Key EU smart farming project claims advances in IoT interoperability, data sharing
The European Commission has published the results of its Internet of Food and Farm (IoF2020) project, one of three large-scale pilots it has funded in the agricultural sector as part of its Digitising European Industry (DEI) policy. It has delivered hard returns, around interoperability and effectiveness of farm machinery, and stands as an early reference library for the digital transformation of the whole farming sector.
Major DEI investments have also been issued to the healthcare, mobility, and smart cities markets. The other two Horizon 2020 smart agriculture projects, DEMETER and ATLAS, are at earlier stages. The “farmer-centric” IoF2020 scheme, launched at the start of 2017 with €30,000 of EU funding, brings together ‘agri-business’ and ‘advanced ICT’ suppliers, in a bid to accelerate the uptake of IoT solutions in the European farming sector.
The project has been driven by 33 use cases in five trials in five agricultural sectors: in arable, dairy, meat, vegetable, and fruit farming. Two open calls were issued; the first to expand smart farming use cases, and the second to introduce new applications and technologies into the mix. Both were geared to stimulate the digital-change ecosystem in the sector, and to achieve digital interoperability between farming sub-sectors.
The project has delivered concrete results, already, said the commission. Crossover between the arable, dairy and meat trials have been notable, apparently. Interoperability of farming equipment, often running different communications technologies, has also been overcome, to an extent. It has sought to show certain gains can be achieved, including a 10 percent in terms of yield, 10 percent in soil fertility, five percent in gross margin, a 10 percent reduction in fuel, plus total (100 percent uplift in) access to data, and a 25 percent jump in IoT ‘invest-ability’ for farmers.
Improved interoperability between agricultural machines, as a consequence of data sharing on open cloud platforms, has already delivered against certain of these, according to the early findings; specifically, the advances on fuel consumption and soil fertility. The Commission called it “excellent progress on the standards and interoperability” of [farm] machinery. The new ATLAS project, which is dedicated to machine interoperability, has followed from these results, to deliver on the other targets.
The key for the IoF2020 project, it said, has been the use of the FIWARE open-source cloud platform, which was born out of the separate Future Internet Public Private Partnership (FI-PPP) to accelerate ‘future internet technologies’ in the region and, again, to stimulate the digital ecosystem among enterprises, this time via a network of 16 accelerators and 1,000-odd small and mid-sized firms in the broad Industry 4.0 space.
European SMEs and startups using the FIWARE platform are worth about €330 million, including in agriculture, plus also cities, health, transport, manufacturing, and so on. The Commission said: “IoF2020 was not designed for data sharing, due to the fragmentation of sectors, regions and types of farming, but it did trigger the launch of other initiatives of the same kind…. [But] FIWARE has been substantial when carrying out use cases, as it promoted a fair and ethical data exchange governance between the parties involved.”
These other initiatives include the Flemish government’s Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO), which was already involved in a “data-intensive” IoF2020 use case for pig farm management. “ILVO saw the need to share agri-food data with mutual trust between different parties,” said the Commission. It built a “transparent and neutral” data-sharing initiative, informed by EU rules on data sharing in farming.
With EU money, ILVO subsequently launched the DjustConnect platform in 2019, as a public-private data-sharing initiative for the exchange and reuse of farming data. “The platform investigates technological and organisational means to assist businesses and farmers in achieving digital sovereignty; the ability to decide exclusively concerning the usage of data as an economic asset,” said the Commission.
Several governmental organisations and dairy companies have joined as data providers and consumers, seeing the potential to decrease the administrative burden in food safety and integrated chain monitoring. The platform is rolling out in other sectors. “DjustConnect [has] showed how to increase the economic resilience of farms and allow dairy farmers to act as data originators and providers, to participate in the data economy without losing control their data.”
The IoF2020 programme has enabled a “catalogue of solutions”, said the Commission. It now stands as a developing reference library, with reusable IoT components, for the digital transformation of the agriculture sector. “It contains descriptions of each solution, identifying each specific problem solved and details about its validation, with real stories from end-users who have adopted the solutions.”
But there remains work to do, notes the Commission. It said “The digitisation of agriculture will provide many benefits to the sector in question, such as reducing the impacts that farming currently has on the environment. But we are also likely to see some negative aspects of digitisation, due the ICT community still being very much in an over-selling mode and having the tendency to make claims that have not yet been validated.”