Precision Farming: Sowing the seeds of a new agricultural revolution

The latest research*eu RESULTS PACK – a collection of articles on EU-funded projects dedicated to a specific field of scientific research – is now available in free, accessible PDF. This brochure introduces you to 13 EU-funded projects that have been at the forefront of the precision farming revolution.

The adoption of precision farming is allowing the EU to increase its agricultural output whilst ensuring the sustainability of the European agri-food sector. The European Commission has been extremely keen on fostering precision farming techniques, providing funding for new investments through both the FP7 and Horizon 2020 programmes. This is to guarantee that farmers are not only able to effectively reduce costs without cutting production but also to offer the possibility of substantially increased yields, thus providing an even stronger boost to local economies.

Alongside economic considerations, precision farming also promises substantial environmental benefits, being a means to make Europe’s agri-food sector more sustainable in the long-term and also contribute to achieving Europe’s ambitious sustainability goals.

With 70 to 80 % of new farm equipment having some form of precision farming component within them, precision farming technologies are now present in all four stages of the crop growth cycle (soil preparation, seeding, crop management and harvesting). However it is not just crop and fruit farming that has benefited – farmers engaged in livestock rearing are also experiencing the positive benefits derived from precision farming technologies.

The 13 projects featured within this brochure highlight some of the most exciting developments taking place to make precision farming the new standard for European agriculture. These include innovative advanced robotics, cutting-edge sensor systems and the harnessing of digital technologies, such as Big Data and ‘The Internet of Things.’

Download the brochure here.


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One plant at a time

Precision farming is set to become even more precise with a new camera drawing on satellite imaging.

Thanks to research with ESA on new cameras, hyperspectral cameras flying on drones are now able to see details as small as 4–5 cm.

Three customers are already using the first version of the ButterflEYE LS camera: in Denmark for biological diversity studies, in Australia for agricultural research, and in Italy for providing commercial data to farmers.

The experiences will be fed back into the final commercial version.

“Our first customers were really keen on getting the high resolution, which is the best you can currently get from a hyperspectral product,” notes René Michels, CEO of Germany’s airborne specialist Cubert, who collaborated with Belgium’s VITO Remote Sensing and imec for the camera development.

The camera exploits the potential of a novel hyperspectral imaging chip from imec by combining it with VITO’s image processing honed by working with ESA on remote sensing satellites.

Weighing just 400g, the powerful camera fits easily on a small unmanned aircraft to deliver detailed measurements for precision agriculture but it has also potential in forestry, biomass monitoring, waste and pollution management.

Harnessing the power of colour

“Hyperspectral imaging captures many very narrow wavelength bands in the visible and near-infrared instead of the more typical three or four broad spectral bands: red, green, blue and, sometimes, infrared.”

“By imaging the world in more colours, you can detect certain phenomena faster and more exactly,” explains Bavo Delauré from VITO Remote Sensing.

“A camera that is more sensitive to subtle differences in colour allows you to identify problems that you can’t see with your naked eye or a normal camera until it’s too late to do anything about it.”

Historically, a prism has been used to separate the colours but this results in complex optics and larger cameras. Following VITO’s work on the Proba-V satellite, ESA’s Luca Maresi set the company a challenge of producing a lightweight hyperspectral camera based on a different technology.

The initial approach uses a variable filter in front of the detector, creating an instrument as compact as a standard colour camera and therefore suitable for use on small satellites and drones. One is used by Dutch Cosine Research in their HyperScout camera for the GomX-4B CubeSat, to be launched this year.

Space spin-off helps on Earth

To make the camera even more versatile and suitable for mass production, imec created an ultra-small sensor with the hyperspectral filter incorporated. Cubert used this filter-in-chip sensor in their new ButterflEYE LS camera.


Do you have an innovative project with a focus on technology transfer between Agri-Food and ICT, Health or AeroSpace sectors?

ACTTiVAte offers direct funding and business support services to innovative SME projects. Open call for proposals. Apply now!