IoF2020 Blog Blog posts from the Internet of Food & Farm 2020. 2019-06-14T14:33:37+02:00 IoF2020 <![CDATA[Optimisation of pork production by connecting the entire production chain]]> Meat is an essential part of a healthy diet. Producing pork meat is, however, not comparable with producing, a cookie, bread, cheese or a bottle of beer. Most food products are produced by putting ingredients together and processing them. Producing pork starts with taking a carcass apart and dividing it into different parts and pieces for either fresh or further processed meat production.

In a pig processing plant, it is more and more important to get the right part with the right quality to the right customer. Firm and pink loins for Japan, fat and marbled hams for dry curing in Southern Europe, ribs for the USA, trimmings for sausage production, fat bellies for South Korea, white pig heads for China, juicy pork chops for retail and so on. For each carcass in a processing plant, those final dissection decisions have to be made which means a lot of money can be either be won or lost. New modern ultrasound technology enables meat companies to get a better prediction of the carcass composition. These technologies create thousands of data points per carcass that are transformed into relevant data by using company specific algorithms. Furthermore, in-line measurements of meat quality characteristics are developed to get the optimal product quality to the right consumer.

Besides meat quality characteristics, there is also other information gathered for each pig in the production chain. These include health characteristics, boar taint detection or full stomachs while an increasing amount of information is becoming available for each product. Vion has developed a system called FarmingNet to directly connect with the pig farmers. Through this system pig farmers can plan the transport and delivery of their pigs to the processing plant. Some basic information like feed company and genetics could be made available. As soon as the pigs are processed, the farmers receive the health data back about the pigs they delivered. Subsequently, the farmers can use these data to benchmark themselves against the database average.

The carcass composition and meat quality is mostly determined by the on-farm conditions such as genetics, feed composition, type of feeding, housing system, health or time of feed withdrawal before transport to the processing plant. In the future, Vion aims to make an even better connection between farm and slaughterhouse data. Real time sharing of these data will make it easier to plan carcass dissection decisions as well as sales and thus optimise the entire pork production chain. Within the IoF2020 project Vion is participating in a small case study together with ILVO research, where we try to connect farm and boar taint detection data to reduce the percentage of tainted carcasses. In a recently started EU project called CYBELE, we will try to expand this knowledge by connecting other data between the farmer and the processing plant to improve animal welfare, health and ultimately product quality.

2019-05-17T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[Artificial Intelligence for Digital and Precision Agriculture]]> Earth’s population is expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050 and, as result, we will have to increase agricultural production for as much as 70 % to feed all its inhabitants. We are already cultivating almost every piece of land available and we are using ever larger quantities of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. In this way, we are jeopardising our fragile eco-system which is passing through climate change and crisis caused by pollution. The solution for this challenge lies in artificial intelligence (AI).

Sensors, robots, satellites, GPS and drones have become a part of everyday life and serve as invaluable data sources concerning crop growth, soil characteristics and weather conditions. Although each of them is very interesting on its own, these datasets are reaching their full potential only after we aggregate them and apply advanced AI algorithms. There is a harsh debate in the scientific community whether artificial intelligence will ever become as creative as human and whether it will ever become self-aware. In the 21st century, information technologies allow us to comprehend large amounts of data and extract hidden knowledge about agricultural production and processes happening inside the plants. Sensors and technological advances have already been adopted by numerous farms globally to assist in more precise applications and better decisions in the framework of a new farming approach called precision agriculture.

Traditional agriculture vs. precision agriculture

According to traditional farming the fields are treated homogeneously applying one flat rate of agrochemicals at the whole field. However, most fields show significant spatial variability which creates different demands at each location. Therefore, applying one general rate per field leads to over-application in the areas that demand less, increasing the cost of application and the environmental impact, and under-application in the areas where the demands are higher leads to yield loss and possibly decreased quality.

In precision agriculture, the fields are treated applying variable rates of inputs (irrigation water, fertilisers, pesticides, etc.) according to the actual needs of each location in the field. This way the efficiency is increased, yield, quality and impact to the environment are optimised.

In modern agriculture mechanisation and sensors are continuously being developed, making precision farming applications highly automated and available to more and more farmers.

BioSense Institute

BioSense is a research & development institute which deals with the application of IT in biosystems and it is home to the Knowledge Discovery Group. Our group conducts research in the area of applied artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics in agriculture. BioSense is also a Work Package leader in the IoF2020 project.

DRAGON project

In October 2018, BioSense started implementation of the Twinning project DRAGON - Data-driven Precision Agriculture Services and Skill Acquisition which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 810775.

DRAGON project’s aim is to help ambitious juniors become experts and to increase the scientific and innovation capacity of the Knowledge Discovery Group, which will, through this project, become the Knowledge and Innovation Group. The key partners are two institutions renowned for their excellence in the IT as well as agri sector: Wageningen University from the Netherlands (leading partner of IoF2020) and Agri-EPI centre from Scotland. They will provide scientific and technical support for our research and organisation of workshops, summer schools, research visits and other events which gather industry and academia and promote knowledge transfer from Western Europe to Serbia.

BioSense solutions

At BioSense we realised that the cost of the equipment and the complexity of use are still the main drawbacks in the adoption of these technologies. Hence, BioSense institute aims to develop low cost, easy to use precision farming solutions that can be applied anywhere regardless of the size, type and age of agricultural machinery used by the farmers and make IT an important tool to drive small farms towards sustainability. To this end, a free web-based and android-based digital platform named “AgroSense” was developed to support farmers in decision making and field management. It was released in October 2017 and it already has over 10000 users.

In addition, the efforts of BioSense institute are focused on the development of low-cost sensors, applications and solutions such as the “Plant-O-Meter” crop sensor which can detect the status of the crops with a simple scan over the canopy.

Numerous additional sensors and systems such as LORA wireless communication system, soil moisture sensors, soil fertility sensors and others, are also in different development stages and will be fully functional and available in the years to come.

With these new applications and sensing solutions even smallholder farmers can benefit from the diffusion of IT into agriculture, making precision farming widely accepted in the years to come.

2019-04-30T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[The EIP-AGRI supports the agricultural community in shaping its digital future by working together]]> Digital technologies can support European farmers in increasing profitability, improving their working conditions and reducing the environmental impact of agriculture. The EIP-AGRI network has committed itself to supporting farmers in developing digital technologies adapted to their needs. By improving the knowledge and use of digital technologies and by assessing their benefits and impact on society, the network supports the agricultural community in realising the full potential of digitisation across Europe.

During the past six years, the EIP-AGRI has collected farmers’ needs, opportunities and bottlenecks, and has shared good practices to make this digital future happen. A series of activities such as the workshop on data sharing, the seminar on Digital Innovation Hubs and the Focus Group on benchmarking have already stimulated the further uptake of digital technologies. All these activities have brought together experts from across Europe with different professions, ranging from farmers, researchers, agribusinesses to regional authorities.

The EIP-AGRI network uses its ‘EIP-AGRI recipe’ to host interactive, multidisciplinary, European-wide events. We consider the interaction between people with different backgrounds and expertise crucial to the success of the EIP-AGRI. The possibility to share ideas and experiences, and interactive sessions to identify opportunities and barriers at our events are essential to come up with innovative solutions and to develop ready-to-use research results. The outcomes of our events help target the Rural Development and research agendas. At the same time we stimulate participants to involve other partners from their countries, and to keep in touch with experts from other countries or regions which they have met at the event. In short, we encourage them to become EIP-AGRI ambassadors.

The current proposal for the Common Agricultural Policy post-2020 recognises the importance of national strategies for the development of digital technologies in agriculture and rural areas. In this context, the EIP-AGRI network organised the seminar ‘Multi-level strategies for digitising agriculture and rural areas’ in December 2018, to prepare national, regional and local authorities to (further) set up their strategy supporting the farming community in implementing digital technologies. The seminar stimulated public authorities to kick-start and discuss their strategies with European colleagues and with farmers, researchers and business representatives.

The participants identified barriers and opportunities for setting up digital strategies, such as the availability of proper technology and infrastructure, especially in remote and less developed areas. Most challenges fall into social and institutional domains, such as communication difficulties with people that have diverse profiles, interests and digital skills. During an ‘open space’ session, the participants focused on key issues to foster the development of multi-level strategies. They highlighted the role of demofarms and other peer-to-peer activities, of existing networks, multipliers or public-private partnerships. In addition, they stressed the importance of planning the communication for digitisation, using the right language to address each community member and enriching it through a bottom-up approach.

To support the digital transformation, the EIP-AGRI website now features a section on ‘digitising agriculture’ which grows every day and unlocks all the knowledge that is already available in the EIP-AGRI network. This section inspires the EIP-AGRI community with existing digital technologies, and projects on precision farming, robotics, decision support tools, digital marketing and digital innovation hubs. It provides ideas on how to improve digital skills and knowledge. It gives innovators the opportunity to quickly scan new EIP-AGRI digitisation projects or to find out more about digitisation in their own country.

With more EIP-AGRI digital events to come, the EIP-AGRI will continue to support local authorities, farmers, foresters and the research community in shaping the agricultural digital future.



The European Innovation Partnership 'Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability' (EIP-AGRI) is one of five EIPs which have been launched by the European Commission in a bid to promote rapid modernisation of the sectors concerned, by stepping up innovation efforts. The EIP-AGRI aims to foster innovation in the agricultural and forestry sectors by bringing research and practice closer together – in research and innovation projects as well as via the EIP-AGRI network.
EIPs aim to streamline, simplify and better coordinate existing instruments and initiatives, and complement them with actions where necessary. Two specific funding sources are particularly important for the EIP-AGRI: the EU Research and Innovation framework, Horizon 2020, as well as the EU Rural Development Policy.

Contact Information

Ina Van Hoye
Communication officer
EIP-AGRI Service Point
+32 486 90 77 43

Background Information

Websection ‘digitising agriculture’ – to get inspired by existing digital technologies, projects and the agricultural community already working with them. To find out how to improve digital skills and knowledge and be part of the digital (r)evolution.

EIP-AGRI seminar: Multi-level strategies for digitising agriculture and rural areas - 12-13 December 2018 in Antwerp, Belgium. At the event page you find presentations and posters of initiatives presented at the seminar. The seminar report is scheduled to be published in April 2019.

