Water is a critical resource in South Africa, which challenges the agricultural sector to reduce irrigation water consumption while keeping production sustainable. Adequate information on the crop water, growth and nutrient status is crucial to improve water management.
The FruitLook pre-operational service demonstrates to Western Cape grape and deciduous fruit farmers the benefits of integrated satellite technologies in their daily water and farm management. The FruitLook project is a follow-on of the GrapeLook project (2010-2011) and makes the pre-operational service freely accessible to all potential users during the 2011-12 growing season through the www.FruitLook.co.za data portal.
The IAP (ARTES element 20) GrapeLook Demonstration Project executed during the 2010-2011 growing season highlighted the benefits of a pre-operational service to assist the grape sector in South Africa with the management of water and inputs. The current FruitLook project is a Contract Change Notice (CCN) to the GrapeLook project aiming at delivering an enhanced version of the previous pre-operational service and for another growing season. The enhancements implemented in FruitLook reside in i) the extension of the type of monitored crops from grapes only to grapes plus deciduous fruits (apple, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries ), ii) a wider service area, iii) an improved dissemination website and iv) the collaboration with Value Adding Partners as an additional user group of the service.
The final goal of FruitLook is similar to GrapeLook: promote sustainable and optimal resource utilization, reduce input costs (water, fertilizers, pesticides, labour, and energy), protect the environment, and ultimately increase water use efficiency (WUE) the production per unit of water - using satellite technologies.
FruitLook is funded by the Integrated Applications Promotion program of the European Space Agency and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture (with support of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and HortGRO).
Users and their needs
Efficient irrigation water management and optimal application of inputs concerns three main categories of end-users:
Governmental authorities and water user organisations, that need quantified information to better manage the reservoirs and identify areas requiring action;
Farmers, farmer organisations and their advisors, who are in interested in better understanding the spatial variations between different farms, agricultural blocks and within blocks; and
Third parties, called Value Adding Partners (VAPs), that add value to the FruitLook data by developing applications based on the data and converting the information into a management strategy.
The FruitLook data portal targets fruit and grape farmers in the Western Cape province of South Africa and value adding partners. Many farmers use the data to better understand the physical processes on their farm, evaluate strategies and correct farm management when and where necessary. Some farmers need however additional support to use the FruitLook data to its full potential. This can be offered by Value Adding Partners (e.g. farmer advisors and farmer service providers). In the frame of the FruitLook service, Value Adding Partners (VAPs) are considered to be early adaptors of new technologies, with existing network, contacts and local expertise and are essential to bridge the gap between FruitLook data and farmers.
Water use efficiency in the Western Cape province needs to be improved. To do so, up-to-date spatial information is required. Farmers need this information to allocate the inputs efficiently and optimally. Adequate information also helps decision makers (authorities) to monitor and understand processes, identify areas where action is necessary, and to stimulate farmers to adopt new technologies which will help them to manage the water resources more efficiently.
Farmer advisors and farmer service providers deliver advice to farmers on water use efficiency and crop growth and nutrient management. The information provided by FruitLook helps to monitor the farmer's block on a regular basis, and will add value to their applications. Moreover FruitLook data can be easily integrated in existing farm management systems.
Service/ system concept
The FruitLook service package provides crop information on a weekly basis disseminated through the data portal www.FruitLook.co.za. It allows users to register so they only need to download information on the blocks they are interested in. Weekly updates on 8 parameters provide a comprehensive understanding of the spatial and temporal changes in a block. To create the parameter data, the system requires no inputs of the farmer.
FruitLook does not intend to replace any existing system, but provides farmers with an extra source of information. FruitLook provides regular updates (weekly) on a spatial resolution (20m) that allows identification of differences within a block.
Many farmers use soil moisture systems which show hourly changes in soil moisture, and the exact moment to irrigate. The FruitLook data helps a farmer to identify the most representative location in his block for such a system, and how to extrapolate the soil moisture information in this particular point.
A number of companies in South Africa offer airborne vegetation index mapping to identify sampling areas prior to harvest. Aerial photography has a higher spatial resolution than the FruitLook data, but the high costs do not allow weekly acquisitions. The combination with FruitLook allows a farmer to have weekly updates on the spatial changes on his farm, while maintaining a detailed understanding of the spatial variations visible in the aerial photography.
