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Digital farming: the new age of agriculture

“Welcome to the age of Digital Farming. Sit back in your armchair and cultivate via your smartphone”.

It’s not a sci-fi movie, it’s the reality. We are witnessing a real green revolution in the way of leading and thinking about agriculture: more productive, more efficient, more sustainable for the environment.

The link to the earth remains intact. What changes is the support for decisions that become more rational and focused on real needs in the field.

Over a period of twenty years from traditional agriculture, we have moved on to precision farming and today to Digital Farming.

Agriculture 4.0 or digital agriculture has developed thanks to the technological progress that is taking place in the sector.
The advent of IoT (Internet of Things) technology was fundamental. The IoT in turn was born from the development of sensors able to measure, in real time, particular conditions such as the plant’s physiological ones or climatic ones.
The sensors soon adopted wireless transmission technology, allowing considerable application flexibility.
By interconnecting multiple wireless sensors and actuators (devices capable of performing an action when needed without manual intervention), WSAN (Wireless Sensors and Actuator Network) systems have been created.
These systems are intelligent: they detect – calculate – act – alert automatically … and they are the heart of the IoT (Internet of Things).

A system like SAVE GRAPE for viticulture is an advanced example of IoT. SAVE GRAPE detects and elaborates informations on the basis of predictive models. It uses a innovative data transmission and it allows to control remotely weather conditions in the field, water needs, crop conditions via a device connected to the internet (pc, tablet, smartphone). Knowing at any time what is happening to the cultivation without being on site, allows you to plan the intervention efficiently.

SAVE GRAPE – wireless sensors in the vineyard

In agriculture, the application of the IoT (Internet of Things) is one of the driving forces for the transformation of agriculture into Digital Farming.

As illustrated by the CEMA (the voice of the European Agricultural Machinery Industry) last October in Brussels as part of the Summit entitled “Farming 4.0 – moving towards connected and sustainable agriculture in Europe”, Digital Farming involves:

– farm management system in real time

– added-value services

– automation capabilities

– improve Agri processes & food value-chain (data platforms).

The technological opportunities are there, now it is necessary to catch them. The European Union will engage with a new program of funds to be provided to farmers to support the adoption of digital tools. In addition, the EU is committed to supporting the spread of broadband to bring connectivity to all rural areas, now penalized with respect to cities.

Yes, because this is the way.

Beyond the advantages for the individual farmer (cost savings, less waste, healthier production, higher yields), there are reasons that concern the well-being of all.

  • With the exponential increase in the global population, food needs will grow proportionately;
  • climate change imposes a reorganization of the use of resources such as water and soil (specific wireless sensors are useful for this purpose);
  • environmental protection has become a priority for general wellbeing and this implies an optimal use of pesticides and fertilizers, focused at the real need of the crops and not on the basis of a normal scheduling (one of goal of SAVE GRAPE).

Today, in addition to institutions, large companies believe in new agriculture and invest. The last one is Jeff Bezos of Amazon. At the beginning of November, the news emerged that Bezos is financing a company dedicated to the design of vertical farms (large greenhouses).

Vertical Farms are a response to the food supply needs of cities. They are designed near large population centers to supply them with food, reducing transport distances and times, resulting in decrease of road traffic and exhaust emissions. The management is based on the use of wireless sensors that control the operations from irrigation to the administration of nutrients.

In a changing world, however, agricultural companies are sometimes reluctant to the progress. The reasons:

  • the lack of knowledge of what the Digital Farming technology offers (need to inform);
  • the distrust of the economic return on investment;
  • data management (Europe plans to adapt the laws and allow the transfer of information from one platform to another, in the maximum transparency, through the standardization of data).

The results of those who adopt the IoT (Internet of Things) technology and its wireless sensors are positive: in Australia, for example, the data show that from the digital farming we can expect an increase in the value of 30% with a + 24.6 billions of national gross domestic product. In 2016/2017 the production will count a record production of 60 billion dollars, and in 2030, an increase to 100 billion is estimated.

Every agricultural enterprise can make the difference with the IoT (Internet of Things), even the smallest: this is an Italian example.

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