EIP-AGRI Brochure Digital evolution in agriculture – available in English, French, German, Hungarian, Latvian, Romanian, Slovenian.

EIP-AGRI facthsheet Digital evolution, with EIP-AGRI scope and links to previous EIP-AGRI events, inspirational ideas, funding opportunities,… related to digitisation.


2019-03-20T00:00:00+01:00 <![CDATA[Solving The Plastic Packaging Problem]]> Plastic packaging is one of the worst environmental crises our planet faces today. Many forms of plastic packaging are single-use and difficult to recycle or are not eligible for recycling in many places. While single-use plastics are falling out of favor in many western countries, some of the world’s largest countries still do not have widespread recycling programs, while their rapid population and economic growth are spurring major consumerism-focused booms.

Fossil fuel companies have invested over $180 Billion since 2010 into new facilities that produce the raw materials from petroleum that are then made into common forms of plastic. The new facilities are set to increase global plastic production by 40% in the next decade, in efforts to create and meet demand in burgeoning markets for fast and cheap goods, even though experts warn that increasing plastic pollution is nearing the risk of “near permanent pollution of the earth.

As Carol Muffett, president of the US Center for International Environmental Law, noted, “We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realising we should use far less of it. Around 99% of the feedstock for plastics is fossil fuels, so we are looking at the same companies, like Exxon and Shell, that have helped create the climate crisis. There is a deep and pervasive relationship between oil and gas companies and plastics.”

The pressure of popular opinion, scientists, and environmental advocacy groups has led to some changes for the better, though. Recent news stories in the United States focused on the plastic straw ban in many states and metropolitan areas, following the plastic grocery bag bans that have generated media attention across the country.
The legislative action has facilitated some progress, but corporations still wield more power when it comes to making swift and lasting change–especially where innovation in packaging design and materials is concerned.

The Threat of Plastics

Plastic products threaten the environment in multiple ways. They are created using fossil fuels, which is already a non-renewable resource that is being consumed at an alarming rate in the form of gasoline, plastic products, and other industrial oil-based lubricants. The drilling, transport, and burning of fossil fuels has an enormous negative impact on the environment, in the generation of greenhouse gases and damage to fragile ecosystems where oil is often found.

And plastic products created from petroleum are almost entirely not biodegradable, which means they create the worst form of waste. From soda bottles to plastic wrapping for food to product packaging or even plastic products themselves, our obsession with cheap, disposable products has created a serious environmental crisis.

According to Dell, a brand which is committed to rethinking our packaging mindset, there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastics in the oceans right now, which is equivalent to 5 grocery bags full of plastic stacked upon every foot of every nation’s coastline around the world.

What’s worse, the vast majority of that debris is less than 5 mm in size–which means it is plenty big to cause problems, and just small enough to create even worse problems–like ending up in the digestive tracts of animals and being dispersed even further through water currents. Plastics never fully biodegrade, they just continue to break into smaller pieces as they endure the weathering process, which means that plastic goods never “return to dust” as nature intended, but rather remain hard and detrimental for everything they come into contact with.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive concentration of plastic debris floating in the Pacific Ocean, is now twice the size of Texas. The size of the garbage patch is staggering and hugely concerning–it can now be seen with the naked eye from outer space–but perhaps worse is the fact that plastic has only existed since the 1950s, which means that amount of waste has accumulated in half a century and does not seem to be breaking down to anything but smaller, more harmful pieces of plastic.

In recent years, supermarkets alone have used over a million tons of plastics annually, packaging things like pre-sliced fruit and cheese; that type of packaging simply cannot be reused or recycled. However, some brands are prioritizing innovation to minimize the use of single-use plastics by making biodegradable plastic alternatives from renewable resources or rethinking the design and style of packing.

Recycling Initiatives to Reduce Single-Use Plastics

In the UK, supermarkets have made a voluntary pledge to switch to entirely recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable packaging by 2025. In this case, public opinion proved far more powerful than legislation, while the shift away from single-use plastics will require innovative new materials and consumer flexibility as grocers determine new alternatives to accepted packaging styles.

Some stores are implementing changed rules that allow customers to bring their own containers in to buy products directly from bulk bins and meat counters, eliminating plastic packaging that is essentially used simply to wrap something as it is transferred from the grocer to the customer’s kitchen. Others are focusing on new materials and packaging styles to make tomorrow’s packaging far more recyclable or biodegradable.

Major cosmetic and household goods conglomerate Unilever has committed to fully joining the so-called ‘circular economy’ (that is, an economy where packaging products can either be recycled into new packaging or composted into earth-friendly materials used in agriculture or similar) by 2025.

It cites statistics like “ just 14% of the plastic packaging used globally makes its way to recycling plants, while 40% ends up in landfill and a third in fragile ecosystems,” and “By 2050, it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans” to provide a sense of urgency and purpose to its initiative.

Unilever is one of the major corporations that is committed to demonstrating the viability of not only implementing recyclable plastics in its packing but also in showing major recycling operations that its products are easy and commercially feasible to recycle and repurpose.

Innovative Materials to Replace Plastics

IKEA, another global retail giant, has announced its plans to push mushroom-based packaging as a renewable, eco-friendly alternative to polystyrene. Polystyrene is either difficult or impossible to recycle, depending on surrounding resources, initiatives, and packaging design.

Polystyrene takes literally thousands of years to decompose; new, mushroom-based mycelium packaging can be set in garden soil where it biodegrades and acts as a natural fertilizer within weeks. What’s more, mycelium can be grown nearly infinitely using mushroom spores and minimal energy or resources, thus providing a dramatically lower-energy and more sustainable alternative to producing plastics.

Nestle is another global titan that has prioritized a shift towards sustainable product packaging, noting that it aims to use 100% recyclable or reusable plastic by 2025. Global manufacturers proving viability and providing eco-friendly alternatives to traditional packaging techniques is critical for changing the conversation and quickly making a widespread impact on the types of plastics in the consumer marketplace.

However, until all large and developing nations adopt responsible recycling programs that can ensure these products do not end up in the ocean or other sensitive environments, whether a product can be recycled or not makes little difference.


Manufacturers are making a good-faith effort to provide a meaningful alternative to single-use throwaway goods; it is now up to communities to reliably provide easy and intelligible access to recycling programs that recycle plastics in earth-friendly ways and ensure that no more plastics end up outside of controlled circular economy environments.


This article originally appeared on

2019-01-08T00:00:00+01:00 <![CDATA[How IoT technologies can help overcome DSS limits: the new way of irrigation]]> Agriculture’s path towards the digital world brings about a plethora of new opportunities and ideas. Emerging technologies, such as Decision Support Systems (DSSs), provide a great support for in-field activities but still require a significant human effort from farmers and agronomists. Improving the way of working through Decision Support Systems can really progress crop management in unprecedented extents. 

Our personal path into DSS development for precision farming stepped up thanks to the IoF2020 project. There we are designing and developing a brand new solution based on the Internet of Things (IoT), which overcomes issues related to commonly used DSSs, giving birth to a more “adaptive” solution. Thanks to IoF2020 we’ll soon be able to offer farmers an “adaptive DSS” that will generate mainly two important advantages:

  • Easier user-experience
  • Improved irrigation advice

Our long experience in developing Decision Support Systems for irrigation put us directly in contact with farmers and their specific needs. An effective technical solution must be accurate and inexpensive at the same time. However, commonly used DSSs for agriculture still show many issues and challenges which need to be overcome. At present, irrigation DSSs calculate their advices with data gathered through very expensive in-field hardware.

To elaborate the irrigation advice, systems have to process a coefficient named Kc, in order to calculate the soil evapotranspiration. But Kc calculation can be delicate, as it variates according to the different crop phases. Then, in order to calibrate the advice properly, the system must process soil data whose detection can be somewhat troublesome. The whole process is complicated and expensive, and that is exactly not what farmers need.

IoT to the rescue!

In order to overcome this problem in our use case called Fresh Table Grapes Chain, we have developed a solution based on IoT PAR sensors. Those sensors can automatically estimate the Kc coefficient, thus providing an improved irrigation advice with reduced costs compared to solutions not relying on IoT sensors.

How can these sensors be independent from expensive in-field hardware? Here is where the Internet of Things comes in handy. Our IoT sensors do not require an in-field physical data logger as they can communicate directly with a software data logger (running as a cloud application) through UNB technologies (Ultra Narrow Band). The installation process is a lot easier than with conventional sensors using cables as ours are powered with long-lasting batteries. Hence, farmers do not have to worry about their in-field network of sensors anymore!

What about the accuracy of irrigation advices? Our solution allows for the installation of a large number of sensors, improving the number of data acquisition points in the field. Knowledge about the soil water status is fundamental to estimate exactly when and how to irrigate but soil characteristics can vary greatly, even between close evaluation points. Having more data acquisition points ensures the best support for irrigation and this has become possible with sensors developed specifically for this use case.

Nevertheless, using new technologies while working on your crops may be tricky sometimes. This is why we have worked tirelessly on improving and simplifying the use of a DSS through NFC and QR code tags. Tags (as seen in the images) are attached to plants and facilitate the identification because farmers can easily scan the code with their phone through the IoF2020 app we’ve developed. The app shows the individual plant fact sheet, the detected data, plant health status and other useful information. In addition, farmers can add personal text notes, photos and audio messages. This customisation means data, that would otherwise be lost, can be added and allows both the data entry and irrigation feedback by each individual user.

Our work in this use case changed the way we design a DSS, as we are creating an “adaptive” DSS, which is able to auto-calibrate itself based on sensor data and an irrigation strategy defined by the farmer.

But it does not stop there. What we have developed and tested within IoF2020 will not be lost over time! Our goal is to integrate this effort into the BluLeaf DSS and provide the market with an IoT solution based on an “adaptive” DSS that will fully support EU farmers in the future!

2018-12-10T00:00:00+01:00 AgUnity is an Australian-based AgTech startup founded in 2016 with the ambition to help change the lives of the 1-billion plus smallholder farmers in the world. Tackling issues of a lack of trust, corruption & graft, poor record-keeping and farming inefficiencies, AgUnity has developed a smartphone and blockchain-based solution for the world’s poorest farmers, a simple mobile app restoring trust and enabling cooperation.

