Smart sensors will help feed growing world population

The EU-funded ANTARES project is developing smart sensor and big data technologies that will help farmers produce more with fewer inputs and put Europe at the vanguard of the digital revolution in agriculture.

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


  Infocentre

Published: 11 October 2019  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Agriculture & foodAgriculture
EnvironmentClimate & global change  |  Land management  |  Sustainable development
Innovation
Research policyHorizon 2020
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Netherlands  |  Serbia
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Smart sensors will help feed growing world population

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© yanadjan #218038263 , source: adobe.stock.com 2019

Global population is rising fast – by 2050, it is projected to reach 9.8 billion, meaning the world will need to almost double its food production to feed its people. At the same time, agriculture is facing tough challenges including climate change, environmental concerns and land-use pressure.

The EU-funded ANTARES project is working at the forefront of a digital revolution in agriculture to address these challenges. The project is developing smart sensor and big data technologies that could help farmers produce more food in a way that is sustainable for society, farm incomes and the environment.

‘Currently, we do not understand all the scientific processes behind plant growth,’ says ANTARES project coordinator Vesna Bengin of the University of Novi Sad, Serbia. ‘Meanwhile, climate change is effectively wiping out hundreds of years of farm-based knowledge that’s been handed down the generations. Digital agriculture can boost knowledge and yields, reduce inputs and investment and increase resilience to risks like changing weather and price volatility.’

Sensors disguised as pebbles

The project’s innovative farm-based sensors are designed to gather as much information as possible. They include sensors mounted on robots that automatically travel around the farm, sensors attached to animals and plants, hand-held sensors and sensors like pebbles that are scattered on a field. They are capable of tracking factors such as soil moisture levels, monitoring plant health and detecting animal disease such as cow mastitis.

Project scientists are also gathering even more data from remote sensors using satellite imaging, drones and thermal and hyperspectral cameras. ‘We want to know everything there is to know about a plant, from the air, soil and water that sustains it, to the process of photosynthesis that goes on inside the plant,’ says Bengin.

The massive amounts of data are fed into big data machines, which interpret it using artificial intelligence. Tailored algorithms can then make precise recommendations to farmers. For example, an algorithm could tell a farmer exactly when plants need water, how much fertiliser is needed in any given field, or what crops to plant when and where. ‘A farmer with a 5 000-hectare farm can save EUR 1 to 1.5 million just by planting the right crops in the right place using the project’s algorithms,’ Bengin says.

Meanwhile, the farm’s environmental footprint can be reduced through ‘precision agriculture’. The algorithms can tell a farmer exactly how much nitrogen each plant needs to avoid nitrogen leakage into the soil, when pesticides are needed to avoid overuse and exactly how much water is needed to help the plant grow well and limit waste.

Helping farmers

To make their findings accessible to farmers, the project is developing an app called AgroSense. It allows farmers to track the real-time development of their crops from a computer or mobile phone, while also helping them plan their crops to maximise yields and profits.

The free app allows even small-scale farmers to access useful information gained from remote sensors such as the EU’s Copernicus satellite system. For example, a farmer might be able to understand why some fields are more productive than others, or see which crops work best where. Meanwhile, a larger farm with on-farm sensor technology could access very precise information on crop development.

‘Our unique approach has already been recognised on an international level as our scientists have won first prizes in a number of global-level competitions,’ says Bengin.

Project details

  • Project acronym: ANTARES
  • Participants: Netherlands, Serbia
  • Project N°: 664388 (first phase) 739570 (second phase)
  • Total costs: € 433 720 (first phase), € 14 003 473 (second phase)
  • EU contribution: € 433 720 (first phase), € 14 003 473 (second phase)
  • Duration: June 2015 to May 2016 (first phase), March 2017 to February 2024 (second phase)

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Project details: Phase One | Phase Two