Dimitrios Papadakis presenting APOLLO at the CAPIGI session of the Geospatial World Forum 2016

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.

Precision agriculture, though not a new field, is gaining increasing traction as new and emerging technologies start to mature – drones, sensors and cloud processing being typical examples. A common thread linking many of these technologies is the ascendant role of data, in increasing volumes and accuracy. The traditional use of Earth Observation in precision agriculture is also undergoing a revival thanks to the availability of new, free and open data sources, such as those from the Copernicus programme.

Optimism about the availability of new services based on these technologies and data sources was evident at two major geospatial events attended by the APOLLO project this summer: Geospatial World Forum 2016 and European Space Solutions 2016.

The Geospatial World Forum is globally recognised as the milestone event in the calendar of the geospatial community. Each year, it gathers some 700 geospatial professionals from across the many vertical sectors which the industry serves. In 2016, the dedicated session for agriculture (GeoAgri) was merged with the CAPIGI conference.

The Community on Agricultural Policy Implementation and Geo-Information (CAPIGI) is an agricultural geo-information expert network, which holds a regular conference on themes spanning from smart farming to big data in agriculture. The group brings together government, industry and academic representatives to explore recent innovations and emerging technologies for the implementation of agricultural policies, illustrated through practical experiences.

APOLLO was showcased at CAPIGI/GeoAgri 2016 by Communication Manager Dimitrios Papadakis, who presented an overview of the project’s aims and objectives. As a result, useful contacts were established with many of the participants, including SoilCares, Akkerweb, and HCP International. A number of projects were also presented with relevance for APOLLO, such as SmartAKIS.

European Space Solutions is an annual conference organised by the European Commission and the European GNSS Agency, aimed at promoting European space programmes and stimulating the uptake of space-based value-added services by connecting the European downstream space services community with user groups from various vertical industries. Normally located in the Member State holding the European Council presidency, it is considered a significant event for the value-adding space services industry, and regularly attracts high-level keynote speakers from the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Space Agency and other European and Member State bodies.

APOLLO’s Communication Manager attended sessions on Space for Agriculture and Food, Space for Food Security and Space Technologies for Soil Moisture Monitoring. One of the key connections made was with Derk Gesink, a Dutch farmer who has enthusiastically embraced precision agriculture technologies, and described his experiences as a pioneer adopter. He stressed the need for  expert advisors to translate the data provided by the technology into useable advice, and emphasised that “precision agriculture is a long-term investment”. He cited as one of the main gaps the lack of a central system in which to store and process the data collected from various sources.

A commercial service provider commented that “Farmers collect much unused data on their farms, and the potential of precision agriculture is high…the demand is there”. Clearly there are still numerous technical challenges to be overcome, chief amongst which the management of vast quantities of heterogeneous data, but as farms become more automated, connected, combined and integrated, the opportunities for new applications in the precision agriculture field will continue to multiply.

The insights gained from these conferences validate the APOLLO concept (combining affordability with ease-of-use, enabling the involvement of local agronomists) and feed into the design and development of the services.