IoF2020 Blog Blog posts from the Internet of Food & Farm 2020. 2018-03-16T18:24:41+01:00 IoF2020 <![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.

Blog by Quentin Galland,
IoF2020 Project Manager, Schuttelaar & Partners



[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[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[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[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[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[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.