AgUnity is continuing in the pilot phase of its application, with a focus in 2018 on validating the business model, to ensure financial sustainability and a successful scaling of the business in 2019 and beyond. AgUnity has identified Ethiopia as a new location with great potential for achieving this validation and also for trialling a new crop, coffee, within the AgUnity ecosystem. The proposed pilot is for 100 smallholder coffee farmers (50 males / 50 females) in Limu Kosa, Jimma, and will be done in partnership with a number of local organisations.

The objectives of the AgUnity Pilot Project in Ethiopia are:

  • To increase the awareness of trust and transparency between the participating farmers;
  • To increase the welfare of the farmers;
  • To help farmers in recording their planting season data, starting from the planning stage through to the post-harvesting stage;
  • To increase financial independence of participating female farmers.

Why Ethiopia?

Several key attributes of Ethiopia make it particularly well placed to derive maximum benefits from the proposed project, including:

Ethiopia is an agricultural economy

Agricultural production is central both to the subsistence economy and to the market economy in rural Ethiopia, with coffee being a crop of major importance in many areas including the target area of Limu Kosa. An estimated 72.7% of the population is employed in agricultural production, with up to 15% involved in coffee production, processing and marketing. The Ethiopian government recognises agriculture’s pivotal role in the national economy in its five-year Growth and Transformation Plan, wherein the Agricultural Transformation Agency seeks to deliver improved technologies and infrastructure as well as increased food security to rural farmers. 

High potential for impact

The limited profitability of agriculture and the lack of other livelihood options results in high levels of poverty in rural Ethiopia, including Limu Kosa. It is at these extremely low-income levels that significant improvements are most achievable, as an increase of only a few hundred dollars per person per year could have a transformative effect on the lives of smallholder farmers, allowing them to lift themselves out of poverty. Additionally, the choice of focus crop is an important factor. Despite the small unit prices paid to smallholder coffee farmers, coffee is a crop with a relatively high market value, thus exhibiting a large price differential. This is an important point because it delineates the maximum portion of the crop’s unit value that can be recovered through value adding such as improved cooperation, market access and traceability. Further improvements beyond this point may also be achieved through specialisation and certification to increase the market value of coffee products.

Farming co-operatives are plentiful

There is a longstanding tradition of agricultural co-operatives in Ethiopia, beginning in the 1950s, to act as a bridge between primary producers and markets. The most recent phase of Ethiopian cooperatives aligns with the national government’s Growth and Transformation Plan, which focuses on ‘market integration and value chain development’. The most recent estimates suggest the existence of over 40,000 co-operatives nationally, with a total membership of 6.5 million. Within these co-operative structures however, marginalisation, exploitation and under-performance persist, and it is within this context that AgUnity’s technology can enable the trust and cooperation that is essential to ensuring their success and on-going sustainability.

Rapid growth in telecommunications coverage

State-owned EthioTelecom’s longstanding monopoly on telecommunications services in Ethiopia has seen Ethiopia lag behind other African nations in terms of mobile service provision, with prohibitive pricing and poor coverage. However, recent network expansion, price improvements and the upgrade to a national 3G network has seen mobile subscription rates climb to over 60 million, representing a near 10-fold increase in mobile subscription rates since 2010. Coverage now reaches 85% of the nation’s populated areas, and internet subscription rates are predicted to reach 56 million by 2020. Additionally, with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed taking office in April 2018, progressive reforms have been pledged, which may include the eventual deregulation of the telecommunications sector. Telecommunications are set to play a major role in Ethiopia’s development in the coming years and will have a particularly transformative impact in rural areas.

AgUnity sees huge impact potential working with smallholder coffee farmers in Ethiopia, and this first pilot is an excellent opportunity to learn and understand the industry at the birthplace of coffee. The deployment of AgUnity phones and the AgUnity App to help improve trust and transparency between farmers, co-ops and third-party NGOs and businesses is anticipated to not only lead to improved efficiency, increased and better yields and ultimately increased incomes, but that these improvements are made in a sustainable and scalable manner.

2018-10-10T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[How blockchain can improve agrifood]]> Since the meteoric rise of Bitcoin at the end of 2017, most people have heard the word blockchain. However, many see it almost synonymous to cryptocurrency, while it’s so much more. Blockchain can, for example, make a significant impact on agrifood. I will highlight a few examples here to illustrate how this technology is already generating value for food and farm.

But, what is blockchain then? The blockchain is essentially a dataset of transactions, a ledger. Different from the ledger as you know it, is that it is open, and public. Anyone who is authorised can read and write the data.
In order to let multiple users input data, this database needs to be auto-synchronised. All copies of the database are identical and synchronised immediately and simultaneously. The information is distributed across the network. However, that doesn’t mean that someone can secretly change the data. A core characteristic of blockchain is that it is immutable. Once information is entered it can’t be deleted or changed.

Blockchain for agrifood

The transparent and immutable aspect of blockchain makes it very suitable for tracking supply chains. It’s particularly efficient for agrifood supply chains.
Blockchain and agrifood are centrepieces in the Amsterdam based Food Integrity Blockchained (FIB) meetup. Hosted by The Fork, some of the 1.350 professionals in this network, from agrifood, tech and research, gather to learn from blockchain applications in agrifood. This makes blockchain much more concrete. These meetups facilitate collaboration and peer to peer learning.
Blockchain can improve the agrifood supply chain in 3 areas: risk reduction, optimisation and integrity. I will explain this with example use cases, some of which have been previously discussed at the FIB meetup.

Risk reduction

The first way in which blockchain can contribute to agrifood is by reducing risk. By tracking a product from farm to fork it is easier to prevent foodborne diseases.
You can for instance use blockchain to monitor the temperature of a product during its journey from farm to fork, ensuring product temperatures don’t exceed pre-set limits required to keep the product safe for consumption. ZetoChain is such an example that fixes special labels to food products and uses blockchain to monitor the temperature of its labels.
Another use case is monitoring ingredients and appliances used to manufacture a product to prevent allergens slipping in. ClearKarma collects data on ingredients and production processes, stores these with blockchain, preventing that undeclared allergens end up in food. Their data can show that there are no peanuts in a jar of pesto and that the appliances used in the production process of this jar weren't previously used to create peanut butter.
Blockchain can also serve for fast and effective recalls when something goes wrong with a product. You can track precisely and fast where products come from and recall only a fraction of a certain batch. Walmart uses blockchain for that, to increase food safety and ensure recalled products are taken off the shelves.


With real-time information, knowing exactly what products are where at a certain time, you can manage your supply chain more effectively. There are blockchain solutions especially designed for supply chain management. One of those is OriginTrail. It enables data sharing with blockchain technology for supply chain optimisation.
A faster supply chain can be achieved by digitizing and automating paper trails involved in supply chains, such as certification. This has been explored by Wageningen University’s pilot study on table grapes, as well as CargoLedger, which uses blockchain technology as sort of a digital passport during a product’s journey through the supply chain.


There’re multiple ways to contribute to improved integrity. Optimisation makes supply chains more effective and hence leaves lower levels of waste. Since it’s easier to plan how much of a product should be at a certain place at a certain time, food waste decreases. Blockchain can also be leveraged to re-distribute surplus food, like the Goodr app does. Goodr helps restaurants send their leftovers to charities.
Another way in which blockchain can help to improve integrity in agrifood, is by settling farm payments with this technology, like Moyee coffee does. By making the supply chain more transparent with less intermediaries, larger shares of the profits can remain at farm level. Blockchain provides ways to inform consumers about payments throughout the chain and can go even further, consumers could for instance tip farmers directly.
A final interesting example that empowers farmers through blockchain is AgUnity. It provides smallholder farmers with a mobile phone to manage in- and outputs more efficiently.

More blockchain for agrifood

Of course, the examples mentioned in this article are just a few of a growing number of agrifood use cases. A good starting point to further educate yourself on this subject and discover new use cases is The Fork’s youtube channel.

2018-09-10T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[Tactics and strategy for the digital transformation in the agri-food sector - the Spanish experience]]> In times of the Football World Cup, when talking about tactics and strategy, one might suppose we refer to football as it usually happens in daily conversations these days. However, this is not the case for the following article.

In Spain, we realized the important need to have an active role in the digital transformation of the sector to tackle the digital and structural divide, and to counteract the depopulation process in different rural areas to allow the sustainability of the agri-food sector and its subsectors in a very diverse country.

The Focus Group (FG) for digitalisation and Big Data in the agri-food and forestry sectors and rural areas has been created by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food within the framework of the European Innovation Partnership in Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-Agri) using EAFRD funds. 33 highly qualified experts were selected coming from different sectors and disciplines throughout the whole value chain. This group was later enlarged to 38 experts, to include specific views needed for the development of the FG activities.

Keeping the objective in mind, the tactics and the strategy for the development of the various activities is needed to get a strengthened engagement of the different experts, and no one could better summarize it than the Uruguayan writer and poet, Mario Benedetti: ‘My tactics is to watch you, to learn how you are, to love you the way you are. My tactics is to talk to you and to listen to you; to build with words an indestructible bridge.’

We started by watching how the system is set up and learning about the complexities of each part: Legal, economic and technical capacities as well as barriers were identified. Based on that, a continuous process of information exchange emerged, allowing the active participation and engagement of all the experts within a participatory and inclusive intervention which is built on knowledge, ideas and concerns.

Once the barriers were identified and prioritised, we learned from the actors which role they incorporate in the digital transformation, and the roles they could perform in the newly emerging scenarios. In parallel, we worked in the most suitable incentives to allow the actors to remove or at least to mitigate the barriers. In short: Building bridges to enhance the agri-food digital innovation ecosystems.

The poem of Mario Benedetti continues with a verse: ‘My tactic is to be honest, and know you are too, and that we don’t sell each other illusions.’ Digitalisation would allow the agri-food sector to be more efficient, more sustainable and increase the welfare and quality of farmers lives, cooperatives, food industries and the life in rural areas in general. Although we should be careful in creating false expectations, we should be realistic and, at the same time, ambitious.

