Smart Agro: Crop monitoring via satellite

Mario Honrubiawaterenvironment

Two Smart Agro professionals join forces for a good cause

Erika Boehm, a German-Spanish agronomist, and Howar Vente, a Colombian agricultural business administrator are both passionate about agriculture and seek to help farmers develop their crops with the use of Smart Agro technologies.

When we talk about Smart Agro technology, we are referring to the digitization of the agricultural sector, from planting or cattle breeding to wholesale markets. Its goal is to make the use of scarce resources (water, energy, nutrients, etc. ) more efficient, reducing the environmental impact of production processes and transformation / marketing, improving the profitability of agricultural and livestock activities, producing healthier, higher quality food, and oriented to the tastes and preferences of consumers.

Currently, Erika and Howar specialize in agriculture 4.0. They rely on agro-digital tools, among which we can find satellite images and management software to implement technological solutions that improve the decision-making process and crop optimization.

They met 8 years ago in Colombia, working on technical assistance and training projects for small and medium-sized farmers and associations, in productive lines such as vegetables, aromatics, and tropical fruits, among others. They have participated in private and public projects advising, between Spain and Colombia, more than 500 farmers.

Regarding their work methodology, they try to integrate measurement equipment, GIS software and mobile sensors to improve data collection and analysis to support decision-making regarding early detection of disease risk, nutritional deficiencies, and irrigation requirements.

Both smart agro professionals have an open spirit, always looking for opportunities and open calls that allow them to carry out improvement projects, and agricultural counselling.

An innovative solution for crop monitoring

On this occasion, they contacted the management at Social Solver, a platform powered by the foundation Ayuda en Acción, via LinkedIn and took the opportunity to participate in the Crop Monitoring and Farmers Warnings challenge without hesitation. The challenge was to propose a technological solution for crop monitoring that would help farmers in the area in the Jetepeque Valley .

The Cajamarca Region is located in the north Andean zone of Peru, 856 km north of the city of Lima, capital of Peru. The province of San Miguel, one of the thirteen that make up the department of Cajamarca, is located to the southwest. The town of San Miguel de Pallaques is the capital of the province, has an approximate population of 3,124 inhabitants in its urban area, and is located 2,665 meters above sea level.

The relief of the province of San Miguel is extremely rugged and complex, with four hydrographic basins that flow towards the Pacific Ocean, and the presence of the Western Cordillera of the Andes, which reaches heights taller than 3,500 meters above sea level, make the province a territory where the slope and the rugged predominate.

Approximately 84% of the population of the province of San Miguel works in agriculture, which is carried out both under irrigation and rainfed. Even though the farmers produce mostly for their own consumption, the little amount that can be marketed is offered both in the local markets and in the main coastal cities that are closest (Chiclayo, Chepén, Trujillo, etc.), although there are some issues with the marketing of these products.

The solution proposed by Erika and Howar combines agronomic data and the use of satellite imagery to manage multiple crop fields. Producers face daily anomalies imperceptible to the human eye caused by uncontrollable factors such as water stress, nutritional deficiency, and alterations by insects or diseases that have a direct and significant impact on crop yields.

On this instance, as a current partner, they will work with the web and app support of the Agricolus platform to monitor and provide real-time information on what is happening in each crop. Likewise, the work with this platform will allow to carry out the digitalization of the plots, the access and review of meteorological data, and the estimation of vegetation indices to constantly monitor the development of the crops thanks to the normalize difference vegetation index (NDVI) and normalized difference moist index (NDMI).

How to spot and recognize which areas of the crops are healthy and which are not is not enough for decision making, so 2 apps will be used to specify the possible reasons why there are less productive areas. These apps will allow, with the help of the farmer in the field, to obtain first-hand information regarding the absorption of nutrients with Croptune, and the diagnosis of alterations due to diseases and pests with Plantix. Considering that the satellite information will be updated every 5 days, constant monitoring can be provided and farmers can take action in time.

In general terms, the proposed solution aims to improve the identification of areas of special attention, early detection of disease risk, and the optimization in the application of inputs.

The revolution in agriculture 4.0 is here to stay

After completing the master's degree in agriculture 4.0 at the Eniit school and having investigated the best ways for the farmer to access digitation, they realized that the simplest, most practical, and most affordable of all are the apps that can be downloaded in a smartphone. Currently, almost everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, regardless of age, on which, on a daily basis, they use apps such as WhatsApp, Google Maps , etc. We are already familiar enough with these devices, so working with agricultural apps was the most suitable and economical solution for this occasion.

Similarly, projects such as FATIMA, Rice Monitoring, are examples of the valuable tool that satellite information is to be able to carry out more precise and geolocated field work, early detection of anomalies and consequently cost reduction and greater control.

The present and future of Smart Agro in Spain and the world

According to the Spanish Association for the Digitization of Agriculture, Spain closed 2021 as the third country in the world in number of AgroTechs with 757, only behind the United States (2,896) and India (1,338). There are 10,562 worldwide, of which 47% are distributed between the US , India and Spain [1].

In addition, national firms offer more than 40 technologies to innovate, implement and digitize companies in the agricultural world. In the categories of management, digitization and monitoring tools we may find the following technologies:

Drones for crop monitoring

The use of drones in agriculture has grown considerably in recent years as part of an effective approach to sustainable management. Crop monitoring has been made easier by using this technology to plan and make continuous improvements. The data provided by the images taken with a drone, together with other data integrated into a data analysis and evaluation system allow [2]:

  • Characterization of the spatial variability in the hydric state of the crop.
  • Characterization of the spatial variability of the soil.
  • Characterization of the phenotypic response of the crop.
  • Characterization of the vegetative state of the crop.
  • Construction of 3D models of the grounds.
  • Early detection of pests and diseases.
  • Plant count to know the germination potential.
  • Planting dose prescription maps, precision irrigation, and variable fertilization

Sensors to implement IoT in agriculture

For their part, sensors for agriculture have paved the way for the digitization of farms. In fact, they detect fundamental data that make it possible to assess the health status of crops: followed by analysis and comparisons, they provide the possibility of planning specific interventions.

It should be noted that, although the monitoring of the parameters provided by drones and sensors has numerous advantages , they present a high cost for their implementation in multiple fields. In this regard, we pointed out that the challenge sought the implementation of a system with accessible digital technological resources, low cost and easy to use, which would allow monitoring 60 Ha in avocado in the districts of San Miguel, San Pablo and Contumazá - Peru, and generate alerts weather conditions; presence of pests and diseases, and the most appropriate time for agricultural work. For this reason, the use of the Agricolus platform is proposed as management software based on a web and mobile application to collect and analyze data from the farms linked to the project.

[1] PortalFruticola (01/2022): España, primer país europeo en número de AgroTechs.

[2] Corteva agriscience (): Drones en la agricultura: sus usos y beneficios