I had the pleasure of attending the 1st National Workshop on Smart Farming and Data Analytics in Ireland (SFDAI 2019) at Maynooth University hosted Dr Peter Mooney and Dr Liadh Kelly this week ( 12 June 2019).
My role as a Software Architect for the IBM Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture meant I was well placed to join the workshop and help explore the opportunities for closer and more productive linkages between the farming and agricultural community in Ireland and the academic/research sector particularly in the areas of Data Analytics and Data Science.
We started in the morning with an overview of Smart Farming with both Darragh McCullough (Farmer, TV Presenter and full of passion for agriculture ) and Prof. Thia Hennessy ( Dean of School and Chair of Agri-Food Economics at Cork University Business School ) outlining their thoughts.
Meat-less Burgers and Automated Micro-dosing Weeder Robots.
Prof Hennessy emphasised how the “appropriate” use of technology has a role to play.
The question around what we eat, how its produced, where its produced, who produces it and how it is consumed all make up that decision process. Ever see the Beyond Meat plant-based burger patties. The initial one cost 30K US Dollars to produce, which is now down to 10 dollars or so. What will we eat in the future, and how will that inform how we produce it and how we manage the data that is involved in that!
The disruptive technologies in this area include robots, drones, 3d printing, sensors, Internet of Things, AI, Blockchain, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality to name a few!
Prof Hennessy talked about how the Netherlands has an emphasis on the digital ecosystem that is making it a leader in the EU Context. European policy as a whole has a greater emphasis on research and innovation rather than adoption. There is a need for Smart Agri-hubs. The aim to build a pan-European network of digital innovation hubs.
Huge opportunities exist! The ability to generate more data exists in the industry as a whole, the questions are how to make better decisions about how we use that data. In the Irish context, the demography and scale of farming is a barrier to widespread adoption in comparison to other geographies.
Darragh McCullough ( From RTÉ’s Ear to the Ground to a full-time farmer now ) gave a passionate talk about his experience as a farmer ( http://elmgrovefarm.ie ), from growing up with it to now been heavily involved in flower production as well as livestock. Humorously self-deprecating at times, an example being his desire to invest in a basic fertiliser spreader, only to visit the Netherlands to find their use of solar-powered micro-dosing autonomous weeder robots. As Darragh alluded to, these days we all need to up our game!
A particular interest to the Irish farming community, which has a large emphasis on cattle is the work done by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation ( ICBF) which maintains genetic data on millions of cattle regarding breeding, disease and much more. Darragh, a cattle farmer himself, talked about texting cows that have devices attached that indicate how they are doing, as well as the state of the art in milking machines. If it were not for Peter having to call time, Darragh would have continued on into the evening, and we wouldn’t have minded too much.
Data Governance, Privacy and Farm Data
In the early afternoon, we broke out into different workgroups led by Dr Aine O’Reagan of Teagasc, Dr Simone van de Burg of Wageningen University, Dr Peter Mooney and Dr Liadh Kelly both event organisers from Dept of Computer Science in Maynooth University.
I joined Dr Simone van de Burg in her workshop. Dr van de Burg works in the area of Ethics and responsible research and innovation in the Wageningen Economic Research Area of the university. These workshops are being done around Europe and are based on interviews with farmers and agri-workers in both Holland and Belgium. The question we had to discuss was how we should deal with farm data regarding data governance and privacy. Dr van de Burg asked what models are most appropriate in our opinions.
- The “I choose” model
- Data owners choose what happens with their data. Copa Cogeca ( Copa, European Famers * Cogeca, European Co-operatives), was setup as a united voice of farmers and their co-operatives in the European Union
- Data as a Digital Library (Hub)
- Where the management of the library develops the sharing policy. But who pays for it?
- Data governance should be settled by the market.
- Farmers and other businesses will share data when it brings them to benefit.
- The issues being competition, and the inequality of knowledge along with the big data divide.
- Data should be shared in the value chain
- Farmers shape their collaboration with the supply chain and the supermarkets. ( reduce waste, agree on the price )
Which one would you choose, if you were pushed to choose one? Personally, I think its a mix of them all and very dependent on the type of data involved and its eventual usage.
Using Military Grade Drones for Crop Management.
In the afternoon, Mr Aidan Magee from the National Center for Geocomputation, Maynooth University talked about drone technology and its use in agriculture. From UAVs to SUAs to LUAs, Aidan talked about the increasing restrictions on the use of drone technology in Ireland by the Irish Aviation Authority which is mirrored globally.
To name a few, any drone over 1kg has to be registered with the IAA, and cannot be out of your line of sight or extending past 300 metres. If you want to be able to do more, then you need to attend ground school training in order to prove that you have a need and the ability to use your drones for your business.
This training gives you a special access permit essentially and would allow you, for example, to send your drone on a route to get data on your crops that exceeds the normal distances.
The sensors that are available on these drone range from RGB cameras, multispectral sensors, hyperspectral sensors, thermal and infrared sensors and LIDAR.
To help plan your routes around your crops or count your herd as well as processing your images to create visuals, software exists like Pix4D, Photoscan and OpenDroneMap.
Stuff in Space, and how that “stuff” is changing how we work.
Dr Conor Cahalane from the Dept. of Geography in Maynooth University referred us to the website stuffin.space while giving his lecture on “Exploring Copernicus”. Stuff in space really is an appropriate term considering how much is actually up there and the range of its utility.
Harnessing the power of Weather: IBM and The Weather Company
As part of The Weather Company division and our decision platform, I am familiar with satellite imagery and the myriad of the challenges it poses. Dr Cahalane illustrated the difference between the weather satellites like Meteosat and the Galileo and Sentinel satellites that orbit our planet.
It is the near earth Copernicus Sentinel satellites that orbit close to the earth.
Sentinel-1 provides all-weather, day and night radar imagery for land and ocean services.
It is Sentinel-2 that gives us high-resolution optical imagery for land services. It provides, for example, the imagery of vegetation, soil and water cover, inland waterways and coastal areas.
Sentinel-3 provides high-accuracy optical, radar and altimetry data for marine and land services.
Sentinel-4 will provide data for atmospheric composition monitoring, and is due to launch in 2019, with Sentinel-5 also going to be dedicated to atmospheric composition monitoring.
You can use the Sentinel EO Browser at Sentinel hub to get images from of the planet. It’s good fun to play with.
Overall a great event with lots of interesting speakers, not all of them mentioned in detail here. Thanks for the team in Maynooth for putting this all together.