This would allow us to develop an inclusive process for the digital transformation of the agri-food sector with the sole strategy of allowing technology to create better conditions for the future, as Benedetti wrote: ‘My strategy instead is deeper and simpler. My strategy is that some day, I don’t know how nor with what pretext, that finally you need me.’

In the Spanish Focus Group for digitalisation and Big Data in the agri-food and forestry sectors and the rural areas, we have been working on such a strategic view that allows us to work on the transformation process towards a very diverse and rich agricultural sector.

2018-06-29T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[Small and Medium Farms Can Also Benefit from Precision Farming]]> Farmers need to produce more food in the next 50 years than they have in the last 600.

It’s becoming more and more clear that the future of farming will be very technological. The scarcity of water and arable land will create constraints for the growth in agriculture. We recognized that in the future, we will not be able to waste even a drop of water or a piece of arable land. Hence, the way forward is to embrace new technological solutions that allow farmers to produce more while using less resources.

Currently, there is a huge pressure on farmers to continuously increase efficiency. Recent technological advances, including GPS positioning, automatic steering and plant genetics, started to create an extensive transformation of agriculture. Big Data allows farmer to reduce guesswork by measuring, analyzing and adjusting every field operation. It is important to ensure that not only the biggest farms benefit from using technological innovations.

Our goal at eFarmer is to make precision farming available for every farmer and help them take advantage of new technologies by focusing on affordability, upgradeability and ease of use. We develop innovative solutions to support farmers increase yield, save time and resources, and automate the workflow. 

How can small and medium farmers start precision field work?

  1. The easiest way for the owners of small farms to start moving towards precision agriculture is to start with a simple solution. For instance, using their smartphones to access specifically tailored applications. It is also important to start with a technology that is upgradable in the future. One of those applications is eFarmer, which allows farmers to use their own devices as displays while navigating in the fields. Users can define the boundaries of their own fields in the system, drive precisely with their tractors, work during the night and in low visibility, keep field scouting notes and pictures with geolocations and save time on documentation by automatically saving data or creating reports about the used materials.
  2. When it comes to accuracy, farmers need to work with the highest precision to save the most on resources. However, the more accurate the system, the higher the price is, which can make it difficult for small and medium farmers to reach the desired level of precision. eFarmer has developed an RTK-GPS system suitable for farms from the size of 10 hectares for all field operations. The system is mounted on the roof of the tractor and wirelessly connects to the smartphone or tablet of the user.
  3. Products for small and medium farmers must be easy and quick to use and to set up. Complex products with steep learning curves are not suitable for small scale farming where time is of the essence. Furthermore, with the overarching goal of supporting farming families in continuing their much-needed work, to adopt and simultaneously harness the possibilities of new technologies is vital for the future of agriculture.
2018-06-19T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[Increasing sustainability with Agroecologial Symbiosis]]> What is Agroecological Symbiosis? This is usually the first question raised by farmers or other audiences regarding our project. We first considered changing the name to better address the design of a new nutrient and energy self-sufficient food production system. But after a while we noticed that, in addition to getting the audience to listen, the name actually described our work nicely. So, what is Agroecologial Symbiosis?

Agroecological Symbiosis (AES) refers to a model of food production in which the participating farms, food processors and energy producers operate locally together. AES is an implementation of industrial ecology and symbiosis in food production. Agroecology refers to ecologically sustainable agriculture and symbiosis describes cooperation between different actors.

Sounds still a bit theoretical? The name comes from a funding application to design functions of the first real-life Agroecological Symbiosis actively forming in the village of Palopuro, Southern Finland. This project aims to produce local, organic food using bioenergy and recycled nutrients. The model is based on a cooperation which benefits each partner of the symbiosis. However, all operations are also individual businesses aiming to gain an economic profit. The centre of Palopuro AES is Knehtilä Farm, an organic cereal farm cultivating oat, wheat, rye, barley, peas, faba beans, buckwheat and green manure leys on an area of 380 hectares. Other farms include a neighbouring hen house and a vegetable farm. Their feed production and manure management are all integrated in Knehtilä’s production. 

Energy for the grain drying, farm machinery, food processing, and sales will be produced from locally available biomasses in a biogas plant, operated in cooperation with local actors and a regional energy company. The biogas plant will start to operate in autumn 2018. In the future, the produced grain will be milled and subsequently used by a bakery which is planning to move its operations to the Knehtilä farm. There are also plans to integrate organic greenhouse production into biogas production.

Greater profitability is gained in various ways and each farm finds its motivation from different sources. For example, the regional energy company is interested in producing renewable energy in a sustainable way, farms expect increases in crop yields, some might appreciate the better image of agriculture and some participate only for economic reasons. Economic benefits might also be gained indirectly by working in close proximity to enable a new kind of co-evolution in food processing, entailing completely new opportunities.

Increases in productivity will be the result of enhanced nutrient recycling with the biogas plant at the core of this system. Green manure leys, crop residues and manures will be used as a feedstock for biogas production, which is then utilized for grain drying, the bakery’s ovens, farm machinery and passenger cars. Nutrients will be recycled back into fields to enhance productivity in the form of digestate. This model has several other environmental benefits because former energy consumers in the value chain are transformed into energy producers. Also, the risk of nutrient leaching is reduced because grass biomass is harvested instead of decomposing in the field (conventional practice).

Palopuro AES has attracted a lot of interest among other entrepreneurs and producers in Finland but also internationally. In the future, Agroecological Symbiosis could be an answer to many challenges that agriculture is facing. In addition to increasing agricultural production with trying to minimize environmental trade-offs, symbiosis also creates regional food cultures, increased rural livelihoods while boosting local economies.

2018-05-23T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[Developing farm specific strategies to reduce boar taint with IoT]]> What is boar taint and when does it occur?

Boar taint is an off-odour which is present when heating meat or fat from boars (entire male pigs). This off-odour may impair consumer acceptance. Based on studies performed by ILVO, average boar taint prevalence in Belgium seems to be around 3 to 5%, but this prevalence varies between farms and slaughter events. Boar taint is mainly caused by androstenone and skatole. Androstenone has a urine-like or sweaty odour and is produced in the testes. Skatole is produced by microbes in the hindgut. The odour of skatole has been described as faecal-like, naphthalene, sweet, warm, and fruity. While almost all consumers can smell skatole, only half of them are able to perceive androstenone.
Boars are therefore castrated in most countries before the age of 7 days. Surgical castration is effective to reduce boar taint and also to ease pig management by preventing the development of male sex characteristics. However, the traditional procedure is painful and social pressure to abandon surgical castration is high.

What is the situation in the sector?

Several main actors in the pig meat chain agreed on a plan to voluntarily end the surgical castration of pigs in the EU by January 1, 2018 (Declaration of Brussels, EU Commission) under the premise that alternatives are economically feasible. However, this is not yet the case.
For pig producers, production of boars can result in a higher income due to the better feed conversion ratio and higher lean meat percentage of boars compared to barrows (castrated male pigs). A major concern for the farmers, however, is the current lack of market opportunities for boars.
The meat industry and retail remain reluctant to accept meat from boars. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of a method to detect boar taint at the slaughter line. Currently the evaluation is done by well-trained experts at slaughter line. It is the best possible method, but it is subjective and difficult to harmonise, and therefore not generally accepted. Boar taint prevalence should also be reduced for raising boars to be an economically viable alternative.

Possible solutions and the role of IoT?

Selection against boar taint is being investigated as a long-term solution. In the short-term, research focuses on the reduction of boar taint by adaptation of management: Feed ingredients (e.g. inulin, chicory roots, raw potato starch), breed and slaughter weight. However, a complete elimination of boar taint with these management strategies is difficult.
Information on the effect of farm-related factors such as breed, health status, housing, feed composition, age or duration of fasting are mostly insufficient. Results on boar taint prevalence are also not linked to slaughter related data such as season, temperature, transport duration, carcass weight and lean meat percentage.
The Pig farm management case of the IoF2020 project aims to reach a better understanding of important factors that can be linked with boar taint prevalence in order to provide farms with specific strategies to reduce it. This evaluation not only can help farmers to reduce boar taint, but also has a lot of potential to support the making of other management decisions.

2018-05-16T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[In a smart garden of Eden]]> John looked at me with sad, melancholic eyes. He just told me, after I gave a speech at a conference on mental wellbeing and burn out, that he had been suffering for quite a while from a severe burn out. Life as an expat in Brussels, away from the family, absorbed in work and deadlines, disconnected from his network of friends and acquaintances, was demanding and difficult. I have to admit that John wasn’t the first expat I met who had this problem. But his eyes started to shine when he learned about the big city garden, Bel Akker, at the roof of the Abattoirs – actually the biggest of Europe with its 4000 m² - where people with a depression or burn out can start to grow crops and work peacefully to find new balance or inner peace.

It turned out that, in his hometown, John loved to garden when the stress kicked in. Thus, I introduced him to Bel Akker, where over one hundred kilograms of biological vegetables are grown and subsequently used in the restaurant Bel Mundo as well as sold at lunch shop Bel O and local food markets. The yield of this urban garden can be significantly increased if smart networks and intelligent sensors, using the Internet of Things (IoT) to determine the best possible conditions, are applied. It also reduces the stress one could have from impeding yield losses due to the accurate registration of information. Technology and handwork, agriculture and the city, mental wellbeing and economy are all melding beautifully in this contemporary garden of Eden.

I was glad to see that John found his way to Bel Akker and got to know lots of new people. But I’m also looking forward to watching hundreds of children visit the place. Most children in our cities are not entirely aware of how their food is grown or where it comes from, nor how much coordinated effort and handling it takes until it reaches the shelfs in supermarkets. To counter this, Bel Akker introduced the Time Out project to give kids the possibility to unleash their energy and get a hands-on gardening experience. In this way they see that connecting with nature through farming is not some medieval practice but a very contemporary activity, made considerably easier by new technologies and a wide array of digital assets. On top of that, research at the University of Wisconsin proved that city gardens actually take up more CO2 than native grasslands or arboreta, hence, our Bel Akker is also part of the fight against climate change.

