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Czech agriculture goes digital as science meets with farmers

Close collaboration between scientists, researchers and farmers has helped agriculture in the Czech Republic to take significant digital steps and increase its competitiveness, analysts told EURACTIV Czech Republic.

An increasing number of Czech farmers have embraced the idea of “producing more with less input” through the application of technology-based precision farming practices.

There are already about 250 milking robots in the Czech Republic. There are also automatic floor cleaners in cowsheds, which suck up the slurry and remove it. This progress is also visible in the Czech fields, with tractors connected to the Internet.

“Czech farmers are the world leaders in using these technologies. Approximately three-quarters of Czech farmers use some of the precision farming systems,” Veronika Hlaváčková, director of the Institute for Agriculture Education, said.

Precise equals ecological?

Analysts suggest that modern technologies will inevitably prevail in the agriculture sector and have a multidimensional role to play in reducing the use of pesticides and bureaucracy for audit authorities.

“We can dramatically reduce inputs thanks to robotization, especially the consumption of pesticides and water,” Vojtěch Kotecký, an environment protection expert, said, adding that robots apply much fewer herbicides and more accurately compared to conventional spraying.

“Although the Czech herbicide consumption fell by 19% between 2009 and 2016, robotics could bring result in even more dramatic drop,” Kotecký said.

The digitisation of the EU farming sector has become a priority for EU policymakers. The European Commission recently submitted to the EU member states a draft declaration titled “A smart and sustainable digital future for European agriculture and rural areas”.

According to the document, EU member states recognise the “urgency” to speed up the introduction of new technologies in order to address increasing challenges related to the environment, economy and society.

Scientists and farmers

The digital revolution in agriculture would never have been possible without research, development and its subsequent implementation. However, linking scientists and farmers is not an easy task.

“So far, the connection between the research sphere and agricultural practice has not been ensured. A number of research projects concerned areas that have not been very useful in practice or on the contrary farmers have been unable to get to useful research results,” Hlaváčková explained.

Almost three years ago, a Technology Platform for Agriculture was established in the Czech Republic, and Veronika Hlaváčková has been the main coordinator.

Thanks to the cooperation and direct communication between farmers and scientists, Czech agriculture is gradually being modernised and refined, she said.

“Over decades, Czech researchers in collaboration with major agricultural machinery manufacturers and Czech farmers have been the creators of many solutions such as sensors, soil probes and work algorithms that help to maintain or improve soil quality. And not just in the Czech Republic,” Hlaváčková said.

Modern technology in agriculture does not only mean the replacement of forks with robots and drones. New ways of growing plants are also being explored so that a crop grows while costs decrease.

The new technology is being tested first with pilot companies, so-called demo-farms, before engaging in the normal agricultural activity. One of them is Bureš Farm where the cultivation of supporting crops is tested.

“A total of 100 hectares of winter wheat are sown on demofarm and surrounding farms with a slug as an auxiliary crop. The stands are being closely monitored and the data are used to verify the research outputs,” said Jindřich Šmöger.

“In agriculture, the result is not visible from one day to another; it is a long-distance run. It is necessary to introduce new technologies in practice, first on smaller areas, then on larger and then of course in different conditions,” Šmöger added.

The potential

Miloslav Klas, the Director of the Agricultural Society Chrášťany, said there was great demand for precision agriculture.

“It is a dynamically developing field where many research teams, both foreign and domestic, operate. Precise farming methods and procedures begin to standardise and are finally prepared in such a way that they can be used effectively for their benefit by a large part of farms in the Czech Republic,” Klas said.

According to him, the development of precision agriculture is also boosted by the fact that most Czech agricultural holdings are led by university level experts.

“There is a new technological stage of agricultural production development ahead of us. It will bring many new opportunities, which would have been difficult to achieve before,” Klas concluded.

