For fields, food or wine, increasingly connected farms

Las Vegas (United States) (AFP) – From their phone, a farmer can now monitor the health of their fields, the level of food in their silos or the maturation of wine in their barrels on increasingly connected farms.

At the premier electronics show CES in Las Vegas, January 5-8, start-ups and agricultural giants are offering numerous tools to collect data, analyze it and help operators make decisions.

Olivier Lépine, head of the French start-up Brad, has thus developed a sensor to be planted in the plots, which provides real-time information on temperature, humidity and light.

Farmers can, based on the collected data, decide when to irrigate, how to reduce the use of products, how to care for the soil, etc.

It is also a way to save them time, as they no longer have to go through all their parcels.

Farmers, especially younger ones, “want to have an impact, but they also want to have quality of life”, comments Olivier Lépine.

South Korean start-up AimbeLab investigated silos containing animal feed.

Farmers often “hit the silo with a hammer to figure out, based on the noise, how much is left,” says Sein Kwon. “Not very accurate.”

The probe proposed by the company assesses the quantity of stocks but also their condition, which allows the operator, and the company that sells the food, to better anticipate deliveries and thus reduce travel.

herbicide savings

The American start-up Simple Labs offers a sensor that measures the temperature, humidity, pH and phenolic content of wine (an organic substance likely to alter the taste) in a barrel to control its maturation.

The French company Meropy is showing a wheel with several legs that moves in the fields to detect, thanks to cameras that take pictures above and under the foliage, the presence of weeds, pests or diseases.

SentiV, the robot designed by French start-up Meropy to detect weeds, pests or diseases © Robyn BECK / AFP

New technologies in agriculture often arise “either out of an urgent need, to respond to a disease, for example, or the search for more efficient practices,” notes Amit Dhingra, professor of horticulture at Texas A&M University.

For David Friedberg, head of the Californian investment firm specializing in agricultural technologies The Production Board, it is simply necessary “more calories per hectare with less inputs”, such as fertilizers or pesticides, thanks to genetics, automation or data mining.

What agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere aspires to.

In the huge arms of the American agricultural giant’s sprayers, cameras were installed every meter and very powerful processors that, driving at 20 km/h, detect weeds and only send herbicide if necessary. “You only spray about a third of the field and save on herbicides,” says Jorge Heraud, automation manager at John Deere.

overloaded with data

The group has also developed an “Operations Center” available on the computer or on the telephone that allows the farmer, thanks to the data collected by multiple sensors on the tractors, to have real-time information on their location, engine performance or curves with weeds, but also to compare yields between two different seeds.

“The farmer can look at the map and understand which part of the field he needs to manage differently”, explains Lane Arthur, product designer. “It’s good for saving money, it’s good for the environment”.

“Agriculture, like all industries, is going digital,” says Vonnie Estes, an innovation expert at the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA).

The exploitation of data, combined with the automation of certain tasks, can solve problems linked to the shortage of labor by knowing how employees are distributed on the farm, for example, those linked to waste by tracking the traces of food sent to the stores, or those linked to climate change, reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.

“It’s not perfect,” comments Vonnie Estes, referring to the sometimes faulty internet network in the field, which prevents real-time analysis of the data.

Another risk, in his opinion: the abundance of data, spread across applications that still don’t communicate much with each other, could end up overwhelming farmers.

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