I hope all of Brussels’ citizens will spend some time at this smart garden of Eden since reconnecting with nature is a pleasant and healthy way of counteracting the daily stress we experience. Although Brussels is one of the greenest capitals in Europe, the location of Bel Akker is just perfect, because the district of Molenbeek is severely deprived of green spaces.

The city of the future will be smarter and greener. And it’s not only going to be about who has the best or brightest applications but about whose citizens feel most at ease, alive and connected to their city and cohabitants.

2018-04-06T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[Big Data: Blessing or Curse for Agriculture?]]> The emerging trend of digital farming triggered a debate about the ownership over data generated on the ground or rather in the field. Tools like decision support systems (DSS), which are based on algorithms, require a specific amount of data. For instance, weather forecasting tools depend on this crucial amount of Big Data to function. The term Big Data describes large building blocks of small pieces of information aggregated in a comprehensive way to create added value and knowledge.

In these regards, it is essential for future stakeholders in data service markets to obtain reliable information in a fast and extensive manner. When it comes to agriculture, many sensors are already available for field application or pre-installed in 70 % of all sold machinery. The capability to access this data through ICTs like online communication ultimately renders farm management possible.

However, data is increasingly collected without consent, previous agreement, or transparency. Despite being legal, data collection without consent hampers trust between actors and subsequently the development of the digital markets. Thus, it is time to debate interests and expectations since the GDPR[1] foresees to remove restrictions impeding the free flow of data. Tackling these impediments is a prerequisite for the Digital Single Market implementation which is estimated to boost European economy by 415 billion Euros. When it comes to the agricultural sector, the European commission has set the following attention points on the agenda:

  • Contractual conditions of data exchange
  • Data ownership along the entire life cycle
  • Legal issues regarding liability and risks
  • Interoperability

Code of Conduct on Data Exchange

To provide regulatory guidance to major stakeholders, including the organisations for farmers & cooperatives COPA-COGECA, the European agricultural machinery CEMA, and the nutrients industries Fertilizers Europe, lead an initiative to ensure fair sharing of digitization benefits in agriculture. They were joined by the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), European Seed Association (ESA), FoodDrinkEurope, European Feed Manufacturers' Federation (FEFAC) and the European association representing the trade in cereals, rice, feedstuffs, oilseeds, olive oil, oils and fats and agrosupply (COCERAL). The initiative resulted in a Code of Conduct protocol - inspired by similar ones from Germany, the Netherlands or New Zealand - which is pending the approval of all board members. 

All board members agree that the owner of the generated farm data is supposed to be the farmer itself. Thus, farmers should be asked permission by any company planning to use this data. This overarching principle requires accurate definitions to achieve beneficial results for the agricultural sector, assure transparency, and legal liability.

As CEMA recently explained at the Agridata Summit in Madrid, farmers have multiple provider-client relationships based on contracts. Any new contract should enhance stakeholder trust and must not override the general legal framework. This ensures the facilitation of data exchange, so innovative technologies or services based on data analytics can better deploy their potential for European agriculture.

One goal of COPA-COGECA is for farmers to have a share in the profits made of digitization. This can be reached if the ownership of produced data is kept at originator level during the whole life cycle. Second party is essentially an entity using somebody else’s first party data. Third party refers to data aggregators which typically purchase information on a large scale from publishers. Hence, close attention must be given to information which can identify individual farmers or affect their respective privacy and security. Moreover, data collection or storage by other parties must be disclosed and traceable through the underlying metadata.

Since legal documents fall solely under the competence of the EU and national decision makers, the Code of Conduct protocol set up by the board members will only highlight shortcomings in the existing legislative framework. Additionally, its aim is to create trust, transparency and responsibility in terms of data sharing within the agri-food chain.


[1] Amid the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by which the European Union intends to unify data protection for all its citizens in May 2018, the European Legislator does not yet recognize ownership of data in the same way as physical assets.

2018-03-16T00:00:00+01:00 <![CDATA[How to turn Smart Farming into the New Normal?]]> Are farmers ready for Smart Farming? What are the barriers for Smart Farming adoption? How about the incentives and facilitators? Which transfer strategies are more successful? Smart AKIS Network has been working on these questions in the last 2 years and come up with some learnings.

Why Smart Farming?

As a response to the global food challenge of feeding more than 9 billion people in 2050 and to strengthen the sustainability and competitiveness of the European agricultural sector. This underlines the need of a wider adoption of Smart Farming, allowing for a more sustainable, resource efficient, and productive EU agriculture.

However, a number of technological, social, regulatory and economic factors have hindered the widespread adoption of these innovations, both in large as well as small and medium scale farms.

Smart AKIS Network

Smart AKIS is the thematic network focusing on the dissemination of Smart Farming Technologies (SFT) in Europe, backed up by EIP-AGRI and funded by the Horizon 2020 programme.

To that end, Smart AKIS has developed a Smart Farming Platform. An online and open database with more than 1.200 Smart Farming solutions available for farmers. Work Group in Smart AKIS Workshop in Germany.

Besides, in order to get insights about farmers’ perception about Smart Farming, over 270 farmers have been interviewed and more than 700 farmers, researchers, advisors and industry players have been engaged in 14 Innovation Workshops where questions about barriers, needs, interests and successful approaches were addressed.

Farmers’ demands for Smart Farming adoption

During this time, Smart AKIS has come up with the following learnings that can be helpful for practitioners and policy-makers when defining new policies, and programmes, such as the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

  • Access to Finance

Access to finance remains a barrier for the widespread adoption of SFT. Available sources of funding should be made easy to understand and to apply for farmers looking for synergies among available funds. In many cases, farmers feel overwhelmed by the existing offer of SFT and feel insecure due to the pace of innovations leading to technological obsolescence, which limits their investments in SFT. In this field, unions, associations or CUMAs (Coopérative d'utilisation de matériel agricole, French model of cooperatives for shared agricultural equipment) might play a facilitating role for the development of new business models following social innovation drives.

  • Impartial Advice

Farmers need to gain confidence on SFT capabilities and stakeholders. Thus, they request impartial, non-commercial, and independent expert advice accompanying their purchase decision, equipment set-up, quality, and conformity. This expert advice could come from platforms, advisory services, and industry while being based on “ground truth evaluation” alongside objective, and provable data.

  • Demonstration

Demonstrations are a key factor for adoption. Farmers would welcome neutral demonstrations of SFT solutions with a broad range of use-cases covering a variety of soils and crops. Furthermore, at farm level, demonstrations showcase good practices related to the use of SFT. Applied research can play an important role in the evaluation of SFT, providing empirical evidence of cost-benefit and other advantages in terms of yield, comfortability and efficient use of intrants, like the ones implemented in IoF2020 large scale demonstration project.

  • Collaboration

Peer-to-peer collaboration, support between early adopters and followers, and the facilitator role of advisors are successful strategies to foster SFT adoption. Participation of start-ups, applied research institutes, and the industry on multi-actor efforts like operational groups can contribute to the adaptation of available technologies to farmers’ real needs. Drone in Field Visit in Smart AKIS Workshop in Spain.

  • Plug & Play

Plug & Play approaches are highly demanded by users of new technology setups, the upgrade of existing equipment, improved technology usability and data interpretation. A combination of tools – such as training podcasts, infographics, the use of digital screens, or short video clips - should be made available by the agricultural industry and advisory services to educate users.. Moreover, the user experience (UX) should be improved in the design and development of new equipment and programmes.

  • Interoperability and Standardisation 

Interoperability and Standardisation remain a challenge in spite of industry’s efforts to progress in this field. Farmers demand compatibility among SFT in order to maintain the flexibility in their processes and spread risks through using different SFTs from various providers. Nevertheless, farmers are also waiting for integrated systems delivered by a single provider tackling all their farm management and data support needs.

  • Data Management Concerns

Data management concerns farmers in terms of data ownership, exploitation and usability. Upcoming regulation enshrining ownership of agronomical data by farmers, will demand a wide dissemination and increased visibility of the current benefits of sharing such data, mainly for small farm holders.

Smart AKIS keeps working with farmers, researchers, advisors, and industry to come up with policy recommendations in 2018 on how to tackle these and other challenges for Smart Farming to become the New Normal in EU agriculture.


All images are copyright property of Smart AKIS:

  • Work Group in Smart AKIS Workshop in Germany.
  • Drone in Field Visit in Smart AKIS Workshop in Spain.

Additional material: Smart AKIS brochure.

2018-02-19T00:00:00+01:00 <![CDATA[Smart Farming is key for the future of agriculture]]> The area of land available for agriculture has decreased between 2015 and 2013 by 0,7%[1]. If the EU wants to expand or maintain its current food output, it needs to increase its productivity - without imposing an additional burden on the environment. More with less, welcome to the world of Smart Farming

What is Smart Farming?

Smart Farming is a farming management concept using modern technology to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural products. Farmers in the 21st century have access to GPS, soil scanning, data management, and Internet of Things technologies. By precisely measuring variations within a field and adapting the strategy accordingly, farmers can greatly increase the effectiveness of pesticides and fertilizers, and use them more selectively. Similarly, using Smart Farming techniques, farmers can better monitor the needs of individual animals and adjust their nutrition correspondingly, thereby preventing disease and enhancing herd health.

Smart Farming is about “… taking the right cultivation measure at the right place at the right time ”– Jacob van den Borne, van den Borne aardappelen. [2]

What do you need for Smart Farming?

Knowledge and capital are essential for any innovation. New farming technologies require more and more professional skills. A farmer today is not only a person with a passion for agriculture, he or she is also a legal expert (to find their way through a growing maze of regulations) and a part-time data analyst, economist and accountant (making a living from selling agricultural produce requires bookkeeping skills and an in-depth knowledge of market chains and price volatility).

Furthermore, Smart Farming requires capital. Thankfully, there are a wide range of options available. From using low capital investment smart phone applications that track your livestock to a capital-intensive automated combine. In principle, implementing Smart Farming technologies can be easily upscaled.

“A record $4.6 billion of venture capital was invested in the ag-tech sector in 2015, in comparison with virtually zero in 2005”. [3]

How does the EU support Smart Farming?