Space Added Value
There are two space assets mobilized in the FruitLook project:
Satellite Earth Observation: to run the existing energy and water balance algorithms of eLEAF that create the parameter data; and
Satellite Communication: to transfer the remote in-situ validation data to eLEAF processing centre of in the Netherlands.
The added value of using different space assets can be summarized as follows:
Objective source of information;
Improved completeness and consistency of the results;
Quick availability of the data;
Seamless integration with terrestrial assets;
Deployable in remote or hardly accessible areas; and
Improved knowledge on variability in vineyards/orchards over space and time.
Expected benefits of FruitLook focus on increasing production while reducing input costs. Satellite earth observation is an objective, non-biased tool to provide quantitative information on water consumption and biomass growth. Adequate information helps farmers to improve their farm management. The use of the service will decrease farmer's operational costs as they will consume less water and fertilizers. Simultaneously the quality and quantity of the grapes produced are anticipated to increase due to more efficient farming practices, therefore generating extra revenues.
For Value Adding Partners, FruitLook provides a unique information source allowing them to better advise farmers and therefore increasing the value of their own service.
The future selling price of FruitLook will be considerably lower than the economic benefits that a famer will gain out of it. For more details on FruitLook Service Level Agreement and price, please visit : fruitlook.co.za. During the 2011-2012 growing season, the use of FruitLook is free.
FruitLook provides Western Cape farmers with weekly updates on 9 parameters on the water, nitrogen and biomass status of their orchards and grape blocks during the 2011-2012 growing season. The parameters are presented as spatial information products consisting of raster data, which is uploaded on the publically accessible web portal www.FruitLook.co.za, allowing multiple stakeholders to review and use the data.
FruitLook builds on existing terrestrial and space based elements which were integrated into one end-to-end service directly applicable to orchards and vineyards in South Africa. The system processes Earth Observation data (optical, infrared and thermal infrared sensors) acquired from various satellites sources. This EO data is instrumental together with ground-based meteorological data to feed sophisticated models which deliver the service output parameters.
Another important aspect of the project is the calibration of the models and the validation of output parameters using in situ soil moisture and energy balance measurements. This aspect is key to establish trust with the farmers interested to purchase the service. 7 soil moisture sensors have been installed during the GrapeLook project and they continue to be used for FruitLook. Soil moisture measurements are regularly retrieved (every 30 minutes) and are relayed to FruitLook processing centre through a satellite communication data link.
The pre-operational service GrapeLook demonstrated during the 2010-2011 season showed a number of opportunities for improvement, that are implemented in this CCN. The first is the addition of a registration (login) feature on the service website. This feature improves download speed the user only downloads the required data and not for an entire region, and therefore increases the user experience. Secondly, many grape farmers also grow deciduous fruit trees and they had pointed out they would like the service to monitor these others crops too. Therefore FruitLook expands to deciduous fruit trees (such as plums, apricots, apples and pears). Thirdly the service area is being enlarged to the areas south and north of Worcester. The inclusion of more crops and a larger area increases the awareness of the project and the potential impact of the service.
Finally, one of the conclusions of the GrapeLook project was that not all farmers know how to convert the FruitLook data into farm management. An important role lays here for the value adding partners, which are existing farmer advisors and service providers that will develop applications based on the FruitLook data to provide farmers with individual advice. Therefore value adding partners have been involved in the assessment of the service and their recommendations have been recorded for further improvements.
The new data portal www.FruitLook.co.za was launched in January 2012.Demonstration workshops were offered in all study areas.The data portal allows a user to monitor his blocks with weeklfy updates on water stress, biomass production and nitrogen status. A dedicated team produced weekly updates for the data portal until the end of the season (April 2012). The quality of the data provided is validated using in situ measurements of soil moisture and energy fluxes.
The Mid Term Review meeting took place at 26 April 2012. In the same week a team visited Western Cape to determine the requirements of the Value Adding Partners.
Evaluation workshops were organised in June 2012 in different areas covered by the FruitLook project. The Final Review was held on 6 July 2012, in ESTEC. At this date more than 270 users have registered to the website and this number keeps on growing, showing a large interest for the pre-operational service. The evaluation of the farmers and Value Adding Partners with regards to the benefits derived from the service is very positive. A majority of the questioned users are eager to continue using the service and assessing its benefits during the coming years and, eventually, pay a yearly fee for its provision.