Increasing demand for food puts pressure on agricultural production. Fertilizer use is one of the essential factors for increasing agricultural yield. Global demand for fertilizer is expected to reach 200 million metric tons per year, representing a ten-fold increase since 1950. This will accelerate negative impacts on the environment and affect long-term health of agricultural fields. Therefore, fertilizer usage must become increasingly efficient.
Precise fertilization requires a deep understanding of issues with so-called plant nutrient detection (PND). Monitoring PND and subsequently providing information in real-time, fertilization requirements is our main objective in developing this IoT-based, integrated service.
Fertilization efficiency highly depends on PND diagnosis and Field Nutrient Budgeting (FNB). There are several well-known methods and tools available in the market for these issues. However, none of these offer precise PND diagnosis, variable rate fertilization optimization functionality and satellite-based fertilization map creation at once. This is a very complex process for farmers as they must collect this crucial information with different tools plus meet the requirements of the recent fertilization regulations.
To address agricultural productivity under the frame of an environmentally friendly concept and considering fertilization regulations, SIITAg provides an intelligent system, that can identify PND and generate a variable-rate fertilization application map for the optimal agricultural output. The system is cost-effective, scalable and globally available for farmers.
Users and their needs
SIITAg identifies the end user as farmers with their specific needs.
- Strict regulations on fertilizer application and the need for cost-effective production create pressure for farmers to optimize their fertilizer usage.
- Farmers require user-friendly access to such information without having to purchase complex and costly system.
Additionally, two groups of intermediary customers have their own specific needs that are met by SIITAg.
- Agricultural consultants
Consulting farmers on their fertilization demands increasingly specific, individually tailored advice. This requires efficient technology that can identify field management zones on a large scale, using accurate PND information.
- Agribusinesses (e.g. agrochemical and -machinery companies)
Strong customer relationships are essential for a scaling business. To provide their customers with valuable additional services and stand out from the competition, companies require state-of-the-art technology and knowledge coupled with easy-to-use interfaces.
Depending on markets and demand, these specific target groups will be monitored and adjusted if necessary.
User and costumer channels of SIITAg
SIITAg service is designed to be available globally. Internally the service has been piloted in Germany. Later, the service will be available for the EU countries, North America and South America consecutively.
Service/ system concept
Using the SIITAg service, farmers can visualize their fertilizer needs using fertilization recommendation maps and adapt these recommendation maps according to their knowledge of the spatial variability of their fields. The web portal allows farmers to get clear insights about their recent field’s nutrient demand and enhance their agricultural decision-making processes significantly.
SIITAg will operate as a smartphone app as well as a progressive web app for end users. The back-end system service designed with machine learning algorithms by combining satellite data with data collected through the app to generate the recommendations. The system is designed to make the process as simple as possible and as user-friendly as possible.
Ideally farmers will use the smartphone application to take pictures of few crop canopies in the field and the system will analyse the status of the plant nutrient content for all six nutrients that is essential for the growth. The SIITAg system then retrieves a satellite image with relative field nutrient uptake and calibrates the relative values with those in-situ data, generating absolute nutrient demand values for the entire field as a variable rate fertilization recommendation. Based on the crop type and crop condition, SIITAg will generate a variable rate fertilization map with the variable amounts of nutrients for each zone needed to attain optimum nutrient concentration, which the farmer has the option to tweak if desired. The application map can be uploaded directly to the fertilizer spreader through ISOBUS technology (if available), or a ‘Driving Mode’ can be used to assist in manually varying fertilizer application rates during fertilization. The functioning of the whole system is outlined in the following figure.
Service concept of SIITAg
Space Added Value
Spacenus makes use of EO data of Sentinel-2 images, additionally GNSS information from Galileo mission for computational applications. Based on Sentinel-2 images, our system enables the generation of Field Boundaries, relative nutrient deficiency maps and field productivities. Combined, the above-mentioned components provide field zone management recommendations for farmers.
Because satellite images only deliver relative values, Spacenus counteracts this with our AI driven PND system. SIITAg calibrates satellite images for each field with in-situ sample pictures of crop canopies. When taking a photo with our tool, the phone also connects with the GNSS to provide the geolocation of the picture within the field. GNSS is also used to generate the variable fertilization map, a machine-readable map for the fertilizer spreader tractor enabling the distribution of designated amounts of fertilizer at specific geolocated field management zones.
Current methods, such as a mobile application catalogue or field nutrition sensors either require canvassing entire fields, analyse just certain nutrients in that case nitrogen and taking samples every few metres to achieve the same result. Working with satellite imagery enables SIITAg to cover entire fields at once and the six essential nutrients for growth of a plant, which are important factors in terms of time- and cost-efficiency, and thus in scalability.
The process flow for nutrient detection and variable rate application map preparation
Spacenus has proven the feasibility of SIITAg in March 2018 and showed impressive test results of the PND service. Additionally, we gathered interested and important players in the agricultural market.
We have started the demonstration phase from October 2018, which will last for 24 months and Spacenus has already built strong key partnerships to get access to critical market channels.
From the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 Spacenus started visiting some partner farmers to check on the development of different crops from time to time. For us it’s very important to stay in close touch with our partner farmers, as we follow the rule that we can learn from one another.
Image credit: Spacenus GmbH
Our laboratory-based trial for generating training data for developing an AI model started successfully in June 2019, just after the successful completion of the Baseline Design Review (BDR) in June 2019. We have already received part of our data and the first AI model will be generated as we have successful completed the Critical Design Review (CDR) in December 2019. Spacenus will run several laps of future data farming, so we gather as much information as possible from the greenhouse. Further we are planning to begin our pilot testing with farmers in the growing season of 2020.