Improving Swiss agricultural production through digitisation

Weed control in the fields using smart technology. This is the goal of an Innosuisse project, led by five partners. The objective is to eliminate the dock, an invasive plant, which is difficult to eradicate under normal circumstances.

Faced with multiple challenges, Swiss agriculture is constantly required to adapt its models. Farmers can use new technologies to improve production and increase yields, while ensuring sustainable production. To this end, fenaco, in collaboration with Sunrise, Huawei, Agroscope and the University of Applied Sciences of Eastern Switzerland (OST), are combining their expertise to carry out an ambitious project: to control weeds, especially meadow dock. These plants, which have little nutritional value, pose a threat to other plants and decrease the amount of food available to cows.

The objective of the project is to map them in order to eliminate them, without using pesticides. The crops are photographed by drone and the raw data is uploaded to a cloud using 5G. Once in the cloud, the plant data is analysed and identified in real time. The results are transmitted to a tractor or agricultural robot present in the field, which navigates via GPS to the weed and treats it with hot water. “This technology is mainly intended for organic farms, but can also be used by conventional farms,” says Thomas Anken, Group Leader of Digital Production at Agroscope.

Increasingly connected agriculture
The combination of 5G, big data and cloud-based technologies is essential for the success of this project. “This project is an excellent case study of agriculture achieving results that would not have been possible before 5G”, analyses Alexander Lehrmann, Senior Director of Innovation & Development at Sunrise. “Digitisation impacts every sector, and it’s no different in agriculture. Data can help generate critical information and enable farmers to work more efficiently and sustainably.”

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A constantly evolving project
Labour shortages, rising wages, the elimination of many crop protection products and, most recently, rising fertiliser prices are just some of the challenges facing agricultural production, according to Patrick Meyer, Project Leader of Innovation and Business Development at fenaco. “The biggest long-term challenge, not just in agriculture, is combating climate change. Improving production today inevitably involves innovation, which makes existing processes more efficient.”

The search for more efficient solutions sometimes requires rethinking. After two years of research, there are some challenges. “The operational costs for using a drone are high. We may be challenged to find an alternative for image collection that is as simple as possible and meets the economic requirements,” explains Patrick Meyer. According to him, it is now important to test a prototype as soon as possible to identify the limitations and needs of customers and to adapt the technology accordingly. As philosophers, the project partners are well aware that this type of project involves risks. “It’s a learning process. We have to be agile, reinvent ourselves and find other ways. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t be looking at what was done well, but rather at what didn’t work,” says Patrick Meyer. The project runs until 2023 and the results will be used to produce the most market-ready technology.

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Last modification 05.10.2022

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Alexander Lehrmann, Senior Director of Innovation & Development at Sunrise UPC, Patrick Meyer, Project Leader of Innovation and Business Development at fenaco and Thomas Anken, Group Leader of Digital Production at Agroscope.

https://www.innosuisse.ch/content/inno/en/home/success-stories/funding-examples/innovation-projects/agricultural-production.html