Smart organic farmers are the future
The Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) is testing digital technologies for sake of sustainable agriculture
The Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) is the only independent Hungarian organization specifically dealing with sustainable agriculture. ÖMKi is starting a number of projects focusing on how digital technologies can be used to promote organic farming practices. The planned research activities also include using soil scanners and soil sensors, which is in line with the objectives of the Digital Agricultural Strategy (DAS). “The digital revolution will soon radically change agriculture. Smart organic farmers are the future. Through our new research projects we aim to develop new precision farming practices to help (organic) farmers achieve an even more sustainable production.” – said Dr. Dóra Drexler, director of ÖMKi.
The Digital Agricultural Strategy (DAS), which the Hungarian government accepted on 1 August 2019, pays special attention to the development of the digital competences and skills of farmers in the forthcoming years. This is a prerequisite for applying digital agricultural technologies. Dóra Drexler thinks that precision practices may put an end to the current stereotypes related to agricultural production: “The farmers of the future need to change the practices of their predecessors. They need IT competences since they will have to work with precision machinery and digital data, which they will use to make their decisions. Accordingly, our concept of farming will also fundamentally change in the near future” she said.
Today, GPS guided tractors and soil mapping based precision nutrient supply are used worldwide, and the use of drones in precision plant protection is also developing rapidly. However, so far digital technologies have been applied mostly on conventional large scale farms. ÖMKi’s objective is to elaborate how precision agricultural equipment can support organic farming in practice. “The basic principle of organic farming is not using chemicals to solve a problem, but to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place. For example, one of the most important tasks is to protect the fertility and the quality of the soil. With this in mind, our projects will primarily focus on testing digital devices used for soil monitoring and analysis.” continued Drexler.
In frame of the Internet of Food and Farming (IoF) project, ÖMKi is helping to test an artificial intelligence based smart device system innovated by the startup Solarvibes, located in Berlin. The main development activities are focused on a solar-powered group of sensors gathering data for the artificial intelligence module, which can elaborate site and plant-specific agrotechnical recommendations to achieve optimal yield levels by mitigating risks related to the farmer’s decisions on the timing of sowing, nutrient supply or harvest activities. ÖMKi is allocating 500 devices to Hungarian farmers through its on-farm partner network. In another of ÖMKi’s ongoing projects soil analyses are to be carried out using a VERIS soil spectrophotometer operated primarily in the Csoroszlya organic farm in Szár. In this case researchers will analyze changes in the carbon content of the soil, or in other words its organic matter supply. Thanks to the scanner, the soil-related impacts of different organic soil management methods can be monitored much more accurately than before. In the third project – funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) – the ÖMKi researchers will analyze data collected from areas of organic and conventional cultivation in cooperation with the Hungarian GeoAdat Ltd. by using and validating Sentinel satellite images.
“Digital technology will not replace the need for human intelligence in agriculture, but it will facilitate more efficient decision making, and will make work easier. It will also make agriculture more attractive to young people. In addition, it is expected that special attention will be paid to digital technologies in the agricultural support systems in the future. By elaborating useful practices not only the competitive edge but also the sustainability of agriculture can be enhanced.” said Drexler in summarising the importance of the projects.
The Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) works on research-innovation tasks leading to practically implementable results, thus guaranteeing the sustainable development of agriculture and food production in Hungary. To this end, the organization develops professional networks in cooperation with Hungarian and international research institutes and farmers, carries out research and information activities, and provides technical advice. Its oldest project called “On-farm research network” won the Agricultural Development Prize at the 78th National Agriculture and Food Exhibition and Fair (OMÉK) and also the E.on Energy Globe Award in 2018, and it is the only Hungarian project carrying out research in close cooperation with farmers by applying a practical approach to sustainable agriculture. The on-farm research method covers simple experiments conducted in real-life situations on operating farms adapted to the production objectives defined by the farmers. The subjects of the experiments have been elaborated together by ÖMKi and the participating farms since 2012. The organization’s work has also been acknowledged by the Association of Environmental Enterprises through the charter called “For the protection of the environment” in 2019.