📌New call for project proposed by ESA Space Solutions & supported by ICT-AGRI FOOD project aims to stimulate the development of space enabled agritech value chain applications to tackle in a responsible manner the agricultural challenges
⏱️ 27 November 2020
During the last century, food production has seen technological breakthroughs such as mechanization (e.g. tractors) and chemicals application (e.g. fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc.). At the same time, new frameworks known under the common label of “intensive farming” emerged and transformed many farms through a process of mass production: the increase of fields size and yield, monoculture, battery cages and high volume slaughterhouses. These combined changes resulted in the supply of abundant and cheaper food volumes to accommodate demographic growth.
The situation nowadays is still challenged by world demographics where 11 Billion people are expected to have to be fed by 2100. But, in addition, it is now understood that intensive farming schemes have heavily neglected externalities, such as soil impoverishment due to intensive cultivation / heavy machinery or pollution of the aqua sphere due to high amounts of chemicals applied to the fields. The increased occurrence of food related pathologies and intoxications is suspected to be another externality of this current agricultural model. These externalities are now affecting the sector itself, as soils become less productive, neighbours and surroundings suffer pollution and loss of biodiversity, and farmers struggle with their finances (in 2017, European farmers earned on average just under half of what could be gained in other jobs).
This Kick-Start activity aims to stimulate the development of space enabled agritech value chain applications to tackle in a responsible manner the agricultural challenges of 21st century. Three key objectives are defined, in line with the new EU Common Agricultural Policy:
- Sustainability: agritech applications mitigating impacts on the climate and the environment, landscapes, biodiversity and producing safe and healthy food.
- Fairness: Ensuring decent revenues for farmers (especially those with more difficulties), rebalancing power in food chain, promoting rural areas and attracting young farmers.
- Competitiveness: develop the agritech sector through innovation, digitalization, new technologies, rural development and infrastructure, efficient advisory systems and continuous training.
This Kick-Start call is coordinated with the ICT-AGRI-FOOD project, a network of stakeholders (European Research Area Network – ERANET) from across the entire agri-food eco-system. The vision of ICT-AGRI-FOOD is to bring together primary producers, advisors, SMEs, food processors, food retailers, consumers, the public sector and researchers to enable digital technology solutions for a transition towards sustainable and resilient agri-food systems.
Given that agricultural activities spread over large and sometimes remote areas, the current Kick-Start activity considers space enabled applications in particular to address needs such as locating assets in the fields, monitoring crops status and providing reliable connectivity to farmers among others.
TOPICS OF RELEVANCE
- Climate change. EU agriculture represents 12% of all EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Climate responsible innovation should pursue objectives such as the reduction nitrogen application, the storage of carbon in soils and the efficient use of fuel powered machinery.
- Biodiversity and landscapes. The loss of biodiversity in Europe can be, in part, attributed to intensive farming practices. The preservation of diversity of nature and farmland is key to the balance of ecosystems and the economy of regional food products, so related to Europe’s identity.
- Soils. Every year, at world level, it is considered that the equivalent of a land area about the size of Greece of fertile soil is lost. Soil preservation and restoration techniques are known but generally not well monitored, which could be done through innovative solutions.
- Water. 70% of the world’s fresh water is consumed by agriculture . Protecting the aqua sphere through demand-driven and moderate use of chemicals and optimized irrigation are working solutions that can be supported by space based technologies.
- Healthy and nutritious food. European consumers are increasingly concerned by individual health and occurrence of major health crisis. The capability of new technologies to monitor and advice for specific crops and fields (rather than to apply generic processes) can increase the production of nutritious and healthy food.
- Disease prevention. As early as 1940 “scientific studies found that agricultural drivers were responsible for 50 percent of zoonotic diseases that emerged in human populations” and “that will likely increase as agriculture expands and intensifies”. Responsible farming should take into account this risk and mitigate it with appropriate monitoring techniques.
- Difficult living conditions. the average wage of a worker in agriculture is about half of the average wage in all sectors considered for an equivalent level of education. In addition the farming sector lives on minimal margins and is the recipient of the negative impacts of market fluctuations. The new EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) objectives are to re-balance this situation and space technologies can generate higher value for farmers.
- Path towards fairness. As of today, some European farmers see monitoring technologies (e.g. Earth Observation crop monitoring) as a means to monitor/control their activity so that they can receive related CAP subsidies. The utilization of satellite data integrated with other technologies should increase transparency and accountability in the sector and reduce the administrative burden on farmers. For example, the payment of CAP greening subsidies could be streamlined and would support small farmers in particular.
- Revitalizing rural areas. In the country side access to services, employment, social life and entertainment is more difficult and de-incentivizes young farmers. Innovation generating value in rural areas is a great mean to attract workforce, including young workers, and in particular digital technologies with proper training and adequate quality of services.
- Competitiveness. A path towards higher competitiveness is to embrace the challenges mentioned above with adapted technologies and to focus on innovative decision support systems providing knowledge to the farmer and all stakeholders of the value chain (e.g. operations optimization, strategic acquisition, marketing of farm products).
