development, through which end users will have the opportunity to contribute to the creation of the services and their validation. Developing affordable, accessible and efficient agricultural services is about understanding traditional farming methods and how new technologies can support, enrich and enhance them.

We care about your experience

Yield increases, lower costs and sustainable farming practices are the ultimate goals of the APOLLO services. But no two farms are exactly alike; there is a great of diversity in farm specificities, local ecosystems and the farming methods used. This is true of different regions and countries and even between local farms within the same geographical area. Understanding the farmer’s real challenges and needs across the agricultural season, for various crops and in a range of environmental conditions is therefore essential in the service development process. The valuable knowledge which farmers have about their land, water, crops and other local resources can be used to develop better, more tailored services.

Working closely together with farmers will guarantee improved user experiences. It will enable the development of solutions that can be easily incorporated into traditional practices, improving sustainable farming and potentially lead to more profitable yields.

With farmers, for farmers

It was early in the lifetime of the APOLLO project that end users were invited to contribute to the development of service concepts. Farmers from the pilot areas have expressed their requirements through APOLLO’s online survey and through surveys conducted in the field by local project partners. The farmers’ feedback was collected and assessed by APOLLO experts, and formed the basis for the development of the APOLLO platform. Once the initial APOLLO services are available, they will be tested and validated during the agricultural seasons in 2017 and 2018, in three countries of continental Europe: Greece, Serbia and Spain.

We invite you to join us

In 2017, the APOLLO co-creation process will be launched through three collaborative workshops to be held in each pilot area, to be held before and during the agricultural season (March-September 2017). The meetings will bring together local farmers, agricultural consultants, WUA* technicians and APOLLO developers. Participants will be invited to contribute, evaluate, and refine ideas and concepts related to the APOLLO services. Together, developers and farmers will discuss current practices, evaluate the preliminary APOLLO service designs and generate solutions together, taking into account their different approaches, needs, and points of view.

After each meeting a follow-up session will be held in order to discuss emerging issues and the progress of the APOLLO pilots. These meetings will be used to assess and identify the practices and the challenges farmers deal with in their daily farm management routine, as well as the benefits that the APOLLO services are bringing to these activities. Based on the current best farming practices registered and the users’ feedback on the use of APOLLO services, APOLLO developers will be able to constantly improve and tailor the different services, to maximise the overall user experience.

If you are interested to learn more about the APOLLO co-creation meetings and how you can benefit by participating, please feel free to contact us.

Special thanks to our co-creation coordinator Dr. Anna Ossan (AgriSat) for her contribution to this article
Image credits: Vicente Bodas

*WUA: Water User Associations

What to expect from APOLLO in 2017?

2017 will be a milestone year for the APOLLO project, since it will be the first time that APOLLO services are tested and validated on operational farms and fields. The APOLLO project has covered a lot of ground in the short nine months since it began, and as the new year dawns, we thought it would be a good moment to reflect on what has been achieved so far, and look ahead to what you can expect for 2017.

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The increasing potential of data-driven precision agriculture: Validating the demand for APOLLO services

At two major conferences this summer – the Geospatial World Forum and European Space Solutions 2016 – the increasing potential of new applications in the precision agriculture field was repeatedly emphasised. The APOLLO project was represented at both of these events, establishing links with a number of key stakeholders and initiatives and raising the profile of the project within the broader geospatial community. The outcomes underscore the existence of strong demand for services such as those which the APOLLO project is building.

Read more