This opportunity provides funding to European teams who would like to develop a service related to Connected Agriculture. Funding will be provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) for 6-month projects called ‘Kick-Starts’, which can lead to larger scale Demonstration Projects and Feasibility Studies. Kick-Starts are 75% funded by ESA for a maximum of €60K per contract. Proposed services must use satellite data or space-based technologies. Please see the ‘Authorisation of Funding’ section below to check whether your team is eligible for funding.
The agriculture sector is facing many challenges including the environmental pressure related to climate change and loss of biodiversity, sustainable and efficient management of resources such as water, soil and energy, an aging farming population in some countries and the shortage of farm labour. The lack of a digitally-skilled workforce is also slowing down the modernisation of the sector.
In March 2022 the German government classified the agricultural and food sector as a systemically important infrastructure. Responding to this decision, the German Federal Office of Agriculture and Food (BLE) stated that a functioning agriculture infrastructure, including logistics and communication facilities, must ensure short- and long-term food supplies. Reliable communications and digital technologies are key elements in supporting the sustainable transformation of the agriculture sector.
There are still many European rural households which have only limited or unreliable internet connectivity. This connectivity gap is unlikely to be solved in the near future by terrestrial networks as these infrastructure projects require a significant leadtime and are expensive. The digital divide between connected and disconnected farms and economically small and large farms must be addressed quickly to unleash the potential of new innovative solutions in the agricultural sector, including irrigation, chemical spraying, seeding, or weeding and their full or partial automation.
TOPICS OF RELEVANCE
Below are some relevant topics that have been identified for this Kick-Start.
NEXT GENERATION FARM MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Today, Farm Management Systens are bespoke software tools addressing specific issues within the farming value chain, such as harvesting and selling, planning ahead and accounting for required resources, managing the day-to-day operations, etc. As a result, information is scattered across different platforms, and is not always easy to interpret and access.
Next generation farm management systems will offer a one-stop shop solution to monitor and support decision-making throughout the farming process and its value chain. By only recording all the farming data in one place and integrating external data sets such as meteorological information, these systems will optimise all farming-related processes and provide business insights which would be otherwise impossible to generate.
To integrate data from the farm supply chain, seamless and ubiquitous connectivity is required and this creates an appealing market opportunity for establishing innovative satcom connectivity packages tailored to the farming sector. For example, including data links to enable Real Time Kinematic positioning, drone images uploaded in addition to internet access. Digital solutions such as AI, cloud computing, analytics platforms are key elements in supporting the next generation of FMS and reducing the technology gap between small and large scale agriculture. The market for these digital solutions is growing at a substantial rate and this calls for major changes, not just in farm management, but also in their business models and processes.
SMART LIVESTOCK AND STABLE MONITORING
Population growth has resulted in a growing global demand for livestock products. Livestock farming practices are mostly intensive in Europe with high yield of the various commercial outputs (e.g., meat, eggs, milk, fur, leather and wool) but this also impacts negatively on animal welfare, the environment, and public health. For example, the livestock sector is a major contributor to climate change as it is estimated that the sector emits about 18 percent of the total anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Moreover, the resilience of the livestock management practices is questionable in many countries and in the Netherlands recently cattle excrement has triggered several environmental challenges.
Increasingly automated livestock monitoring requires technical upgrades, for which enhanced connectivity is vital in order to deliver higher yields, lower costs and greater resilience and sustainability. As a first consideration, for smart livestock monitoring, individualised feeding and animal care plans could be devised based on connected body-sensor data and movement tracking, aimed at detecting illness and providing each animal with the optimal feed and medicine mix to improve its health.
Another consideration is related to the monitoring of stables with tools such as video cameras and in situ sensors to reduce manpower effort and offer the possibility to manage stables located in isolated rural areas remotely. This would require a reliable internet connection in order to be able to operate and monitor them from the main farmhouse. Such stable management systems could be complemented with location tracking of the animals while they graze, and/or by providing location evidence which is needed to validate their certificate of origin. Stables aiming to have a greater level of autonomy could rely on edge computing to perform most of the required tasks and use narrowband connectivity. Such connectivity can be provided with IoT solutions, including Integrated 5G terrestrial satcom solutions. In the medium tolong term, the emergence of robotic cattle dogs could provide a technological breakthrough that would benefit from the use of satcom and satnav.
PRECISION FARMING AND AUTOMATION
Precision farming makes use of high accuracy tools and techniques to optimise farming activities. In the field, farming vehicles, tractors and associated equipment connected to the tractor can perform tasks such as sowing, fertilising or harvesting with high precision, thanks to innovative geo-positioning techniques. Recently, the reduction of Nitrogen application has been a focus of attention (especially in the Netherlands) and precision farming is recognised to be a major asset in reducing the application of fertilisers. The clear need to reduce herbicide application (e.g. Glyphosate directive) can also be supported with precision herbicide spraying or weeding.
