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.
3. 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.
5. 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.