Due to the increasing competition from other countries and the rapid decline of olive harvests caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, the olive sector is under more and more pressure. Similar threats apply to table grapes, which are cultivated in another use case of the IoF2020 project. Just as olives, grapes are vulnerable to pests, have a short shelf-life and can easily be damaged in every step along the supply chain. Therefore, both use cases explore how IoT technologies can help to face those challenges.
The use cases Automated Olive Chain and Fresh Table Grapes Chain mostly focus on irrigation efficiency boosted by IoT technologies. This is a great example of the many benefits the use of IoT technologies can have when applied to the farming sector. Not only for the farmer in terms of a higher yield or a better product, but also the contribution to a more sustainable way of farming and dealing with climate adaptation. It is thus important that producers can distinguish themselves in biodiversity, soil quality and efficiency.
Different IoT solutions
To achieve irrigation efficiency in both use cases, first the soil moisture conditions are measured, monitored and assessed. This way, the water requirements of the olive trees and the grapevines can be met during each crop stage. Before placing the sensors in the field, a soil electrical conductivity survey has been carried out. Afterwards different sensors were installed in each field in order to assess the required number and type of sensors needed to achieve the best results. Both use cases rely on several interoperable IoT devices to reach this goal. For instance, probes and sensors to monitor the irrigation system and onboard systems in tractors to capture information regarding its agronomic work in the field. Additionally, for the olive mills, specific NIR-sensors are installed to measure the fat content of the olive oil in real-time and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions are used for managing the fields and crops.
The partners providing the IoT technology for this use case include Snyelixis Solutions SA and Hispatec. These partners have installed complete software solutions, weather stations, soil moisture as well as temperature sensors, soil electrical conductivity sensors, solenoid valves, irrigation pumps controllers (with on/off switches) and water pressure sensors.
Sustainability results and benefits for biodiversity
The IoT technologies used by the above use cases, provide many examples of how IoT technology can also contribute to sustainability. With the improved water and resource management, sustainability is directly realised. Since many of the olive farms and vineyards can be found in Southern Europe, efficient water use is very important in these often dry areas. The grape fields as well as the olive oil farms are most of the time situated either on large acres or many smaller fields. Hence, these use cases rely on remote monitoring, remote controlling and scheduled water irrigation, enabling the farmers to make decisions from a distance. Thanks to the applied innovations this also increases the yield and profitability, while the fuel and electricity consumption simultaneously decrease. This further mitigates the emission of air pollutants such as CO2 and NOx.
Reducing the resource consumption mainly in irrigation activities, will not only optimize energy and fertilizer consumption, but contribute significantly to biodiversity as more living organisms can survive in their natural habitat. At the same time, it reduces crop diseases in the field and thus potential pre-harvest losses deriving from improper water management.
Both use cases still face a problem with the specific IoT devices installed in the open fields. Those incidents, however, are rather related to vandalism than to technological failure per se. Also, the (wireless) infrastructure has to be improved, mainly in rural agricultural areas, to fully deply the potential of IoT. In September 2016, the European Commission adopted a strategy on connectivity for Europe with this very objective.
Another problem is that specifically Greek farmers own a high number of small fields and their fields aren’t always close to one another. Therefore, the purchase of IoT technologies is costly and difficult. A solution could be to share IoT technologies with neighbouring farmers. Thus, we would like to encourage farmers to collaborate with each other and adopt IoT technologies. It can, as these use cases prove, make a significant difference in efficiency, sustainability, climate control and profitability: more output, with less input.