The goal of the pilot “open platform for improved crop monitoring on potato farms” is to assist farmers in making sense of the data they collect, specifically data from harvesting machine.
AVR Connect, the IoT cloud platform that collects data from AVR machinery (potato planters, trailed harvesters, and self-propelled harvesters), has been linked with WatchITgrow, VITOs crop monitoring platform that provides satellite, weather, and soil data, field registration, and precision agriculture tools, to achieve this goal.
The setup of automatic and standardized data exchange between both platforms using DEMETER AIM (Agriculture Information Model) standards has meant the farmer only has to go to AVR Connect, click the link to WatchITgrow and data synchronization will start.
Farmers can then visualize their yield maps in WatchITgrow, compare them with satellite images, soil maps or other available data layers, and learn from it. This way, they can get an idea of the yield potential of the fields and identify fields or zones within a field that need extra activities (irrigation, fertilization) to boost production. Through WatchITgrow they can create task maps for variable rate applications allowing us make use of DEMETER’s “Variable rate” component.
The yield data are also used to train a yield prediction model. As a result, we utilise DEMETER’s “Plant yield estimation” component. Farmers will also benefit from improved yield predictions for their fields.
The DEMETER solution was developed together with pilot farmer Jacob Van den Borne, a pioneer in precision farming. Jacob manages over 600 hectares of potato fields close to the border of Belgium and the Netherlands. He collects a lot of data from his fields and uses the data to optimize field activities. Jacob uses various platforms to visualize and analyze the data, including WatchITgrow and AVR Connect, which made him an ideal pilot farmer. We had several meetings with Jacob. First, to know what his needs were and how he saw the connection between the two platforms. Later, to test the developed solution and give feedback so we could improve it further. Finally, he used it during the 2021 harvesting season to check the yield variations in his potato fields and even found a new application! Due to the heavy rainfall in the summer of 2021, Jacob experienced serious damage to his fields. The extent of the damage was clearly visible on the AVR yield maps and the satellite images in WatchITgrow. Based on the yield maps, we were able to set a damage threshold on the satellite vegetation index and map the damage in the larger area. This information was shared with the insurance company and with the farmers’ organization. Indirectly, they also became stakeholders of DEMETER.
In 2021, we also started the development of a new yield prediction model, a purely data-driven model based on machine learning. In time, this model should replace the physical crop growth model that is integrated in WatchITgrow. The yield data collected during the 2021 season was used to train the model for the first time. However, developing a robust yield prediction model requires data from multiple seasons and multiple locations. The training will therefore be repeated each time new yield data become available.
Four additional farmers located in different parts of Belgium, France and the Netherlands have joined the pilot for the 2022 season. They will contribute with yield data from hundreds of hectares of potatoes on multiple soil types. AVR contacted the farmers themselves. They were already using digital tools such as AVR Connect and were excited to participate. In Belgium, the use of field work registration in potato fields is promoted by Belgapom, the association for the Belgian potato trade and processing industry.
After the 2022 harvesting season, the DEMETER solution will be made available to all interested WatchITgrow and AVR Connect users. A joint promotional campaign, including mailings and social media posts, will be set up by AVR and VITO to inform current customers/users about the new AVR Connect and WatchITgrow functionalities and to attract new users. The DEMETER solution will be demonstrated at trade fairs and in direct contact with customers, as well as at information sessions and workshops for farmers and other stakeholders such as contractors or advisors. In the short term, the solution will be promoted at the interpom trade show in Kortrijk (Belgium) from November 27-29, 2022, where AVR and VITO will have a joint exhibition stand.
The author of this article, Isabelle Piccard, is working as a senior researcher / project manager for VITO Remote Sensing in Belgium on the development of products and services for crop monitoring based on satellite data. She is one of the driving forces behind WatchITgrow, VITO’s crop monitoring platform that offers satellite, weather and soil data, field registration, and tools for precision agriculture