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Home Articles Application Agriculture Soil management

Geospatial solution for smart farming in Greece
Published in : Europe Geospatial Digest September 2014


Panagiotis Tziachris
GIS Manager
Soil Science Institute of Thessaloniki
Greece
tziachris@ssi.gov.gr

Soil science institute in Greece developed soil map fertilization software to provide farmers with recommended fertilizer amount based on spatial analysis of soil variation.

Hellenic Agricultural Organization 'Demeter' is the national body responsible for the agricultural research and technology, along with agricultural education, certification of agricultural products and milk quality control in Greece. New scientific knowledge, technical innovations and geospatial technology are directed towards creating a dynamic and competitive agriculture which is protective of the environment and capable of providing excellent and inexpensive nutrition for the people.

Soil Science Institute of Thessaloniki (SSI), which is part of the 'Demeter' organization, was founded in 1950 in North Greece with main objectives related to agricultural and environmental issues. A core component of the institute is the Geospatial team that is responsible for multiple subjects. Starting from the collection of data with the use of GPS, the integration of satellite images and orthophotos, the management and analysis of data with the use of GIS, the development of in house software and applications and the research of innovative technologies and solutions e.g UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), VGI (Volunteer Geographic Information), in the agricultural sector.

One of the main project that the Geospatial team implements is the Soil Map Study.

Soil Map Study

Soil Map Study aims to provide information on field location and its physical and chemical properties, which are important component of precision agriculture. Without soil maps, there is not sound exploitation of the natural resources because modern technical knowledge (precision agriculture) cannot be used and crop growing is based only on the experience or extensive soil sampling, which is not cost effective.

Soil Map Study's thematic maps of spatial distribution of iron (Fe) in area of Thessaloniki

Soil Map Fertilization Software (SoilMFS)

Part of the Soil Map Study is the Soil Map Fertilization Software (SoilMFS) that is developed in house, as a simple, easy to use solution, focusing on farmers. The advantage of the software is that it translates the results of the Soil Map Studies and the scientific knowledge and experience of SSI, into something practical and useful for the farmers.

In brief SoilMFS provides a useful electronic database for the spatial representation of the soil variation of a region, based on in situ soil sampling, laboratory analysis, geospatial technology and plant nutrition mathematical modeling, coupled with the local spatial data (where applicable). 

Integration of Soil Map Study, spatial data and scientific modules into SoilMFS

The innovation of the SoilMFS is that any user, by just "clicking" on a field parcel shown in this digital database, can have access on:

a) field parcel's/farmer's identity information,

b) the physical and chemical properties of the soil,

c) recommendation for sound fertilization for a number of crops.

From there, the user can print a two pages report regarding the above information.

First page of SoilMFS (partially translated in English)

Second page of SoilMFS (partially translated in English)

The software was developed by SSI's Geospatial team using ESRI's Map Objects and Visual Basic by Microsoft and is being already used by local agricultural cooperatives as part of the Soil Map Studies in different Greek areas (e.g. Prefecture of Kastoria, Kozani) during the last seven years.

Fertilization Advisory Module

One of the key component of the SoilMFS is the Fertilization Advisory Module that automatically calculates the fertilizer recommendation doses of the basic macronutrients (phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, calcium and magnesium) and micronutrients (zinc, iron, copper, manganese and boron) for the main regional crops. It is taking into account the physical and chemical properties in the field parcels (soil texture, pH, organic matter) and the determined concentration at the time of the sampling, and calculates the recommended fertilizer rates, the critical time and the manner of application (soil or foliar application).

Simple conceptual model of Fertilization Advisory Module

Benefits

Farmers’ incomes are supported by the European Union by means of direct payments in the frame of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In return, farmers are obliged to carry out agricultural activity and to respect a number of standards regarding food safety, environmental protection, animal welfare and the maintenance of land in good environmental and agricultural condition.

The designed software can be used by the farmers as a conformity tool to CAP. The accurate estimation of the crop fertilization needs, focusing on each farmer's field parcel, contributes to a more rational use of fertilizers with benefits to public health and environmental protection.  Specifically,

  • crop products are free of nitrates or other aggravating for the consumers substances.
  • sustainability of soil and water sources is enhanced through the decreased inputs of nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus etc) in the soil and the ground /surface waters.
  • competitiveness of the crop products is achieved via a lower fertilization cost (e.g. apr. est. savings: 100$/acre every year, only from reduced P and K), increase of productivity and improvement of the crop's quality.

Related research in SSI:

Online SoilMFS: Taking into account the experience gained by the work so far, the system is currently further upgraded to become a dynamic online service that can be freely accessed by the local growers, agronomists, agricultural services etc. Further research is conducted in order for more advisory modules to be inserted in the system, e.g. regarding plant protection, irrigation doses etc, so as a more holistic approach can be provided to the crop management of the field parcels.

Field parcel and soil data as shown in the pilot online application

Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI): SSI also tries to incorporate the farmers into its business model. Therefore it promotes their role as partners with the use of VGI agricultural procedures and practices.

Using a small test pilot case in the Prespes area (North Western Greece), local farmers were trained to properly and accurately collect both their spatial data (farm's position) and their soil, and deliver them to SSI's laboratory for analysis.

Therefore using VGI procedures they could:

  • reduce the cost of their soil analysis,
  • improve the response time of the soil analysis results and the fertilization advice,
  • create their own field parcel's spatial database with manifold practical usefulness, that could be enchased with even more data and parameters e.g. irrigation, crop production etc.

The results so far are very encouraging as all the parcel's data from the test area were collected by the local agricultural community with very good accuracy, efficiency and reliability.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV): In order to enhance the Soil Map studies and the SoilMFS, different imaging data are collected and analyzed with remote sensing techniques derived from a standard multispectral camera fitted on an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV helicopter) in our test fields.

The UAV and the map of the corn chlorophyll status as determined by canopy spectral reflectance

Conclusions

The integration of Geospatial technologies along with the scientific knowledge and experience by Soil Science Institute of Thessaloniki Greece, leads to innovative practical solutions focused and adapted on the farmers' needs that facilitate more efficient and clever ways of farming, away of the "stagnation" of the past and into a more "blooming" and "flourishing" future. 


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