- Automation. Innovation in automation for agriculture has to face two major opportunities. The convergence of AI, big data and new generation electrical engines (such as those equipped in drones) opens a path for agile and smart robots to scout fields and perform complex tasks (e.g. harvesting berries, disease monitoring, …). Secondly, the progressive reduction of the use of chemicals has to be compensated with mechanical work (such as weed or leaf removal, more ploughing, …) that could be handled by smart machines.
- Forecasting. Food market fluctuations have a direct impact on the revenues of farmers. Forecasting climatic events, temperatures, precipitations, crop growth, yields and diseases outbreaks are key assets for farm managers to anticipate risks and implement mitigation actions.
- Systems Interoperability. A majority of farmers suffer from a lack of interoperability of their owned (or rented/shared) equipment and system (e.g. fertilization maps for Variable Application Machines or Farm Management Systems). However interoperability is key to boost competitiveness and increase performance and can be facilitated by Satellite Earth Observation reliable and consistent monitoring data.
- Data standards. Data sharing across the food chain requires agreed common standards. The lack of agreed data standards (such as farmer data ownership or business confidentiality) should be tackled as it fuels productivity losses.
- Training / E-learning. The penetration of innovation in the farming sector is closely entangled with adequate and regular training. A sustained effort with informing, e-teaching and training all farmers about challenges and potential solutions is required increase productivity, revenues and sustainable practices and to attract younger farmers or to-be-farmers.
VALUE OF SPACE
Agriculture activities spread over large and sometimes remote areas. Needs for locating assets in the fields, monitoring the crops status and providing reliable connectivity to farmers can be best fulfilled with a variety of satellites and relevant applications.
Earth Observation (EO)
Monitoring and forecasting the behaviour of food crops is best enabled by the unique capabilities of Earth observation imagery. Using multispectral bands data, also in the near and near-infrared and even SAR data allows to produce valuable maps of indicators (Vegetation Indexes) that are interpreted by farmers and agronomists. This information is key to detect anomalies such as sub-optimal growth, identify possible causes and propose appropriate solutions (e.g. need to irrigate a parcel more, to use less fertilizers on another one).
Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)
Location techniques are key for farm managers to manage their assets (tractors, implements,…) and their livestock while they are grazing. For semi or fully autonomous machinery and robots, GNSS is required to know accurately their positions. Location Based Services (LBS), relying on GNSS and augmentation systems are increasingly being fitted on tractors to drive precisely on field tracks and spray exactly at desired locations. LBS can be further extended for other activities, including those requiring additional geo-graphical resolution thanks to EGNOS (seeding, harvesting, autonomous robots, …).
Satellite Communications (Satcom)
SatCom based services are relevant to provide communication from/to sensor networks not reliably covered by terrestrial networks. Also, SatCom services are often purchased by farmers who want to access online services (e.g. online crop monitoring, weather forecast, e-training) but do not have adequate access to broadband terrestrial networks. The increase of adoption of UAVs by farmers pose the problem of uploading the acquired data to the cloud for processing which could be solved by latest generation of communication satellites.
The integration of space assets with other emerging technologies also holds strong innovative potential for Responsible Agritech. For example, the development of crop monitoring services or control systems, such as for land parcel management, requires the mobilization of expertise in crop modelling, agro-meteorology, sampling methods, environmental geo-spatial analysis, econometrics, and ICT infrastructure using European and global/distributed data infrastructures. Examples of emerging technologies are: Machine Learning, Data Cubes, Nanotechnologies, also Analysis Ready Data (ARD) and Application Ready Data (ARD+) approaches.
WHAT WE LOOK FOR
Kick-Start activities elaborate the business opportunity and the technical viability of new applications and services that exploit one or more space assets (e.g. Satellite Communications, Satellite Navigation, Earth Observation, Human Space Flight Technology). This call for Kick-Start activities is dedicated to the theme ‘Responsible AgriTech’, which means that the call is open to companies that intend to develop space-enabled AgriTech applications and services.
HOW TO APPLY
1. Register by completing the online questionnaire on ESA-STAR Registration (this provides for the minimum ‘light registration’).
2. Download the official tender documentation (Invitation to Tender) and create a ‘Bidder Restricted Area’ via EMITS from October 12th, 2020.
3. Write your proposal and obtain a Letter of Support from your National Delegation, if needed (see Authorisation of Funding section below).
4. Submit your proposal via ESA-STAR Tendering by November 27th, 2020 13:00hr CEST.
AUTHORISATION OF FUNDING
ESA Space Solutions can provide funding to perform Kick-Start activities to any company (economic operator) residing in the following Member States: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden.
Applicants must inform the National Delegation of the country they are residing in, in order to obtain a letter of authorisation allowing the funding of the proposed activity. Contact details of each national delegate can be found here.
Currently, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway and Ireland have pre-approved funding for this kick-start activity. Austria, Greece, Switzerland and United Kingdom are not supporting Kick-Start activities. Applications from any other Member State will require a letter of approval from their National Delegation.
Kick-Start activities are funded at:
- 80% by the European Space Agency for a maximum of €64K per contract for SMEs*
- 75% by the European Space Agency for a maximum of €60K per contract for non-SMEs
*SMEs, or ‘Small and Medium enterprises’, are defined here: EU recommendation 2003/361.