Growing rice with help from satellites and smart technology

Farmers and agricultural authorities are now able to efficiently monitor rice fields, forecast future yields and identify potential threats to harvests of the world's most important staple crop thanks to cutting-edge technologies developed by an EU-funded project.

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Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Botswana
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Gambia
  Georgia


 

Published: 30 January 2018  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Agriculture & foodAgriculture
EnvironmentEarth Observation
Research policySeventh Framework Programme
Space
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Greece  |  Italy  |  Spain  |  Switzerland
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Growing rice with help from satellites and smart technology

Map of within-field spitam variability of rice, derived from WorldView-2 HR imaginery

© CNR-IREA; Produced using products © DigitalGlobe, Inc. (2015) provided by EUSI under EC/ESA/GSC-DA

Working with farmers in the EU’s largest rice-producing countries, researchers from the ERMES project have deployed services using Earth observation, meteorological and locally sourced data to provide rice growers with detailed information about the status of their fields.

The system – which also enables public authorities to more efficiently monitor regional production – has been tested in Italy, Spain and Greece, which account for 85 % of Europe’s total rice production, and could be extended to Asia and Africa where rice is by far the most important food resource.

“We focused on producing high-quality, near real-time data services and digital maps aimed at allowing public authorities to perform regional-level crop monitoring activities in a more efficient way and provide local farmers with detailed information concerning the status of their fields for precision agricultural applications,” says ERMES project coordinator Mirco Boschetti of CNR-IREA in Italy. “These services can mitigate the risk of crop diseases and support sustainable practices that reduce the environmental impact of farming rice and other crops.”

Fine-tuned farming

One ERMES application, the Local Rice Service, is providing farmers and insurers with crucial information on crop variability within fields, as well as risk alerts and damage assessment at individual farms. The service also helps farmers determine the most suitable periods and locations for fertiliser and pesticide application. This enables a fine-tuned approach to the use of agricultural chemicals that will minimise the risk of harm to the environment and reduce production costs, increasing efficiency and competitiveness.

“The need for nitrogen fertilisation is a major expense in rice production, typically accounting for 15 to 30 % of total production costs,” Boschetti says. “Proper management of nitrogen fertilisation and pesticide use is also essential to avoid negative environmental impacts and to help farmers comply with European agricultural and food safety policies focused on promoting more environmentally friendly and safe farming practices.”

The ERMES project also addressed the needs of public administrations, particularly regional authorities, to support their role in monitoring agricultural production.

The Regional Rice Service collates satellite images with crowd-sourced information from farms to produce detailed online maps of production, including giving agricultural inspectors and farmers the ability to geo-tag and annotate photos of crops.

In Italy’s Lombardy region, for example, this data is currently being used to generate fungus risk bulletins for the agricultural industry in order to support a more rational and careful use of pesticides.

“At the regional scale, ERMES services have been used both as a platform to perform expert-based crop monitoring and as the basis for producing customised added-value information, such as biotic risk and yield forecast bulletins, as well as near real-time flooding maps,” Boschetti says. “At a local level, farmers in Italy and Greece have created maps for nitrogen fertilisation plans, which were then used to manage their fields, enabling both economic savings and more environmentally friendly management.”

At the cutting edge

The services use a number of cutting-edge technologies, especially Earth observation data from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus programme that includes high-resolution imagery from the advanced Sentinel SAR satellites. This is integrated with crop modelling information, meteorological data and in situ observations utilising automated data processing and data integration technologies. The results can be visualised and analysed via interactive online portals and mobile apps, enabling rapid and easy access to the information in the field.

The ERMES system is currently being further developed through several follow-up projects, including a European Regional Development initiative to support precision farming and tests of IT solutions and remote sensing products by Italy’s largest agricultural group, Bonifiche Ferraresi. Italian insurers, meanwhile, are aiming to include ERMES data in operational workflows for crop monitoring and damage assessment.

Beyond Europe, the solutions are also being put into practice in South East Asia as part of the RIICE initiative, a public-private project aimed at utilising satellite technologies to boost food security and mitigate crop losses aggravated by climate change.

Project details

  • Project acronym: ERMES
  • Participants: Italy (Coordinator), Switzerland, Spain, Greece
  • Project N°: 606983
  • Total costs: € 3 356 866
  • EU contribution: € 2 477 583
  • Duration: September 2013 to March 2017

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