Joris Roskam and Albert Schirring
The Precision Agriculture Revolution is Here ... See it in Action!
From precision irrigation and yield monitoring to predictive forecasting and variable rate application, the scale and growth of precision agriculture tools is rapidly expanding.
Technology has revolutionized agriculture and started a dialogue about nuanced and diverse approaches to sustainable farming. Today, the most productive conversations around sustainability and farming recognize both the science of agriculture and the important emotional connection to our land, our food, our families. It's a sentiment expressed by farmer Jasper Roubos, who manages Het Groene Hart farm in the Netherlands with his family.
“I'm motivated to take over the family business, to take it to a whole new level, so that it is equipped for the future, so that my son can eventually take it over,” says Jasper. “My incentive is to farm in a sustainable and honest way, and not at the expense of the environment.”
Jasper is part of the Bayer ForwardFarming network, and he is also participating in the Internet of Food and Farm (IoF) 2020 program, a European Union–funded project to stimulate the adoption of IoT solutions on farms across Europe. In 2017, Bayer decided to actively participate in IoF2020 with a clear commitment to support the EU Commission in its quest to accelerate the adoption of digital farming technologies. Now, two years into the IoF2020 project, Jasper and his IoF2020 partners are beginning to see the tangible impact these tools can have on farm operations.
In this blog we’ll discuss this impact and our belief that learning and experimentation like this lays the groundwork for future adoption of revolutionary technologies. But first, let’s introduce ourselves.
Joris: I’m Joris Roskam, a Sustainable Agriculture Manager and responsible for ForwardFarming in the Netherlands. I have had the great pleasure of working closely with Jasper over the last few years.
Albert: I’m Albert Schirring, Global Crop Manager for Vegetables & Potatoes and Bayer Crop Science representative for the IoF2020 project. I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to work with Jasper - a truly innovative and sustainably-minded farmer.
Sustainable Agriculture Manager
Global Crop Manager for Vegetables & Potatoes
Learning with digital solutions
Joris: Working and learning together with Jasper on how to embrace the latest digital solutions has been a really rewarding experience. Jasper has been using GPS technology on his tractors for quite a few years already, with the main objective to ‘drive straight’ and to avoid overlap, which has saved him about three percent of input use. For three years, he has collected yield data about his wheat via a yield monitoring system in his combine, which has taught all of us a lot about his fields.
Jasper collects all the information about his farming activities in Dacom, a farm management system. Together with Jasper, we have started to add ‘data layers’ in this system, such as crop sensor data. The objective is to perform almost all his activities based on a task map, which is based on variation in the field. Jasper has set his first steps in that regard, and has applied fertilizer, compost and leaf dessication based on task maps, in a variable dose rate, based on sensor data.
In the IoF2020 project, we are exploring the next steps – this year the fungicide sprays in the potatoes will be ‘VRA’ (variable rate application), based on sensor data from the crop.
Albert: Among Jasper’s primary crops are potatoes, and growing a high quality potato crop requires many skills and years of experience. In Europe – and especially in the Netherlands – the climatic conditions, the excellent soil and the craftmanship of the farmers are the basis for world record marketable yields.
This achievement is based on intense monitoring of the crop during the growing season. The overall crop management and especially the way decisions are taken in the growing season, including when and how to use crop interference, require a lot of management time of the farmer. New cost effective digital technologies enable farmers to take smart decisions to support and improve overall crop management. By actively investing in these technologies, we all learn more both on the hurdles to adopt the digital technologies and on the benefits using them on the farm.
Partnering for increased productivity and efficient use of resources
Joris: Kverneland, also a partner in IoF2020, will provide Jasper with a brand new sprayer, with the latest technology like biomass sensors, and the option to vary the dose rate across the boom sections. This will enable Jasper to ‘cash in’ on the potential of digital farming. And he’s already seeing promising results. In the dry season of 2018, based on disease prediction models combined with crop specific data, we determined Jasper could have saved multiple fungicide sprays, which is a key learning moving forward.
Perhaps the most impressive result to date was how the precision application of leaf desiccation delivered Jasper a saving of 30 percent on the use of herbicides.
Albert: The digital soil scans provide strategic input for the tractor-connected machinery to apply site-specific variable planting, variable herbicide application and variable desiccant application. The Yara scan is used to apply variable nitrogen dressing. Farmers like Jasper are very keen to use the new soil scans, as this service is a perfect answer to the farmer’s need to optimize the ROI on the inputs for seed, nutrients and crop protection.
Working together to build a common language
Joris: IoF2020 is a very valuable project for us – we need to gain experience and insight in state-of-the-art technologies in digital farming and identify the key hurdles to speed up adoption by farmers. It helps us to focus on the Dutch core crop, potatoes; IoF2020 in the Netherlands focuses on in-field management zoning for potatoes to validate Variable Rate Application (VRA) based on task maps related to infield variation for biomass and soil characteristics for herbicides, desiccants and fungicides, and in the end to promote the Bayer brands suitable for VRA.
Albert: Still, one of the key challenges has been to install a common language to support machine-to-machine communication. But, there is progress: the machine industry adopted ISOBUS as a universal language. Data communication and machine connectivity has been further improved using the AgriRouter system as introduced by Grimme.
Joris: It is challenging when machines are unable to ‘communicate’ with each other and to exchange data, which is obviously one of the important objectives of IoF2020. But there is also another important hurdle. Jasper is interested in what the technology can offer, yet he’d be the first to admit that he’s a farmer and not a tech expert; so, if it’s not plug and play, then it’s not working and it won’t be used. In that way, Jasper challenges us to focus on the user friendliness of the technology and the tools – designing systems with farmers in mind is vitally important.
Delivering on our objectives
Albert: Despite challenges, in the IoF2020 project, the potato crop is a leading example of the 19 total use cases in Europe, and is supported by a strong partnerships with Wageningen University, ZLTO ( Dutch Farmer Association), Bayer ForwardFarming, Grimme (manufacturer of potato planters and harvest equipment), Kverneland (manufacturer of fertilizer and sprayer equipment), KPN (Dutch TELCO), Jacob van den Borne (potato farmer in the South of the Netherlands). All of the partners contribute with their unique expertise.
Joris: With the sustainable agriculture team we are working on many projects like Bayer ForwardFarming with an increasing focus on digital farming, as we think this might be the most important ‘gamechanger’ – that it will change agriculture and the use of crop protection products dramatically, optimizing the use of inputs regarding timing, quantity and location, among other benefits. We’ve ramped up our development of digital tools to support our customers and the products they use for crops; developing tailored solutions. For that reason the Dutch sustainability team started in 2015 to partner with other companies and institutes in several digital farming projects, which resulted in partnering in the impressive IoF2020 project, with the support of Albert Schirring and his team.
Albert: The key learnings of the potato use case have been taken as a reference for similar digital farming initiatives in the Baltics, Belgium, Germany and Poland. That is exactly what IoF2020 is about: communicate the benefits and implement digital farming technologies on farms across Europe. For potatoes we are fully on track with our orginal objectives set to reach this goal.
The adoption of innovative digital tools are key to enabling farmers to improve productivity and manage sustainable production of healthy food. Jasper is a tremendous example of the big impact embracing technology can have on the your farm.