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Drought, Climate Change and the Pressing Potential of IoF2020 technologies

By Stanislas Demeestere -

Climate change is the defining challenge of our time, one cannot deny the impact it has already had on Europe in the last few months. Farming might be one of the most affected sectors, with crop yield and animal welfare on the line in the challenge to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The use cases using Internet of Food and Farming (IoF2020) have shown potential in adapting agriculture to the needs of a chalnged continent.

The month of July 2019, was the hottest on record in Europe, as well as around the world. In Europe, this manifested itself especially in drought, of which no one was a bigger victim than the farming industry.

During the whole year of 2019, the first signs of what might be on the horizon for farming on the continent, manifested itself: June storms impacted winter crops development in France and the BeNeLux, Eastern and South-Central Europe was hampered by abundant rainfall in spring, hampering plant development, and the hot summer heatwaves impacted summer crops and water levels across the continent. Especially in the Iberian Peninsula, the rain deficit and high temperatures lowered next year’s expectation for spring crops. Over summer, the whole of South-, Central-, and West-Europe saw stressed crops, with close to historicly low pasture productivity.

The EU reacted to the desperation of farmers by two actions: firstly, by increasing advances on the ‘direct payments’, the EU’s support for farmers. This was a swift and efficient action, by an organisation notorious for cumbersome institutional complexity. The second leg to the aid sits more strangely, however: the EU loosened some environmental requirements under its policy, in order to give businesses a little more breathing room. Although this makes sense on the short term, and could help businesses through the summer, in the larger scheme of climate change, and soil degradation, this is not a sustainable path to take.

The past droughts seem to only have been the beginning, however, as the European Environmental Agency (EEA) predicted the South of Europe to witness loss of value of their farmland between 60 and 80%. Although the Northern countries do seem to benefit due to longer growing periods, much of this land is either very densely populated (think of Belgium, or the Netherlands), or forested (Scandinavia). The former poses obvious problems, and deforestation is not really an option in light of the needed sustainability of farming, and the need of carbon sinks in mitigating clmate change.

Emerging technologies can give alternative solutions to these present and growing challenges. IoF2020 is one of these projects. Futureproofing agriculture will ensure even areas with yield challenges for the future, to grow, and breed efficiently and sustainably. Data-driven potato production in projects ranging from Greece and Cyprus to Poland, show a 25% drop in water usage and a 15% drop in the use of pesticides (Use Case 1.6). Using value weeding data through improved field monitoring, crop production has shown to increase by 5% in trials in Austria and the Netherlands (Use Case 4.3). Precision crop management in France not only shows 50 million euro in market potential, but cuts 10% of water use, and improves the soil nitrogen balance by 90% (Use Case 1.2).

Adopting new technologies in farming, not in the least IoT technology in farming, will not completely avert the blows the agricultural sector could face in Europe and beyond, but it can help minimise negative consequences of climate change, while improving yield in areas less affected. This all in a way that is not to the further detrement of the environment or climate. These challenges will prove the importance of data-driven farming, not only through its potential, but through its necessity.

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