Tag: Yield

Ruma, Vojvodina, Serbia. Credits: Ugljesa Trkulja

How healthy are your growing crops? APOLLO can help you to find out

Growing healthy plants is a top priority for every farmer and agricultural consultant, and this means keeping a constant eye on seedling health to spot problems as early as possible. Even on smaller farms, this is no easy task – and it becomes increasingly challenging over larger areas.

Farmers need to perform regular checks on the health of their growing crops. Monitoring plant growth and health during the biological cycle provides important insights on crop threats (such as diseases, nutrient deficiencies or pests) and guides the farmer on where action is required.
So, other than personally surveying the field, what options does a farmer have for keeping watch over crops? A number of technological advancements are available to help farmers monitor their crops easily and with good precision.
One involves flying planes (or, more recently, drones) over the crops and collecting information using remote sensing instruments, such as hyperspectral cameras. Another way is to install measuring devices in-situ. But although these options can provide insights with good precision both in terms of location and status, they are usually costly and time consuming and – especially in the case of field surveys might be acquired too late.

Early information on plant health is important as it can help farmers make better decisions in dealing with potential threats, and in scheduling agricultural operations (e.g. fertilization, spraying, harvest), based on their field’s needs also at sub-parcel level.

How APOLLO can help farmers and agricultural consultants to make more informed decisions?

APOLLO Crop Growth Monitoring Service provides farmers with daily updates on their crop status from emergence through to harvest, generating early alerts in case of infestations and nutrient deficiencies.

The service can enable farmers to have early estimations of their crops’ status and make better decisions as a result. The service is based on crop models, and acquires valuable information on crop status during the whole agricultural season at both parcel and sub-parcel level.

Taking advantage of free and open satellite data from EU’s Copernicus program, APOLLO is providing advice based on highly accurate data from smaller to larger fields. The APOLLO Crop Growth Monitoring service is directly monitors crop condition by analysing Earth Observation based agricultural parameters such as Vegetation Indices (e.g. NDVI, SAVI, EVI) and biophysical characteristics (e.g. LAI, chlorophyll content, biomass). All this complex data is transformed into easily interpretable information for all farmers and consultants. The service is capable of monitoring the growth of arable crops as well as orchards and vineyards.

If you want to have a free trial of the service you can subscribe here.

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.

Less is more: How better water resource management can improve the quality and quantity of your yield

Water is one of the most important elements supporting life on our planet. Climate change, urban expansion, and the need to feed a constantly growing population are greatly affecting fresh water resources. Certain areas are faced with imminent water scarcity, and paying for fresh water will soon become a reality in many regions in order to minimise wasted water.
It is therefore evident that there is a strong relationship between agriculture and water resources, especially for crops growing in areas with low precipitation. Overuse of water for irrigation may result in water scarcity, and irrigation practices must be adapted accordingly. But for farmers, water scarcity is not only the problem threatening their yields.

Credits: Ugljesa TrkuljaThe artificial application of water often leads to over- or under-irrigation; both of which are damaging for crops due to the changes they bring about in soil quality. Maintaining the appropriate levels of soil moisture is a key factor for the healthy growth of plants, as it greatly affects the fertility of the land. Up until recently, water was relatively cheap and easily accessible in most places in Europe. Therefore, for many farmers it is has become common practice to apply (often unnecessary) quantities of water when symptoms of unhealthy crop growth are observed. However, making judgements about soil moisture based on plant observation alone is inherently inaccurate, as it relies on the farmer’s assumptions about sufficient crop moisture levels. This practice usually leads to over-irrigation, jeopardising the health of crops.

Excessive irrigation can result in:

  • seeds not getting enough air to “breathe” (respire) effectively, thus hampering germination;
  • plant roots not growing properly, again due to lack of oxygen;
  • increased surface salt due to evaporation, affecting soil fertility;
  • the creation of an environment favourable to diseases;
  • the movement of nutrients and pesticides from the root zone into the ground water (“leaching”);
  • increased cultivation costs.

On the other hand, it is well-known that lack of water can hamper the crop’s health. When irrigation is performed at the right stages during their growing season, it can preserve the crop’s high quality and increase the expected yield. Knowing when plants need water and – perhaps more importantly – when not to irrigate is the first step towards a healthy and prosperous cropland and sustainable resource management. Besides improving the soil’s fertility, good irrigation management can help farmers to minimise the cost of pumping water; the key is to improve crop water use efficiency.

“Using less water, farmers can achieve the same quality / quantity yield and potentially improve it”.

Keeping soil fertile from year to year

Keeping the soil’s moisture at the appropriate level and preventing its fertility from degrading (through nutrient leaching) will save the grower energy, money, and labour. Degraded soil will need time and additional inputs, in the form of nutrients, to return to its initial state – and this can have a negative impact on yield over several growing cycles.
Scheduling irrigation is a complex task. Water resources (which in many cases are limited), salinity, and rainfall variability/uncertainty are some of the environmental parameters that need to be taken into account for proper water management. Routine irrigation without proper consideration of these parameters will almost always result in overirrigation and waste of water and energy. In addition, different crops demand different irrigation strategies over the various crop growth phases.

Good irrigation practices lead to:

  • high quality yields;
  • keeping the soil moisture at a stable level so that the possibility of diseases is minimised while attractiveness to pests is also decreased.
  • energy conservation;
  • water conservation
  • increasing farm productivity.

Credits: Ugljesa Trkulja

How APOLLO can help

From seeding to harvest, APOLLO will help growers to easily improve their farm water management.
APOLLO will provide regularly updated advisory information regarding irrigation (Irrigation Scheduling Service) along with weather data in one-glance interpretation maps. Specifically, APOLLO will provide information on irrigation timing and dosage along with a weather forecast.
Farmers will be able to use these maps to make better decisions on irrigation, saving both energy and time. The expected result is higher quality yields with less water consumption.

APOLLO’s Irrigation Scheduling service will be provided at a low cost to farmers. It can be used alongside the Tillage Scheduling and Crop Growth Monitoring services. The APOLLO services are provided independently from one another, but the natural relationship between tilling, irrigation and crop growth means that it makes sense to use the three of them together.

Relevant APOLLO data products will also be valuable to agricultural consultants, who will be better able to give trustworthy advice to their clients.

References/Sources:
1. Huang, B. and Scott NeSmith, D. (1999), “Soil aeration effects on root growth and activity”, Acta Hortic. 504, 41-52, DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.1999.504.3, https://doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.1999.504.3
2. Suat Irmak, Soil and Water Resources Engineer and Irrigation Engineering Specialist, Professor (2014), “Plant Growth and Yield as Affected by Wet Soil Conditions Due to Flooding or Over-Irrigation”, Nebraska extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
3. Growstone (2012), “The importance of aeration of soil”.
4. Bhishm Khanna, “What are the harmful effects of excessive irrigation?”, Preserve articles website.

Special thanks to our scientific advisor Mr. Evangelos Anastasiou, Agronomist, Agricultural University of Athens.

Image credits: Uglješa Trkulja, UPOR