The EU currently supports the implementation and development of Smart Farming through a wide variety of policies. These include: The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); regional policy; environmental policy; food safety policy; competition policy, and the EU’s innovation policy.[4]

The current development of Smart Farming technologies is mainly financed through the Horizon 2020 research policy and the CAP’s Rural development policy[5]. Yet, the implementation of Smart Farming in the EU is financed through local, regional and national regional development programmes, which are co-funded by the EU and the relevant Member State.

The proliferation of programmes related to Smart Farming leads to an overly complex system, resulting in high bureaucratic costs and high barriers to entry when looking for funding. Luckily, the EU is currently in the process of simplifying[6] its programmes, rules and regulations, and reforming its approach to innovation within the agri-food sector: “… [the objective] is to have a more demand-driven research policy and a more evidence-based agricultural policy”.[7]

This means that there are currently several dynamics at play in the theme of Smart Farming: 1) funding from both the public and private sector is rapidly increasing out of necessity and partly driven by business opportunities; 2) the available funding from the public sector is difficult to get to, and 3) the EU is currently amid a reorganization of its funding tools.



[1] Precision agriculture and the future of farming in Europe Scientific Foresight Study IP/G/STOA/FWC/2013-1/Lot 7/SC5 December 2016
[2], retrieved on 18 April 2017.
[3], retrieved on 18 April 2017.
[4] Precision agriculture and the future of farming in Europe Scientific Foresight Study IP/G/STOA/FWC/2013-1/Lot 7/SC5 December 2016.
[5] European Commission, ‘The European Innovation Partnership "Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability', retrieved on 27 March 2017.
[6], retrieved on 18 April 2017.
[7], retrieved on 18 April 2017.

2017-12-04T00:00:00+01:00 <![CDATA[Learning from the Matanza Tradition: How Europe can become a global leader in smart farming applications]]> In its mission to become the global leader in smart farming applications, Europe can combine its own way of consensus building (the multi-actor approach) with a methodology aiming to quickly launch new products in the market developed in the other side of the Atlantic, in Silicon Valley (the lean start-up methodology). Surprisingly, in order to better understand this eclectic state-of-the-art approach, one can turn to the age-old custom of pig slaughtering still being practiced in the Spanish dehesa – La Matanza.

Europe has been for some time on a path to becoming a global leader in sustainable farming. The development of the European smart farming community started with developing the technological building blocks through EU-funded projects such as Future Farm, Smart AgriFood 1, FIWARE, and FISPACE, and creating the initial critical mass of early adopters. This created platforms through which new technologies could be developed and customised via already existing services. The next step towards expansion of this innovation ecosystem aimed to tap into the most agile link of the value-chain, the start-up community. A portfolio of implemented and ongoing projects like Smart Agrifood 2, Finish, FRACTALS, KATANA, and ACTIVATE provided funding alongside tailor-made business support services that significantly helped European start-ups and SMEs to capture the opportunities in the global agrifood sector. The community was now ready to reach broader audiences and demonstrate the potential of digital technologies (and more specifically IoT) to involve the entire value chain and accelerate the innovation process. The flagship project that spearheaded this movement is IoF2020 and the approach it took in doing so is the lean-multi-actor approach.

It is remarkable to note how such a novel approach can be related to an age-old tradition. However, even though in IoF2020 we apply the latest technologies and modern expertise in a pig related use-case, the project shares many values with the traditional Matanza custom. Firstly, it is inclusive: the way in which the lean multi-actor approach involves the entire value chain reflects the way in which the entire village is engaged in Matanza – how a task is allocated to everyone in a joint communal effort of working for the benefit of the community. In IoF2020 end-users from the agrifood are actively involved during the entire development process aiming at cross-fertilisation, co-creation, and co-ownership of results.

Furthermore, we can observe that sustainability is deeply rooted in both: the practices preceding Matanza have an intimate relationship with environment and landscape conservation. During Matanza very little goes to waste and therefore negative effects on environment are minimal. Our firm commitment in environmental KPIs in IoF2020 aims to enhance monitoring of sustainability parameters, e.g. emissions and production, in order to contribute to meeting agriculture’s grand challenges in feeding the growing world population, dealing with climate change, becoming more resource efficient, lowering ecological footprints and improving animal welfare, like Matanza-practising farmers always did.

Matanza is a ritual that remained sustainable for hundreds of years, because it has found a way to eliminate waste by utilising all resources: every part of the pig, from ears to hoofs to tail has its purpose. We similarly derive our circular approach in IoF2020 by highlighting the importance of reusable components: protocols, software, platforms, etc. that have been developed in one Use Case, that can also be used in others. In this way, the resources are being exploited to the fullest for the benefit of European farmers and consumers.

The ultimate goal is to provide safe and adequate food for European citizens; the challenge is to leverage, align, and coordinate national and EU investments for technological development, business support services, and access to capital. In order to consolidate Europe’s leading position in the global IoT industry it is necessary to foster a symbiotic ecosystem of farmers, food industry, technology providers, and research institutes. This is precisely what IoF2020 is dedicated to achieve: bringing the entire European ecosystem together; connecting the dots in a way that ensures global leadership for Europe in the agtech market.

(Photograph Source:


2017-11-16T00:00:00+01:00 <![CDATA[Towards a thriving ecosystem]]>

Work package 5 – communication and dissemination leader Edwin Hecker is Managing Partner at Schuttelaar & Partners. Within IoF2020, he is responsible for the
eco-system building strategy and oversees the project’s communications and knowledge dissemination activities. In this blogpost, Edwin talks about the importance for the IoF2020 project to become a thriving ecosystem. 

An ecosystem in nature is a self-sustaining system, which is exactly what we want to achieve within
this project. The 70+ consortium partners ideally become a system of communities learning from each other. A system in which partnerships are formed to advance together. During the timeline of the project, but also beyond

According to Edwin, a thriving ecosystem is everything but a static structure. ‘Beyond our consortium, we involve other communities too. We’ve initiated contact with the European Innovation Partnership for Agriculture (EIP-Agri), for example, who now share information about IoF2020 in their network. We’ve also started a collaboration with the European Young Farmers Association (Ceja) to reach their 2 million members. And these are just the first steps.

The importance of an eco-system

IoT technology is very complex. To reap the benefits, all parties in the food production chain need to cooperate much more closely than they do now. Not only in the chain from farm to consumer, but also around the farm: the service providers, the IT specialists, the contractors, etc. If a farmer invests in a new system, his suppliers need to be able to work with it too. The data from his self-steering tractor needs to be compatible with his own computer system, but is also valuable input for other partners in the chain. So, the increased connectivity that IoT technology brings, demands a close-knit network. That’s why a thriving eco-system, in which different parties find each other, share knowledge and work together on the development of the technology, is so important.’ 

Edwin stresses the importance of a sustainable eco-system that will continue to exist after the four year pilot. ‘The technology will continue to develop. To ensure that the eco-system will last after the project, we try to create win-win situations. Like in nature, connections that are beneficial to all parties involved.’

The uptake of digital technology

When asked why digitization advances relatively slowly in the agricultural world, Edwin indicates multiple reasons. ‘First, many companies in our food production chains are relatively small, compared to the actors in the transportation sector or in smart cities for example. Secondly, on average farmers in Europe didn’t grow up with digital technology. Still, robotic milking systems start to become common, some farmers work with drones and use machinery guidance applications to navigate their tractor more efficiently.’ 

In an emerging field, such as precision farming, often the standards aren’t set yet. ‘Farmers are flooded with a myriad of small companies offering technical solutions. Often these systems don’t work together well, which makes the farmer’s work more difficult instead of easier. Who's owner of the data is also an important question. That’s why the use-cases within the IoF2020 project are situated inside the production chain: at the farms, at the slaughterhouses and at the retailers. Interoperability is one of the main themes we’re working on.

Grand societal challenges

According to Edwin, the IoT technology demonstrated and tested in the different use-cases, is part of the answer to solve the grand societal challenges as defined by the European Union. ‘Food waste, water consumption, CO2 emissions, pesticide and fertilizer use are pressing issues in our food supply system. IoT technology enables farmers to combat waste of inputs for example, which is why it’s also called precision farming. You can imagine the efficiency gain when only plants that actually need it, get water or fertiliser. This way of working enables a great advancement regarding CO2 emissions and the environment in general. It also enhances transparency, minimising losses in the whole production chain. For farmers, the efficiency gain translates directly into lower input cost and higher yields.’


The structure of IoF2020, allows us to use a tailor-made approach. We test the technology in different places under different circumstances. Farming is very much related to the specific conditions of a certain place: the soil and the weather in Italy cannot be compared to the conditions in Northern Europe for example. So, we need to design systems that can be adapted to these different circumstances and that are applicable to both small and large farms.’ 

IoF2020 helps to further the uptake of IoT technology in a very tangible way, says Edwin. ‘On the one hand, we move existing technology up in technology readiness level. Secondly, the use-cases demonstrate the added value in the real world, in the field. The end-users, the farmers themselves and all the other actors who will use the technology, are actively involved in this process.’ Some flexibility is also built into the project structure itself: ‘Next year we will have €5 million available in an open call, for additional use-cases to join the project.’

Involving key players

Key players in this project range from farmers, contractors and suppliers to the IT professionals, public authorities and of course the consumer. All these stakeholders are important during the project, but the focus shifts. In the sowing stage, we focus on the first links in the agri-food chain: we involve farmers, IT professionals, and agricultural consultants to name a few. Later, towards the flowering and harvesting stage of the project, we will reach out actively to consumers. We already inform the European Commission (DG AGRI, DG CONNECT) on a regular basis.’ Face-to-face contact matters enormously, according to Edwin: ‘The stakeholder event we will organise next year is a good example of how we bring all parties together. Policy makers from all the member states, project partners, relevant networks and sector associations such as CEMA, Copa-Cogeca and Ceja will join.’

2017-11-07T00:00:00+01:00 <![CDATA[Data-driven farming: dare to step into new business models ]]> We are living in times of constant technological advancement. Currently, wristbands can measure our fitness level, fridges reorder food that got consumed and drones are able to deliver packages to our doorstep. These new technological developments do not pass by agriculture, but are often included into the agricultural sector.

