Precision agriculture - a down to earth perspective for sustainable agriculture
At SLU in Skara, a research group is working jointly on the research theme of precision agriculture. The challenge is to provide a basis for decision making that makes crop production more sustainable. With modern technology, information from open data sources complemented by local measurement data and in close collaboration with users, the group is taking great strides forward. Both nationally and internationally. Kristin Piikki is one of the researchers in the group.
Pioneering work in Skara
Precision agriculture is something that researchers at SLU in Skara have been interested in for the last 20 years. Today, interest has increased significantly and the research group is seen as pioneers in the field. Together they have contributed knowledge, smart applications and technical solutions that have made the it possible to put the basis for decision making into practice.
- We are seeing a clear increase in the interest of farmers. Now there is also technology that makes it possible to easily vary the distribution in order to optimally fertilise all parts of a field. To achieve sustainable production, it is crucial that we do the right thing in every place on the field. To do the right thing to an average extent is not enough, says Kristin.
Access to land data is crucial
A great asset to precision agriculture is the availability of land data from large open databases. Information on soil characteristics is a valuable basis for decision-making in agriculture in order to determine, for example, how much lime you need to add in order to achieve the correct ph value in the soil. SLU researchers have developed methods to complement global or national data with local measurements and developed web applications that enable the farmer to download data to the tractor and with the support of GPS technology vary the distribution in different areas of the field.
- Having the right basis for decision-making is crucial. What drives me is being part of the development and contributing with the data and knowledge that we need to cultivate sustainably.
Close collaboration with the users
For Kristin, environmental issues have always been important. An interest in biology together with a strong desire to have a profession that provides the opportunity to work outdoors affected her career choices. After finishing a PhD in biology at the University of Gothenburg, Kristin contacted SLU in Skara, where she currently researches practical applications with early involvement and collaboration with stakeholders and users.
- In the research group we have a good interplay between research and crop production. We work with authorities, advisors, companies, other researchers and interest groups such as Precisionsodling i Sverige (Precision Agriculture in Sweden). In this way we get feedback on the research we undertake from those who use the results practically and are able to get new ideas and wishes that can take technology and methods further, says Kristin. We have also been pursuing public-private partnerships for some years through the research environment Laboratory for Intelligent Agricultural Decision Support Systems (LADS) together with the Västra Götaland region and Dataväxt AB. We have had good help from SLU Holding to get the necessary agreements in place and get the business up and running.
The research group at SLU Skara also participates in several international projects and is collaborating with CIAT, The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, in an important and exciting project. With the technology developed by the researchers, the soil in Kenya and Ethiopia is examined primarily for the purpose of increasing and improving plant production in small-scale cultivation systems, but also to reduce the carbon content in the atmosphere by binding it in the soil.
- We use the technology we have developed for land surveying to see which areas are especially suitable for storing more carbon. When carbon is stored in the soil, the soil becomes more humus and more fertile. For the small farmers in East Africa this means an opportunity for larger harvests. With our support, advisers in both countries can provide facts and advice on binding atmospheric carbon into the ground as well on getting larger harvests.
Collaborating with those who need the knowledge
For Kristin, it is obvious to take the research out into society and let the knowledge serve as a basis for more sustainable decisions. Collaboration with users who benefit from the knowledge is a common thread in the work of Kristin and the team.
- Both basic research and applied research are of course needed, but if we want research to be quickly be of benefit, my advice to other researchers is to collaborate early with those who need the knowledge and will use it. It offers many benefits. We need to get the research results out and make them useful in practice. It is not enough to know how we can increase the sustainability of our food production, we must also apply the knowledge in order to achieve greater sustainability.
Agreements are valuable and important
Kristin's advice to researchers who want to go further and develop their ideas is to get help at an early stage when it comes to issues that you do not have a good grasp of or have competence in yourself.
- Above all, my advice is to early on regulate how the collaboration will look by writing an agreement that clearly shows, who does what, when the project is to be completed, what each party in the project owns and how much money will be invested in the project. Researchers are not experts on these issues, but these are important issues. That is why it is important to get help. We have contacted and received help from SLU Holding in several projects, says Kristin Piikki, SLU Skara.