Representatives of the Flemish agro-food sector travelled on 1 March 2018, invited by ILVO, to the European stakeholders meeting of the European Horizon2020 innovative project IoF2020. They reacted positively to the stories and questions that they heard there. IoF stands for Internet of Farm and Food. More than 70 partners from 14 European countries work together on this project to create innovative systems that make agriculture data more accessible and easier to use, to increase the sustainability and efficiency of the sector. This application big data is meant to give clear ecological, economic, social or societal added value to actors along the length of the food production chain.
A variety of stakeholders show interest in the Internet of Things in agriculture
The Flemish stakeholders present in Almeria were Koen Carels (SALV), Maarten Claeys (staff member of a Flemish member of the European Parliament), Gus Verhaege (Flanders’ FOOD), Jonathan Sercu (Crodeon Technologies), Joachim Crombez (Proagrica), Jürgen Decloedt (VITO), Prof. Abdul Mouazen (UGent), en Caroline Thys (ANB). They joined 88 other European representatives from the agricultural sector and the business world. They were able to network with around 100 project partners of IoF2020 - not only researchers, but also participating companies and end users.
The goal? By attending workshops and debates, they would learn about the most recent IoT evolutions in the field of meat production, dairy farming, vegetable cultivation, fruit cultivation, and arable farming. IoT stands for ‘internet of things’. It means that both smart devices and sensors are connected to the internet in order to send the measured data automatically to the cloud, where this data can be used to make production processes more efficient. Moreover, the Flemish stakeholders were able to give their opinion and vision about the further elaboration of the IoF2020 project in the coming years.
Remarkable in the openings debate with Maarten Claeys (assistant of MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere), Joel Bacquet (European Comission, DG CONNECT), Quico Onega Lopez (EIP AGRI), Jack van der Vorst (WUR) and George Beers (WUR, project leader IoF2020) was the statement of the high importance of clearly showing the added value of the innovations of the IoF2020-project to the outside world. The positive impact on the efficiency of the company and the product quality must be emphasized in order to convince farmers, consumers and other stakeholders of the necessity of using IoT technology in the agricultural sector. According to Maarten Claeys, such technology can create a bridge between food security and the environmental impact of food production, and can contribute to the profitability of agricultural and horticultural businesses. Claeys also points out that it may be useful to make IoT applications in agriculture comprehensible to the general public in order to support their inclusion in practice.
Caroline Thys (senior strategy advisor of the Flemish Agency for Nature and Forest, ANB) also thinks it is important to be up to date of the most recent technological developments in the agricultural sector, since farmers are one of the most important group of stakeholders from the ANB. Thys: "IoF2020 also teaches us that many interesting IoT applications are conceivable in agricultural nature and forest management."
Koen Carels (SALV secretary): "It is useful and necessary that SALV was present at the IoF2020 event: IoT applications can make a major contribution to meet the many challenges of society (fair income, climate, biodiversity, environmental goals, transparency and cooperation in the agro-food chain, etc.) which agriculture currently stands for. We are only at the beginning of exploring the possibilities. All agricultural sectors and all forms of business, large or small, with a long- or short-chain marketing strategy, are included. This is not just for technology freaks; this is for everyone. We can not miss this train. That is why IoF2020 is so important.”
Europe is clearly committed to precision farming and innovation. As an extension of the current € 25 million IoF2020 budget, it has been decided to invest an additional € 5 million in new cases, new technologies and new regions. Both the current project partners and the stakeholders present in Almeria were asked to help shape the selection criteria and the potential topics. The call for candidates to companies, end users or IoT developers is expected to come by June 2018.
Visiting smart greenhouses
To make the concept of Internet of farm and food visually clear, the Flemish attendees could visit a specific new application of the Internet of Things in tomato cultivation. Almeria is known for the acres of greenhouses where mainly tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini are grown. The visitors learned how crop growth and the greenhouses are monitored via innovative IoT sensors. With this system, the use of water and pesticides can be reduced, water pollution can be minimized and the production cost of greenhouse crops can be lowered.
Jonathan Sercu, founder of IoT company Crodeon Technologies from Kortemark, found the stakeholder event and greenhouse visit a great opportunity to get to know IoT applications in agriculture, and he sees the potential: "We developed and market an innovative solution to monitor the operation and use of irrigation reels and to improve their efficiency. Our solution is very much in line with the IoF2020 vision and the innovations developed in this project."
According to Jürgen Decloedt (business developer VITO) additional potential can be reached using the proposed IoT technologies if they are connected to other innovative remote sensing technologies such as drone applications and satellite images. Decloedt: “I took home lots of interesting contacts, plus I have gained new ideas that I would like to develop into concrete applications".
Also Gus Verhaeghe (innovation manager Flanders’ FOOD) sees the potential: “Big data can be very interesting for the food processing industry. That is why it is interesting to take the needs of the food industry in future innovations into account, and to find out which interesting data and opportunities the new IoT technology has to offer for food processors."
Abdul Mouazen (professor UGent) sees as well interesting applications for IoT sensors with a high resolution to be able to cope with the large variability that arises in agricultural crops. According to him, natural resources and resources can be used more efficiently with such technology.
ILVO in IoF2020
ILVO is involved with IoF2020 as partner and, together with Biosense (Serbia), as manager of the 19 use cases in the project. Moreover, ILVO is developing two cases: one about tracing meadow grazing in dairy cattle in collaboration with the Ghent-based company Sensolus and research institute INAGRO, and another one concerning optimization of management in the meat pig sector in association with the Leuven company Porphyrio, VION (NL), ZLTO (NL) and ISMB (IT).
Jürgen Vangeyte, Scientific Director, Agricultural Engineering & Precision Agriculture research area
Jurgen.Vangeyte@ilvo.vlaanderen.be, M +32 499 593 673
Greet Riebbels, Head of Communication at ILVO, Greet.Riebbels@ilvo.vlaanderen.be, M +32 486 260 014