The current trend in agriculture is to connect all sorts of devices to the internet, called Internet of Things (IoT). In agriculture IoT will bring us the ability to remotely monitor our crops, fields, animals, machines and many more things in real time. With real-time monitoring information agricultural production can be controlled more optimal and enable us to face challenges such as food security, food safety, transparency, animal wellbeing, antibiotic residue reduction, nitrate leaching, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and many more.

Within IoF2020 we believe that we can contribute to face these challenges by supporting the development and adaption of these technologies and making them fit for the agricultural sector. To prove the potential of IoT in agriculture we will apply these technologies on a large number of test farms all around Europe.

A major aspect to make IoT in agriculture a success is its contribution to support decision making and optimize control. To improve decision making data needs to be exchanged. An algorithm running on your farm data alone can give you clever advice, but the same algorithm running on the data of 1000 farms of all sizes all over the world is exponentially smarter.

To get the smarter applications, we need to create a network of connected farms that are willing to exchange their data to receive best knowledge, forecasts and automation by algorithm providers. The vision is that with such a network, farmers can monetize the data created by sensors on their farm land and receive an even better performance of their decision support applications. To develop such a network, we must find the value for each participant. Within WP4 we will focus, amongst others, on the development of such a value network and taking into account ethical and legal aspect.

To support innovative developments our business team consults our 19 use-cases in the 5 trials arable, dairy, fruits, vegetables and meat. We support the use-cases regarding their individual go-to-market strategy and exploitation models. According to the individual specifics of a use-case we assemble these components for each minimum viable product (MVP) cycle, perform user acceptability testing, iterate based on learnings and thus contribute to a working business model for the application, service or product offered by the use-case.

In order to prepare our work, the business team of IoF2020 already produced an insightful market and trend analysis for the IoF2020 use-cases. This report outlines the key market trends and defines the impact indicators using the PESTLE framework. PESTLE stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental. If you are interested, please download the document here. Furthermore, we have a presentation showing 50 business models.

To support innovation, we are not only offering presentations and reports, but organize different workshops, webinars and individual consultations. If you need business support, do not hesitate and contact your business chair. Furthermore, we are always keen on receiving suggestion on what kind of support use-cases are looking for. So please innovate with us and let’s build agriculture 4.0 together.

Author: Alexander Berlin

2017-10-08T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[Young farmers and digitalization: building the future of European agriculture]]> Farming in the EU is poised on the brink of change with the CAP 2020 negotiations in full swing. Young farmers face an uncertain future in a rapidly evolving sector. While agriculture in the EU strives to be dynamic, it continues to encounter difficulties.

One of the most important hurdles for farming is generational renewal. If innovative, energetic and passionate young people are not attracted to the agricultural sector, producing enough food for a growing population will be impossible.

As CEJA President Jannes Maes said in the European Young Farmers: Building a Sustainable Sector report: “without young farmers in the fields of Europe the future of food production and open landscapes would be compromised.”

The report, compiled by CEJA in partnership with DeLaval, and launched at the European Parliament on 27 September, was based on an EU-wide survey. Its results reveal the needs of young farmers, their attitude to sustainability, and whether they believe a future in farming is viable.

The report was important for CEJA because of its position as an umbrella body representing young farmers’ organisations at EU level. Agriculture affects the wellbeing of all of European society. Understanding what farmers need and finding solutions for the problems they face is essential.

Young farmers not only provide food, but also ensure environmental sustainability. The report shows that a large majority (89.78%) of young farmers feels responsible for guaranteeing a sustainable agricultural sector. They believe this protects the environment and biodiversity, and leads to efficiency improvement.

In order to be sustainable and develop their activity, though, young farmers need tools that range from farmland expansion and knowledge development, to farm management optimisation technology.

Research into new techniques offers ways to farm that can improve the daily work of those in the agricultural sector. Through innovation, smart farming has the potential to improve farm returns with better resource management.

More remains to be done in terms of how data can be made accessible to farmers, either by training or through partnerships with organisations that can process it. While data driven farming could prove useful in the future, it is not yet clear how data in the sector can be protected. There is a need for improved understanding at EU level.

Digital farming helps farmers professionally, but technology can also improve the quality of life in rural areas. One of the most important requirements for young farmers is having access to widespread fast broadband.

Internet access is essential in order to be informed about the latest agricultural news, data and technology, and also to promote businesses online. On a more personal level, it is a way for young farmers to engage with their generation through social media and meet people with similar interests.

In the CEJA document Young Farmers are Key in the Future CAP, the position paper on smart farming explains the need to invest in new technology while also making use of current tools. Innovation must continue outside the realms of technology through training, development and the strengthening of business models.

Despite young farmers being passionate and strongly believing in sustainability, 61.76% of those surveyed for the report consider their future in the sector to be viable only under certain circumstances.

Young farmers face fierce competition from global markets, high administrative burdens and the economic profitability of their activities is low. This is evidence enough that more must be done to make farming attractive for young people and ensure those already working in agriculture remain.

Author: Fiona Lally, CEJA

2017-10-08T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[Soil Association provides shoppers access to certification database using blockchain]]> The UK-based Soil Association, a member of the European organic food & farming umbrella organisation IFOAM EU, has partnered up with tech start-up Provenance for a trial project on food supply chain transparency using blockchain technology.

As transparency and trust become increasingly important in the highly complex food supply chains, proof of origin and the reliability of this proof are gaining in significance. Many consumers of organic goods also demand insight into the different production processes. To meet these demands, a new tool for accessing the Soil Association’s certification database has been introduced, and is tested by shoppers in-store. Louise Forster-Smith, New Product Development Manager at the Soil Association, tells IoF2020 how the blockchain trials have been unfolding.

Over the last few months, we have developed and delivered an experimental pilot project to learn about using transparent digital supply chain software in partnership with a meat producer and processor in the UK. The aim was to explore ways of adding more credibility and consumer visibility to organic supply chains and to promote transparency and collaboration between actors in the chain. Working with tech start up Provenance, Eversfield Organic Farm and As Nature Intended store in London, we tracked (at batch level) the journey of a pig from farm to shelf using blockchain technology.

This involved mapping out the product’s supply chain with all partners and investigating each internal system of record keeping, completing organic transactions and managing communication between actors in the chain. The pilot allowed us to integrate data and create a digital profile of the product’s history and production process including information from the pig rearing farm, abattoir, processor farm, certifier and store - with photos, info, maps and links. This was made accessible to consumers by scanning a barcode on-pack or hovering a mobile phone over the NFC (Near Field Communication) powered mark to activate live information gathered throughout the products journey from farm to store.

The interactive certification was well received by shoppers in-store, who intuitively used Provenance to access information. As part of this project, Provenance developed a digital organic mark (at product level) which will link directly with our certification database. We made this available to a number of Soil Association Certification licensees as part of Organic September – our key campaign of the year. This enables shoppers to access product stories and certification data by visiting a microsite that converts what was once a static jpeg into a data-powered mark of trust. We are now looking to develop a longer-term partnership with Provenance to help us reinforce the integrity of organic certification in the digital age and to increase innovation, efficiency and shopper engagement for brands and retailers alike.

To learn more about the trial, visit Provenance’s website.

Author: Louise Forster-Smith, Soil Association

2017-10-05T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[Cooperatives as cornerstone of IoT uptake]]> Until recently, concepts such as "Big Data", "Internet of Things" and "Smart Farming" were foreign to most of the agri-food sector. Today these concepts are intrinsically linked to the future of the agri-food chain, from production, to transportation and distribution.

At farm level, the influence of devices for data capture and actuators will be paramount. Data is expected to become an additional "input", at the same level as health products, fertilizers, seeds and feedstuff, for example. From a farmer experience-oriented agriculture, we are moving towards one complemented with a systematic evaluation of massive amounts of data collected on the farm and on the land. Smart Farming is on its way.

In transport, the agro-food industry should be more modular and flexible, capable of satisfying immediate needs of clients through the delivery of limited tailor-made products. The old concept of the production chain is definitely challenged with the increased automation and data exchange in the new industry 4.0. The management of these new agro-industrial ecosystems will only be possible with the help of digitisation, automation and a wise use of massive amounts of data.

The retail sector will also need to adapt their relationship with providers and consumers. The outbreak of new business models supported by technology is challenging the current model, as Amazon exemplifies with its entry into the fresh food market. The consumer will press for supply chain schemes, too. In any case, traceability will evolve to total transparency, in search of consumer confidence and fidelity. Technologies such as augmented reality will facilitate the consumer's understanding of the data.

Will these changes be beneficial to farmers?

How will tens of millions of European farmers benefit from the uptake of novel technology? If the advantages are not clear, to what extent will farmers allow the use of their data?

The farmers are the cornerstone of most business models on which Precision Farming is based. Looking back, innovative and useful technologies had difficulties to be implemented in Europe due to diverse factors e.g. size of the farms, the high investments needed or the lack of proper training of farmers. ’Arable crops’ provides a perfect example portraying issues technologies faced for their integration. Despite constant support from public and private extension services, universities and companies, the uptake of technologies in arable farming remained marginal.

Yet, the current trends (e.g. automation, digitalisation of the economy) and the emergence of the "internet of things" offer new opportunities. The combination of sensors, smartphones, drones, satellite information and data analytics could bring a paradigm shift in agriculture.

According to the report ‘Building a Smarter Food System’ presented by the Rabobank Group, adopting a smart farming practices could increase the value of arable crops worldwide with 10 billion US dollars. Rabobank believes a smarter food system could offer productivity gains of at least 5% per hectare on 80% of the land used for the world’s top 7 crops (maize, soybean, wheat, cotton, rapeseed, barley and sunflower).

In addition to direct economic benefits, other side effects can be equally valuable. Robots can make farmers’ work related-tasks easier, as milking robots demonstrate. Another example are the spraying robots inside greenhouses, reducing health risks for farmers. The transparency reached with broad 4.0 traceability is also expected to forge new city-farm linkages.

Cooperatives pave the way!

