Here, we look at agricultural technology and practices which will help agriculture to better respect soils and the living world in the ultimate aim of high performance and sustainable agriculture.
Sensors to measure, analyse and improve agricultural practices
In recent years, farmers have aspired to a better understanding of their parcels and adapting their cropping techniques accordingly. Two types of agriculture have stood apart from the rest: organic farming which bans the use of chemical inputs, and agroecology which draws on the benefits of existing ecosystems to alleviate the pressure on the environment. In response to climate change, farmers must be more attentive to their parcels, and observation is the watchword to react to any circumstances or sudden change, whether climate-related, environmental or physiological in nature.
This detailed observation is now capital in farming today and means that farmers must be on alert all seasons and exhaustively. They must observe their soil to understand how it lives, reacts and behaves so that they can take the necessary measures. In the event of any change in the weather, they must observe their plants, pests, etc. in order to conduct the appropriate treatment in the event of disease. This understanding is thus formed out of a multitude of observations throughout the year, by plant and by hectare.
Digital technology is therefore the ideal tool to conduct all these surveys that are essential to maintaining the health of farm parcels. A range of sensors are on offer to help, improve and optimise crop health.
- LIMACAPT (Bronze Medal - SIMA Innovation Awards 2019). This connected self-powered sensor automatically gathers information about slugs on a given zone. Fitted with a camera and infrared lighting, LIMACAPT collect images during the night, the period during which slugs are active, and provides farmers with real-time notifications on their phone about slug populations on parcels, allowing them to combat them efficiently. It thus monitors slug attacks during at-risk periods for all crops (rapeseed, wheat, corn, vegetables, etc.).
- Live NBalance (Airbus Defence and Space and John Deere, Silver Medal - SIMA Innovation Awards 2019). This system offers early detection of any crop anomalies and ultimately delivers an accurate balance between nitrogen input and consumption by the crop. It therefore provides accurate and permanent monitoring of the quantity of nitrogen available to the plants and allows farmers to adjust the dose for their next nitrogen spreading operation, thereby saving on fertiliser.
- Field Sensor (Bosch in partnership with start-up Hiphen, Silver Medal - SIMA Innovation Awards 2019). This device is a collection of several field sensors that provide the farmer with information on the crop being grown. It includes a weather station that measures temperature, sunlight, humidity, wind speed, etc., a multispectral camera to measure crop nitrogen content and analyse the plant development stage, and a probe in the ground which sends back soil moisture information. All this data is processed by algorithms to provide the farmer with daily advice on their smart phone such as how to manage irrigation, nitrogen requirements or daily updates on disease prediction so as to take the necessary preventive action.
Technology for sustainable agriculture
Biocontrol can be an alternative solution to the use of chemical crop protection products. This is a set of plant protection methods based on the use of natural mechanisms. These mechanisms govern the relations and interaction between varieties and species in the natural environment. This principle also relies on managing and balancing of pests rather than eradicating them. Biocontrol products use natural mechanisms and include macro organisms and phytopharmaceuticals (made up of microorganisms and chemical mediators such as pheromones and kairomones or substances of natural plant, animal or mineral origin).
Organic farming does not use chemical products and calls more on mechanical solutions, in particular agricultural robots and electrical tools (Naïo Technologies) that help farmers to control weeds, hoe and harvest. These robots are designed to assist farmers in their everyday tasks so as to lighten the workload and optimise the profitability of farms whilst reducing environmental impact.
In this new agriculture, substantial use is made of electrical equipment which helps users to manage without fossil fuels such as diesel. Furthermore, solar panels, methane or wind power are other solutions that give the farmer an opportunity to be autonomous and generate their own electricity.
- WeedControl, (Case IH, Bronze Medal - SIMA Innovation Awards 2019). This system is a connected electrical weed killer and an alternative to chemical weed control solutions. It uses high-frequency, high voltage electricity to eradicate unwanted plants from their leaves down to their roots.
- Anatis (Carré). This connected farming robot assists the farmer in their daily tasks by hoeing around crops in total autonomy and supplying an aid for crop supervision decision-making through the acquisition and processing of key indicators. It mechanically weeds the soil to improve water infiltration and optimise inputs. Once it finishes working, it issues a parcel report summarising a series of data to enable to allow the farmer to anticipate and manage their field better: crop density and development stage, light, moisture, soil and air temperature.
Better knowledge of crops thanks to innovation
In response to soil depletion, many farmers are turning to new alternatives for better use of crop protection products. As each parcel has its own characteristics, farmers must conduct their own experiments. To obtain perfect knowledge of their land, they can use digital decision aid tools which offer advice and enable the farmer to take action early so as to gauge the quantity of product to use. Many technologies are available that enable users to study the right treatment doses and deliver optimal results on parcels:
- Decitrait®, (IFV, Bronze Medal - Sitevi Innovation Awards 2019) offers winegrowers an individual crop protection strategy based on available data and expert knowledge, augmented in real-time by data from weather sensors. Thanks to its interoperability with external systems, this decision aid indicates the date of the next treatment with 30 – to 50% lower doses whilst guaranteeing harvest yield.
- Precifield is dedicated to precision farming. It offers mapping and inter-parcel modulation solutions suited to all systems regardless of soil type and crop. Tow-behind scanners digitalise soil variability (conductivity, topography) to locally modulate treatment and thus generate savings in water and crop protection products.
Knowledge sharing between farmers to better anticipate pest hazards
Once this detailed observation of parcels has been integrated thanks to digital tools, farmers can also join together to obtain support and discuss shared problems:
- Farmleap is a digital CETA (agricultural technical study centre) which analyses and compares performances and offers insight for progress thanks to collective intelligence. Once the terminal is fitted to the farm machine, it records almost everything for the farmer and lists all the work already performed or planned on the same platform for better parcel management. Practice sharing groups also enable discussions with other farmers and allow them to receive tips from advisers and identify their avenues for improvement.
- The application AgriCommunity locates and shares with farmers, neighbours and community members the presence of diseases or insects in a field. It thereby enables the farmer to be more reactive in their decision-making, combat crop pests and reduce the consumption of phytosanitary products.