[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Sam Morgan]

 

Source: https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/czech-agriculture-goes-digital-as-science-meets-with-farmers/

Responsible innovation key to smart farming

The so-called ‘fourth agricultural revolution’ must provide social benefits and address potentially negative side-effects of agri-tech

— by University of East Anglia, UK

Responsible innovation that considers the wider impacts on society is key to smart farming, according to academics at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Agriculture is undergoing a technology revolution supported by policy-makers around the world. While smart technologies will play an important role in achieving improved productivity and greater eco-efficiency, critics have suggested that consideration of the social impacts is being side-lined.

In a new journal article Dr David Rose and Dr Jason Chilvers, from UEAs School of Environmental Sciences, argue that the concept of responsible innovation should underpin the so-called fourth agricultural revolution, ensuring that innovations also provide social benefits and address potentially negative side-effects.

Each of the previous revolutions was radical at the time – the first representing a transition from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture, the second relating to the British Agricultural Revolution in the 18th century, and the third to post-war productivity increases associated with mechanization and the Green Revolution in the developing world.

The current ‘agri-tech’ developments come at a time when the UK government has provided £90 million of public money to transform food production in order to be at the forefront of global advanced sustainable agriculture. Many other countries are also prioritising smart agri-tech.

This, combined with private investment from organisations including IBM, Barclays, and Microsoft, means that ‘Agriculture 4.0’ is underway, with technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics increasingly being used in farming.

Dr Rose, a lecturer in human geography, said: “All of these emergent technologies have uses in farming and may provide many benefits. For example, robotics could plug potential lost labor post-Brexit in industries such as fruit picking, while robotics and AI could enable better chemical application, saving farmers money and protecting the environment. They could also attract new, younger farmers to an ageing industry.”

Writing in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, Dr Rose and Dr Chilvers warn though that agri-tech could also have side-effects, bringing potential environmental, ethical, and social costs.

“In light of controversial agri-tech precedents, it is beyond doubt that smart farming is going to cause similar controversy. Robotics and AI could cause job losses or change the nature of farming in ways that are undesirable to some farmers. Others might be left behind by technological advancement, while wider society might not like how food is being produced,” said Dr Rose.

“We therefore encourage policy-makers, funders, technology companies and researchers to consider the views of both farming communities and wider society. We advocate that this new agricultural tech revolution, particularly the areas funded by public money, should be responsible, considering the winners, but particularly the potential losers of change.

Dr Rose added: “This means better ways, both formal and informal, to include farmers and the public in decision-making, as well as advisors and other key stakeholders sharing their views. Wider society should be able to change the direction of travel, and ask whether we want to go there. They should be able to question and contest whether benefits to productivity should supersede social, ethical, or environmental concerns, and be able to convince innovators to change design processes.

“Responsible innovation frameworks should be tested in practice to see if they can make tech more responsible. More responsible tech saves controversy, such as that surrounding genetic modification, ensures farmers and the public are behind it, and can help to deliver on the policy objectives.”

Original article: Agriculture 4.0: Broadening Responsible Innovation in an Era of Smart Farming

 

CSIC is evaluating the influence of ozone in the soil microbial quality

CSIC is using different approaches to evaluate the influence of ozone (O3) in the soil microbial quality.

For example, the biomass of the soil microbial communities is analyzed through the extraction and quantification of fatty acids from soil by gas cromatography (Pictures 1). In addition, the activity of microbial communities is measured thorugh different soil enzyme activities, such, urease, alkaline phosphatase and β-glucosidase (Picture 2), which are related to the cycles of nitrogen (N), phosphous (P) and carbon (C) in terrestrial ecosystems, respectively.

The results indicate that ozone may impact in the biomass of the soil microbial community, but also in the activity of soil enzymes. Ozone also enhanced the decomposition of soil organic matter and, hence, increased the content of water-soluble C and N fractions. In some cases, the greater availability of water-soluble compounds in treated samples can be responsible of the reduced enzyme activity by negative feedback mechanisms.

        

Picture 1. Process of extraction and separation of fatty acids from soil (left panel) and gas gromatograh utilized for measuring microbial fatty acids (right panel).

 

 

Picture 2. Examples of some soil samples utilized for analyses in AgRemSO3il (left panel) and colorimetric reaction for measuring soil phosphatase activity (right panel).