Some of the leading companies in agriculture and food like Monsanto, John Deere and Pepsico, consider Precision Farming a priority in their strategic business plans. They are preparing themselves for the linked data market. But how to do so in such a way that farmers share in the revenues from this revolution? Some cooperatives deliver good examples. France’ biggest cooperative, INVIVO, has recently declared that it wants to be the "champion of Big Data in France". They have already invested billions in the acquisition of relevant technological companies. Another French cooperative, Terrena, controls production data from 600,000 Has of its associated partners in a confidential environment through the system Farmstar. Cereal yield increased with approximately 0.44 t / ha together with grain quality (0.5 pt more protein per grain t). Cooperatives also play an important role in the IoF2020 project. Spanish cooperative DCOOP is involved in 2 out of 3 pilots developing Internet of Things in olive and tomato production. The Italian cooperative APOFRUIT joins the table grape pilot.

Cooperatives become key players in this digital revolution. On the one hand, they are the essential agents for the necessary knowledge transfer, reducing barriers such as the lack of specific training for farmers. On the other hand, they are positioned best to handle the data of their partners in a safe way.

To conclude, there is nothing better than to transcribe one of the main conclusions of the Rabobank report mentioned earlier. "Farmer cooperatives have a special responsibility to ensure that farmers will reap the benefits of aggregating their collected farm data.”

Author: Juan Sagarna García, Cooperativas Agro-Alimentarias
Picture: Presence of farmer cooperatives in the world

2017-10-05T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[IoT: What's in it for Organics?]]> Organic food and farming are one of the fastest growing sectors in Europe with innovation as their driving force. Internet of Things is an area that promises to provide solutions and support organic in its mission to help transition to the sustainable food and farming systems.

How can IoT bring organics forward?

IoT technology offers new possibilities for all the actors in the organic value chain, from producers to distributors to consumers. Organic systems are rooted in the idea of working with nature to minimize the use of external inputs. Wireless sensors that detect micro-climatic and physical conditions of the plants can become a powerful ally in organic farmers’ quest to control pests and diseases. They can also help farmers save precious resources such as water, and bring down the labour costs thus increasing farmers’ competitiveness and resource efficiency.

The technology can also indicate the quality of the crops and predict an optimal harvest moment, making farmers’ planning and logistics easier. At the same time, as retailers and traders can get more accurate information about the expected delivery time, the quality and origin of produce, consumers can enjoy the freshest products on their table from a farm that they trust.

Sensors attached to the animals can give a timely signal to the farmer if there is a health issue while also providing a complete health history to the vets, which in turn can assure a better care and health outcomes for the animal. The use of weight estimation devices can give farmers a real-time insight on animal growth as a well as tailored advice on optimum feeding regimes.

Finally, organic is a quality scheme which requires proper labelling and certification. IoT can provide solutions based on traceability tools, on-line registration of operations, and continuous mass balances based on sensors and immediate communication to producer and to certification bodies. The advantages would be a decreased risk of fraud and bureaucratic burden, especially for small producers who are often disadvantaged by the complexity of certification systems.

What stands in the way?

These are just a few ways in which IoT technology can improve organic farmers’ decision making, competitiveness, farm sustainability and traceability along the value chains. As any other technology, IoT comes with a number of challenges that needs to be addressed to ensure its uptake and the benefits for all actors.

One of the major concerns for organic food and farming sector might be the loss of traditional knowledge and know-how as IoT technology becomes more prevalent. Organic farmers used to rely on their observational skills and had time to assess the state of the crops or animals and come up with a solution. With the increase of farm size due to higher demand for example, the technology steps in to make the decision making and production process quicker and more manageable but also less dependent on personal judgements. A current challenge is thus finding a way to combine traditional knowledge with IoT as well as to preserve and pass on this knowledge.

A related challenge is linked to the farmers’ skills necessary to operate IoT devices effectively. Even the most user-friendly devices and apps require a certain capacity on behalf of the user to operate smoothly without the need for continuous advisory support. Given an increasingly ageing population trend in the farming communities in Europe, this might be a considerable challenge for the future. The scale of operations and the investments costs associated with IoT technology might make the digital divide between small and large organic farms even more acute.

Finally, as in the case of conventional agriculture, the big data collected, analysed and stored by various IoT devices raises legitimate concerns about data access, management and privacy. 

What is already working?

While IoT technology is yet to be taken up by the majority of organic food and farming actors, there are successful examples of its use in various parts of Europe. For instance, in Italy a tech company AURORAS used wireless sensors to predict three powdery mildew outbreaks in an organic vineyard 12 hours in advance. The predictions helped save around EUR 8000 for the farmer. In the UK, software companies Senseye and Libelium joined forces to increase the crop production and competitiveness of nine organic farms across the country. The installed and connected sensors monitored environmental conditions (humidity, soil moistures, temperature etc) to predict and warn farmers about threats to their crops. 

Author: Yulia Barabanova, IFOAM EU
Photo credits: Triin Viilvere

2017-07-11T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[Interview with George Beers: What is IoF2020?]]> Dr. George Beers is a Horticultural Engineer with a PhD in Management Science. He has a broad experience in managing large-scale research and innovation programmes. Since January 2017 he is coordinator of the H2020 Large Scale Pilot on Internet of Food & Farm 2020 (IoF2020) on behalf of the WUR.

The benefits of IOT can be summed up by the slogan ‘more with less'

How do you explain internet-of-things and IoF2020 to a lay person?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is about connecting ordinary and sometimes not-so-ordinary things such as buildings, vehicles or windmills to a computer network. The connection allows to combine different sources of information about the ‘thing’. For example, for a parcel of land that is ‘known’ in the network we can use the data on ownership from the land register, the soil quality from lab tests, the history from the farm management information system, the weather information from meteorological databases or weather stations etc.

For making decisions on this parcel of land (e.g. buying/selling, fertilization, irrigation, crop planning etc.), IoT technologies make those different types of information available to the decision maker. This works for a lot of ‘things’ in the AgriFood business, e.g. individual animals (e.g. cows, sheep, chicken), individual plants (cauliflower, wheat plant, apple tree), products (pack of milk, meat, lettuce, bunch of flowers), machines (cultivator, tractor, climate control, milking robot, spraying device etc.), logistic facilities (trucks, pallets, silos etc.). When all parameters are known, IoT can guide the decision-making process. Eventually enabling machines to make certain decisions themselves. When it comes to IoF2020, we aim to accelerate the uptake of IoT technologies in the European farming and food sector by demonstrating their benefits in 19 different use-cases, clustered around 5 sectors (arable, dairy, fruits, vegetables and meat) all over Europe.

What are the potential benefits of IoT technologies for farmers and consumers?

The Internet of Things is about connecting ordinary and sometimes not-so-ordinary things such as buildings, vehicles or windmills to a computer network. The connection allows each thing in the network to collect and exchange information. For example, many postal services offer customers the option to track and trace their packages in real time. When it comes to IoF2020, we aim to accelerate the uptake of IoT technologies in the European farming and food sector by demonstrating their benefits in 19 different use-cases, clustered around 5 sectors (arable, dairy, fruits, vegetables and meat) all over Europe.

Can you give an overview of who is involved in the project?

Our 70+ project partners come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Onboard you can find several renowned academic and research institutions such as Wageningen University & Research and Aarhus University, software companies on the cutting edge of IoT such as 365FarmNet, market leaders in logistics such as Euro Pool System and agricultural producers such as Apofruit Italia.

How do you ensure the project results will find an application in the field and on the farm?

The main factor in ensuring that the results of IoF2020 will be implemented in practice is by generating impact. We will achieve this via our 19 use-cases spread throughout Europe, which will demonstrate the on-field application of IoT technologies. On a broader perspective, we aim to showcase and replicate the impacts beyond the case studies in other European regions. If we manage to make the benefits of IoT technologies known to the right people, it will grow from there.

When can we expect to see the first results?

The use-cases will work in cycles where they will deliver so-called Minimal Viable Products (MVPs) that will be tested and assessed on several performance indicators (technical, business and ethical). The feedback and the MVP will be used to improve and work on the next MVP. Roughly speaking, this will be done in annual cycles, so we expect already end 2017/early 2018 the MVP1 for each-use case with the first demonstrations of how IoT works, what benefits can be expected and what hurdles still have to be taken.

How will IoF2020 contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

The UN’s SDGs call for a worldwide system evolution towards a more equal, sustainable and prosperous world. Of the 17 SDGs, IoF2020 will have a direct impact on:

  • Goal 2: Ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture;
  • Goal 3: Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages;
  • Goal 12: Ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns;
  • Goal 13: Taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

The implementation of IoT technologies in the farming and food sector can help to increase agricultural output, address environmental issues, improve the availability of information, enable consumers to make better-informed choices, prevent fraud and use resources in a more responsible manner.

Okay, I like your ideas. How can I participate? What do you need?

Talk to your friends, family, clients, suppliers and co-workers about these exciting new technological developments to be realized in IoF2020 and help us engage them. If you would like to get involved in the project or require further information, feel free to reach out to me.

2017-05-29T00:00:00+02:00 <![CDATA[Towards data-driven farming]]> As smart machines and sensors crop up on farms and farm data grows in quantity and scope, farming processes will become increasingly data-driven and data-enabled. In the Internet of Things smart devices - connected to the internet - are controlling the farm system extending conventional tools (e.g. rain gauge, tractor, notebook) by adding context-awareness through all kinds of sensors, built-in intelligence, and the capability to execute autonomous actions or doing this remotely.

It is expected that the role of humans in analysis and planning is increasingly assisted by machines so that this so-called cyber-physical management cycle becomes more autonomous.

IoF2020, with a total budget of M€ 35, will boost this development by fostering a large-scale uptake of IoT in the European farming and food sector. The heart of the project is formed by 19 use-cases in different European regions organized in five trials covering several subsectors such as fruits, dairy, vegetables, meat and arable farming.

Each use-case develops specific IoT solutions bringing together farmers and other end-users with technology providers and research institutes. For example, by optimizing the cultivation and processing of wine by IoT systems and big data analysis or pig production management via on-farm sensors and slaughterhouse data.

Beside technical integration, use-cases are supported in solving governance issues (e.g. on data privacy) and developing suitable business models. In this way IoF2020 will contribute to secure, sufficient, safe and healthy food for European citizens and strengthen the competitiveness of farming and food chains and technology providers.