Currently, only a fraction of the plant protection products applied successfully tackles pests or insects, while the rest unnecessarily pollutes the environment. Furthermore, site-specific information tailored to farmers’ individual needs usually lowers irrigation applications through early warnings and fast weather updates. By utilising data stemming from IoT devices in the field, cloud computing and analytics technologies, this use case timely notifies the farmer to optimise such activities. The result from synergised parameters such as air humidity, temperature and other weather conditions is a service which increases the total farm productivity through the remote monitoring of high-value crops such as fruits, vegetables, flowers and more. By incorporating innovative traceability technology, this use case is among the first to integrate event- and sensor-based information from the entire food value chain (from farm to shelf) to a data-lake, offering elaborate value propositions to users. Hence, it significantly improves consumers’ perception of food safety while enabling stakeholders in the agri-food sector to participate in an innovative digital ecosystem.
IoT deployment, software and security
Overall, this use case employs 18 test farms with a total of 60 IoT devices (gateways, nodes, irrigation controllers) and 79 sensors (air, soil, solar, wind, rain, water flow meter). Not only is the use case active in countries with different climatic conditions (Slovenia, Cyprus and Greece), it also designed various versions of their solution.
One aimed at a scenario where the power grid is accessible, the other one for an off-grid situation using photovoltaic panels. Moreover, one product version utilises a mesh network while the other is based on star topology (NB-IoT). Experienced project partners acted as local Pilot Orchestrators – Agriculture Institute of Cyprus and ITC-Cluster in Slovenia ensured the technology transfer in their regional ecosystem. In Greece, this task was carried out by Future Intelligence (FINT). Moreover, the research foundation of the University of Nicosia contributed to the technological achievements.
The installation of the weather stations is handled without any site-specific requirements since it is a plug & play solution. Hence, it can be easily installed in the soil by the farmers themselves. The system is capable of being upscaled in terms of connected IoT devices. However, striking an equilibrium between costs and necessary sensors is paramount which is why different products with sensor combinations exist. For Harris Moysiadis, the Use Case Coordinator, those are important aspects as he envisions their solution as a user-friendly decision support system. Therefore, the team offers farmers a “test before you invest” option with demonstrations and training sessions to reap the benefits of the technology. The decision support system bundling all data, is the QUHOMA solution. It is aimed at farmers, agronomists, cooperatives and agriculture organisations to check the detailed microclimatic conditions of the field. In the app graphs show soil temperature, humidity and air temperature as well as scheduling and actuation of irrigation decisions. The QUHOMA farmer edition is characterised by limited complexity while granting the user full functionality such as digital field notebooks or field observations. All performed actions are recorded as standard IoT entities and are also modelled in GS1-compatible formats to facilitate traceability. In addition to that, a mobile app is currently under development. It will enable users to upload geo-localised field observations and foster the farm to fork traceability. The implementation of traceability services in the software platform required the integration of GS1 standards. Furthermore, services from various external sources can be hosted in the commercial version of this application due to the solution’s advanced system-of-systems architecture. As a result, it now includes input from external providers like Internet weather stations alongside forecasts and already existing devices or systems at the farm level (e.g. fertigation units or farm management tools).
-5% up to -10%
Naturally, all of this could not have happened without the feedback of the users. Therewith the use case team ensured that other stakeholders such as agronomists, post-farm partners (buyers, packagers, restaurants etc.) will pick up on this technology. Since the traceability from farm to fork is not yet common practice, the researchers are paving the way for a paradigm shift. To reap the full value of this solution, business models will have to be re-designed and the infrastructure further developed. This, however, encouraged the innovators even more to integrate external administration tools like a billing system or an account-managing platform. Ultimately, this enhances the marketability and sustainability of the commercial service offering.
A solution for every application area
Harris Moysiadis, the Use Case Coordinator, invited us to meet Maria who oversees one of the commercial farms where QUHOMA is launched in Greece. Her approach to farming showcases the adaptability of this use case’s service offering.
While some of their other test farms have commercial size, Maria runs a small urban farm close to Athens. In her particular case, IoT technology provides the possibility to reconnect city-dwellers with nature. By leveraging cameras and sensors, she informs her urban customers about the situation in the field in real-time so they can monitor the development of their plants. In a similar vein, Maria supports educational programmes for children to inform them about responsible crop production and food consumption. Due to the size of her farm, she does not rely on monoculture but cultivates several crops in a strictly natural way. When looking at the use case’s 18 test farms, this approach is quite the contrary in terms of technological setup. Those farms are commercially oriented and have a much bigger surface area. The overarching wireless communication for the IoT devices, however, is the same for every testing site, regardless of size. This resembles the high adaptability of the solution the use case developed. Depending on the requirements of their customers any number and type of sensors can be added to the system. Among the options are irrigation controllers, soil and environmental sensors along with solar radiation pyranometer. The latter is used in agriculture as one parameter to predict plant water usage and to schedule irrigation. To further optimise irrigation, the algorithms constantly take weather predictions into account to avoid unnecessary water use. The environmental sensors on the other hand help them to predict the occurrence of pests by correlating temperature and humidity. Based on that the team can estimate the vulnerability to pests and give recommendations on effective treatments.
-5% up to -10%
Plant protection products
Required field visits
The communication standard the team used in the very beginning was 6LoWPAN (IPv6 over Low-Power Wireless Personal Area Networks) since it is a reliable protocol when it comes to industrial real-time communication. Nowadays, they exploit the latest available IoT communication standard, NarrowBand-Internet of Things (NB-IoT) because it significantly lowers the requirements of the infrastructure at the fields, potentially reduces the capital expenditures of the end-user and simplifies the deployment process. NB-IoT is a standard-based low power wide area technology developed to enable a wide range of new IoT devices and services. It is supported by all major mobile equipment, chipset and module manufacturers, and can co-exist with 4G mobile networks. The energy supply of such a router, can be easily addressed with a solar panel. Currently, the ball is in the corner of the telecom companies.
Supporting consumer behaviour
A prototype traceability service of the QUHOMA solution, developed by FINT, is targeted at the Greek market. By scanning a QR-code of the final product consumers can see the entire history through a digital record of practices and business events.
While all sensors data is aggregated and accessible via an external industry trusted interface (EPCIS), the main goal is to inform the consumer about how operations are controlled. In an earlier chapter, we talked about the implementation of GS1 standards. To succeed in that, the researchers teamed up with another IoF2020 use case: Meat Transparency and Traceability. It developed a tool which supports certification bodies in carrying out audits. While the meat use case is focused on the audits of the entire value chain, this use case aims at telling the story of a product. Therefore, they transform their IoT platform into a marketing tool for farmers as it gives them the chance to show the customers how a raw material is handled and transformed to a consumable product. By modelling upstream (planting to harvest) traceability events and delivering them through a standard interface, farmers have more data and information to capitalise on. Trust on their environmental sensitivity and quality of products is then enhanced. In these regards, the added value for the value chain is increased along with the revenues and profits and it is re-distributed where it matters most: on the producer side. Ultimately, the technology would support food safety principles and give consumers the chance to share information on social media. Through this they want to initiative a shift in consumer behaviour and bring them closer to the product and the producer. As this paradigm shift is slowly getting underway, as studies on consumer behaviour showed, the solution of this use case has not gone unnoticed by other stakeholders. Currently, two big retailers are looking into the service as it could support their supply chain management and auditors.
Achievements, products & services
Enabling data access to consumers on growth and farm supply chain conditions
Reduction of plant protection product application and increased irrigation efficiency
Boosted farm sustainability
Strengthened data privacy and security
Improved consumer trust
Traceability throughout the entire value chain