Digital agriculture: meaning, history and trends of the future

digital agriculture

Digital agriculture: meaning, history and trends of the future

Agriculture is one of the field that have been most influenced and transformed by technological innovations. The digital boom, especially in recent years, has also greatly contributed to innovating methodologies and processes, leading to the configuration of a new era of agriculture. To better understand all the innovations that have characterized the current change, determining the era of digital agriculture, let’s start with a few historical notes.

The evolution history of new agriculture

This new agricultural era is also called “Agriculture 4.0”, a naming comes from the digital world (there are already those who are starting to talk about 5.0). This name indicates that what we are experiencing today is the fourth significant evolutionary phase of modern agriculture.

In fact, the first great modern era began in the early 1900s, and was based on the idea that the production system needed a high use of manpower and animal strength to carry out its activities.

Fifty years later, with the famous “green revolution”, Agriculture 2.0 was the first step of a new way to a new agriculture, which involved the use of mechanics, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, obtaining a direct increase in productivity but with an impact on the environment and sustainability. which had not been considered at the time.

With another leap of almost fifty years we arrive at the Age of Agriculture 3.0. Also known as precision agriculture, it was based – in summary – on the use of satellite geolocation tools to collect data and assist driving in agricultural machinery.

It is only a few years – so twenty years later – that the era of Agriculture 4.0 (or smart agriculture) has begun, adding to the previous one an increasingly widespread use of the internet, the use of computerized processing techniques, a refining of collected data and the use of specific monitoring technologies in the field.

What is digital agriculture?

In the era of Agriculture 4.0, digital technology and the innovations it introduces into the sector every day continue to dictate numerous changes. All of these, which first manifest themselves as trend rumors and then take shape and form, rewriting the rules of the sector, is called Digital Agriculture.

Also called “data farming”, this new approach provides for the extreme centrality of the information collected in the field, its refining and aggregation in order to provide a data set to the entrepreneur and allow him to make more informed decisions (data driven decision), define the innovation strategies of its production system (data drive innovation) and always be in compliance with new regulations.

From a 2021 survey conducted by the University of Bologna and the Dutch University of Wageningen on a thousand Italian farmers, more than half declared that they have used or continue to use smart farming solutions, and among these over the 70% use advanced management systems and over 40% geo-localized / GPS systems connected to agricultural equipment, a symptom that in Italy this is no longer a simple trend, but the new dimension of the sector.

The digital agriculture of Altamura OP

Altamura OP has always invested in digital, considering it essential to raise the quality of its processes and, consequently, of production. For example, as early as 2008, it keeps track on a digital archive of the cultivation operations, including processing and sowing, of each production lot. These data are available on the cloud and accessible from smartphones and tablets, directly in the field during monitoring, allowing the technicians of the agronomic office to have all the information in real time and to decide more quickly and consciously the actions to be taken, to maximize the ‘effectiveness.

Not only that, since 2017 Altamura OP has been using microclimatic control units for detecting the microclimate in the greenhouse, collecting fundamental information such as instant climate data and processing of stress indicators (such as VPD Vapor Pressure Deficit), with the possibility of setting alarms and notifications (e.g. humidity high, conditions predisposing to the development of certain fungal diseases, etc) and to obtain reports and historical data. This technology allows an ever more precise monitoring of climatic stress conditions, and to predict when it is possible to save a phytosanitary treatment or when this becomes necessary and urgent.

Innovation in Altamura OP has also reached the tractors and equipment that work in the field every day, increasingly equipped with 4.0 kits, which make them connected in real time to a cloud service. In this way, there is greater control of the tractor engines and the possible need for maintenance, as well as obtaining statistics on their operational performance. In addition, the development of rapid and rapid measurement methods is also being studied to obtain feedback directly in the field and in real time on parameters such as the content of nitrates and chlorophyll in the leaves and the content of organic matter in the soil.

Digital and education: an inseparable pair

For Altamura OP, innovation and training go hand in hand. Thanks to a partnership with the University of Salerno, it regularly hosts numerous undergraduate students to conduct innovative projects with them, always oriented towards identifying increasingly efficient systems for collecting, refining and reprocessing data. Among these, a project led by the undergraduates Adriano Avallone and Annamaria Di Serio in order to determine some parameters of an agronomic and physiological nature on spinach and valerianella cultivation, with the following tools:

  • thermal imaging camera to determine the leaf temperature by pointing the instrument at 2-3 cm from the leaves (useful to have immediate information on the water status of the crop and to evaluate any situations related to water and / or thermal stress);
  • thermometer for determining the soil temperature by making the probe penetrate the soil, in the layer explored by the roots (useful for obtaining information on the dynamics of biological and chemical cycles that occur in the rhizosphere);
  • porometer for the determination of stomatal conductance by simply pinching the leaf (useful for having an immediate measurement of the loss of water from the leaf);
  • instruments for detecting the content of chlorophyll, anthocyanins and flavonoids, simply by pinching a leaf (useful for obtaining information on the primary and secondary metabolism of the plant);
  • Field Scout to determine the volumetric water content by penetrating the two electrodes into the soil (useful for a careful management of irrigations);
  • Spectral reflectance sensor, to determine the NDVI and PRI indices by carrying out a non-destructive measurement of the greening of the canopy (useful for obtaining information on the nutritional status of plants and on the presence of any abiotic and / or biotic stresses that are able to influence growth , development and senescence of the crop).