Climate change, population growth, and over-cultivation have put great strains on modern agriculture.
In an age of mass food production, farmers are increasingly deploying smart agriculture techniques to maximise yields. Access to information that allows for effective responses to changing conditions on the ground has never been more relevant.
With the help of technical experts at the CEF Context Broker Building Block and FIWARE, Italy-based company Agricolus has developed solutions for Smart Agriculture. Its mission is to optimise agronomic practices by supporting farms and agricultural operators with easy-to-use and straightforward Agri Tech tools, such as DSS (Decision Support Systems), forecast models, innovative pest and disease control, and remote sensing tools.
Agrifiliera Pasqualini, an agronomic consultancy company, based in Italy's Veneto Region, is one of Agricolus' customers that have taken advantage of these technologies based on FIWARE's Open Source solutions. The company was hired by a 3000-hectare corn and wheat farm based in Italy's Lazio Region. During a soil inspection, experts identified rust in the wheat field. Wheat rust is a common disease that may cause yield losses of up to 50%. The early detection of the pathogen is crucial for an appropriate response. Still, it is difficult (especially in vast fields) because, at an early stage, the symptoms are not visible.
Agrifiliera was able to detect the disease thanks to a sudden drop of the Leaf Area Index (LAI), calculated from a satellite. The data received pointed experts to the exact area affected by the rust. They provided valuable information on crop health and development, which would otherwise have remained unknown because of the area's size.
The Agricolus architecture uses a micro-services infrastructure with components deployed in three different cloud platforms:
- Microsoft® Azure: for business logic, primary storage, and FIWARE components;
- ESRI® ArcGIS Online: for base maps and advanced spatial analysis functionalities;
- ONDA Dias: for the dedicated remote sensing stack, able to pre-process and process spatial data coming from satellites such as the Copernicus Sentinel 2.
Context Broker enables the communication between different modules and systems using standard communication channels. In addition, the usage of the NGSI-LD standard APIs allows data sharing.
The CEF Context Broker
Context Broker comprises two major software components: the Orion Context Broker component, which implements the core Context Broker functionality itself, and the Cygnus component, which complements Orion. Cygnus captures updates on context information managed by the Orion Context Broker and produces a stream of context data history stored into a specific persistent data sink storage, such as MySQL, MongoDB, Flink, or HDFS for further processing or CKAN for Open Data publication.
Context Broker provides the NGSI API, a RESTful API enabling applications to update and access context information. More concretely:
- Update context information, e.g., send updates on air quality data for a given district of the city, the weather forecast for a region, or the administrative record created for handling a request issued by a citizen.
- Query context information. The Context Broker stores context information updated from applications, so queries are resolved based on that information.
- Being notified when changes in context information take place (e.g., the air quality in a given street has changed) or with a given frequency (e.g., get measures of the traffic in a street each minute)
- Register context provider systems which the Context Broker can query to get the latest status of context, e.g., a system provided by the national meteorology agency which provides updated weather forecasts upon request
The Context Broker is a digital platform component that integrates gathered data from multiple sources, providing insights into different industries. It fosters creating a data marketplace in the Digital Single Market while reducing time and costs in developing context information solutions.
The optimisation of field irrigation, for instance, is now critical due to the impact of climate change and soil erosion. To address such issues, modelling and implementation techniques for precision irrigation have demonstrated the potential for saving significant amounts of water.
One of the critical aspects of these systems is integrating remote sensing applications, crop monitoring tools, and water requirement modelling in one single platform. The Agricolus water management solution uses a subset of these components, mainly relying on weather and soil sensors. In this case, the Orion Context Broker Generic Enabler integrates information from services, sensors, and other machines, breaking information silos.
What the future holds
Today's smart agriculture routinely uses sophisticated technologies such as robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial images, and GPS technology. These advanced devices and precision systems allow businesses to be more profitable, safer, and environmentally friendly. Working alongside the FIWARE Community, CEF's goal is to encourage more small and medium-sized farms to adopt digital solutions to optimise yields while minimising their impact on the environment. Helping farmers make more efficient use of their land is just one of the many ways digital tools such as the Context Broker can help in the EU's effort to become the world's first climate-neutral economy.
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