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Agricon digitalizes European crop production
This text was published on 18.04.2019 in the agrarzeitung
Agriculture is bound to reach its limit regarding its intensity, which, for example, can be seen in Germany: Society is protesting against the loss of biodiversity on the fields and excessive nutrient inputs into groundwater. Politicians are withdrawing approval for important pesticides and tightening up legal fertiliser regulations, so how can farms achieve stable yields despite these challenges?
Agricon has been dealing with this question for over 20 years. In Ostrau, located between Leipzig and Dresden, agricultural engineers and computer scientists are working on digital solutions to increase yields in the field by reducing the use of resources. "The focus is set on reducing resources and environmental protection," explains Dr. Martin Schneider to the agrarzeitung (az). For example, Agricon is working on a cloud-based management system that - paired with innovative sensor technology - will enable a sustainable intensification of plant production.
Three years ago, they convinced EU representatives with their "agriCLOUD" project proposal. Within the framework of the innovation and research programme "Horizon 2020" (see infobox), the Saxons were provided with financial resources to implement their intelligent technologies in six companies in Germany, the Baltic States, Poland and Hungary and to test them over a period of 24 months. "First, the participating farmers were trained by employees of our company," Schneider recalls. "No technology without advice" is the companie's mantra. After a few days, the farm managers were ready to use the digital tools in the basic and nitrogen fertilisation segments as well as in crop protection.
GPS-supported soil sampling identifies nutrient deficiencies on partial areas.
By measuring the conductivity of the soil and taking GPS-supported soil-samples based on it, it was possible to identify nutrient deficiencies on individual partial areas. The targeted use of phosphorus stimulated the root growth of the plants, potassium improved their ability to regulate water and lime ensured optimum soil pH values. In order to be able to apply nitrogen fertilizers variably on the areas, the N-sensor of the company Yara was used. "By automatically adapting the fertiliser quantity to the nitrogen requirements of the crops in real time, environmental impacts such as nitrous oxide emissions and nitrate leaching could be reduced to a minimum," says Schneider. The application of growth regulators and fungicides was also regulated by sensors. By mounting P3 (Precision Plant Protection) sensors on field sprayers and self-propelled sprayers, farmers were able to save on pesticides without risking resistance.
The sensor-assisted use of fungicides and growth regulators can save resources and protect the environment.
All data generated by scanners and sensors were saved in the "agriCLOUD" and could be evaluated online by the farmers. According to Agricon, the effect of digitisation can also be expressed in figures:
The yields were increased across countries by 3 to 10 percent, with a simultaneous reduction in nitrogen fertiliser quantities of 12 to 20 percent. The use of spraying agents was minimized in a similar way and storage was almost completely avoided. This increased the threshing performance by an average of 16 percent. "In the two years in which the farmers were engaged in cloud-based arable farming, they were able to earn an average of around 130 euros per hectare more per year," says Schneider.
The knowledge gained from the EU-funded research project makes the agricultural engineers and computer scientists from Saxony optimistic: They want to bring "agriCLOUD" to market maturity as quickly as possible and to continue working with farmers throughout Europe. Only in this way can they incorporate practical needs into the optimisation of digital solutions and support them in mastering the challenges of the future.
Brussels supports sustainability
"Horizont 2020" is an EU funding programme for research and innovation with the declared aim of contributing to the sustainable development of society and the economy. "Horizon 2020" consists of three parts: "Excellence in Science", "Leading Role of Industry" and "Social Challenges". The last part focuses on food and food safety and sustainable agriculture. Smart Farming makes it possible to operate in a resource-efficient, climate- and environment-friendly way.
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