Autonomous machinery can bring several benefits in the farming sector. It can perform repetitive and heavy tasks, operate in a closed and securable environment and cannot be threatened by harmful practices such as chemical application. These machines and robots can perform targeted interventions based on connected sensor data, GNSS data and imagery analysis, optimising the use of resources and reducing human labour interventions.
The use of drones or robots often requires reliable communication links combined with positioning techniques. New solutions can also involve semi-automated tasks where the user can make use of augmented or virtual reality tools to support his/her work, and these techniques rely heavily on broadband connectivity. Drone surveillance and remote interventions based on image analysis and connected data communicating with the drone are a cost-effective remote monitoring practice, enabling remote interventions and reducing losses from pests.
FARM MACHINERY MAINTENANCE MANAGEMENT
Farmers are operating multiple equipment, from heavy machinery, such as tractors to smaller equipment such as tillers and cultivators. Effective maintenance of farm equipment is critical in keeping up with the demands of agriculture. As a result of the high cost of farm equipment and in order to avoid unplanned downtime, it is important to take a proactive approach to the management of farm equipment maintenance.
Predictive maintenance and remote maintenance techniques can be applied to improve the performance of the equipment and extend its lifetime, as well as decreasing the risk of accidents or other threats. These procedures can save precious up-time which might be crucial during harvesting season and save money by avoiding costly travels. If the repair and maintenance is carried out remotely, the specialists can diagnose and solve issues by deep diving into areas, monitoring work progress and opening issues remotely.
Technicians repairing or maintaining farm equipment rely on a stable internet connection for data and video transmission in order to diagnose issues, run tests and intervene as often as required. The implementation of digital twins of most valuable tractors can be a useful technology tool to anticipate issues and guarantee maximal availability of the tools to the users. Such twins can be stored in the manufacturer’s database and be regularly updated with narrowband reliable transmissions.
VALUE OF SPACE
Proposed services must use one or more space assets. Some examples of space assets are provided below.
- Satellite Communications (satcom) will provide broadband connectivity to farms which are not served by terrestrial means or where the Satellite Internet Service Providers (S-ISP) offer is more attractive. Satellite communications will provide the link required to monitor and manage remote cattle stables and perform remote farming equipment maintenance of with bandwidth requirements that may vary. Such links can be also utilised for autonomous automations such as farming robots or drones as primary or redundant communication means and in Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) scenarios. Satellite narrow-band services and Satellite Internet of Things (S-IoT) are currently providing affordable and efficient data transfer solutions for various needs such RTK and other position augmentation techniques for guiding tractors and machines and collecting data from in situ field sensors (e.g. soil salinity, moisture, local rain). The use of satellite communications is highly encouraged for this call.
- Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) use in the farming sector can be increased from its current application in modern farming machines – for seeding, ploughing, harvesting – to become an enabler of autonomous or semi-autonomous machines. This is particularly true for tasks that require high precision treatments, journeys between parcels and farmhouse and safety concerns.
- Satellite Earth Observation (satEO), and in particular the Sentinel data, provide a wealth of information that has been stimulating the emergence of Smart Agriculture as a viable alternative to intensive practices. There is still untapped satEO potential that can be harnessed to serve Connected Farmers, such as the use of Satellite Radar Data (SAR) to monitor biomass, the monitoring of air pollution levels that may be caused by or affect the sector and the monitoring and management of new farming practices such as carbon sequestration, organic farming and agroforestry.
WHAT WE LOOK FOR
Kick-Start activities explore 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 Spaceflight Technology).
This call for Kick-Start activities is dedicated to the theme of ‘Connected Agriculture’, which means that the call is open to companies that intend to develop space-enabled applications and services relating to the digitalisation and sustainability of the agricultural sector, mostly in Europe but also beyond.
HOW TO APPLY
- Register by completing the online questionnaire on esa-star (this provides for the minimum ‘light registration’)
- Visit esa-star publications and search for this opportunity to download the official tender documentation. Official documents will include proposal templates, a draft contract, and additional information about this opportunity.
- Use the official documents to write your proposal and obtain a ‘Letter of Support’ from your National Delegation (if needed - see Authorisation of Funding section below).
- Submit your proposal via esa-star Tendering by the deadline.
AUTHORISATION OF FUNDING
ESA Space Solutions can provide funding to carry out 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, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Germany and Luxembourg have pre-authorised the funding to this call. Contact details of each national delegate can be found here.
Kick-Start activities are 75% funded by the European Space Agency up to a maximum of €60K per contract.
Sign up for our webinar on 24 May 2023 at 11:00 CEST via the register button at the top of this webpage.
- Olivier Becu, Business Applications Manager at European Space Agency (ESA).
- Dr Robin Ghosh, German Space Agency at DLR, Dept. Innovation and New Markets, Coordinator INNOspace Initiative & Project Lead Space2Agriculture
- John Lewis, Network Management Space2Agriculture