The role of open data in the evolution of precision agriculture

Fecha de la noticia: 05-12-2018

datos abiertos y agricultura

Advances in precision agriculture are considered one of the greatest hopes to solve the huge imbalance of food supply and demand that humanity faces in this century -various international organizations have been warning for decades about this problem-. There are many innovations in the field of smart agriculture that combine robotics, artificial intelligence and data management, open or not.

There are computer vision applications such as Agrio that can be run on the mobile to detect plant diseases early. There are applications such as Climate Fieldview that can decide the exact amount of water and fertilizer needed by the plants of each growing area on a farm. And some of these innovations are Spanish, like those created by the company Agrobot, a company from Huelva that markets its robots to pick strawberries from the United States.


All these cases have in common that they are based on adding robots and sensors to the existing process with the ultimate goal of improving productivity thanks to the possibilities opened by data science. In this scenario, open data has an increasingly important role to contribute to the improvement of decision processes in combination with the data collected by sensors and robots. Up to now, the commonly accepted limitation of this approach was the finite nature of arable land. In developed countries arable land even tends to decrease so it will not be easy to increase the productivity of the land as much as is necessary for feed humanity.

Recently, we have seen the case of a fully robotized autonomous farm that also has the peculiarity of being located indoors. The most innovative of this proposal from the Iron Ox is that it uses an interesting way of approaching precision agriculture, since it is based, not on adding robots to the farms, but on designing the whole farm and the processes around the robots, including the hydroponic cultivation system.

With this approach, the company says it is more sustainable than other precision farms because it has been designed to take advantage of the sun and only uses high efficiency LED lighting in combination with a hydroponic culture system that uses 90% less water than traditional agriculture. But the most surprising fact is that, according to their own words, they achieve a productivity per hectare multiplied by 30, in comparison with traditional farms.

Predictably, with this autonomous farm approach, huge amounts of actionable data are captured and we can apply algorithms to these data, for example for the detection of plant diseases. This allow make decisions to ensure that each plant that leaves the farm has the highest quality possible. However, it is questionable if the role of open data related to agriculture will be less important in this new approach.

Some scientific research already indicates that the future of smart agriculture can lead to two extreme scenarios: (1) one dominated by closed systems where the farmer is part of a highly integrated food supply chain or (2) another based on open and collaborative systems where the farmer and the rest of the members of the supply chain are flexible in the choice of business partners, suppliers and customers.

As is logical, the most interested in the closed scenario are the large corporations of agriculture sector. A higher development of platforms, standards and open data, and their promotion from the institutions are a fundamental counterweight to favor an open scenario.

That is why there are numerous public institutions, such as GODAN, the European Commission or the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), that are trying to actively influence through their defense of open data and financing of innovative projects based on data that serve to balance the momentum of large corporations and startups and their investors.

Institutional efforts regarding data governance, privacy or ownership are no less important. However, a higher availability of open data is not only necessary to meet the objectives of food security policies or production sustainability, but also to ensure a future where smart agriculture is based on openness and colaboration.

Content prepared by Jose Luis Marín, Head of Corporate Technology Startegy en MADISON MK and Euroalert CEO.

Contents and points of view expressed in this publication are the exclusive responsibility of its author.