Eyes in the sky are helping improve fruit production in South Africa. By using the latest technology, farmers are increasing yields while reducing water consumption. eLEAF is a Dutch based company pioneering a satellite based service that extracts open data to help improve irrigation and water management.
The company’s expertise supports an ambitious plan by the Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape to refine irrigation usage in orchards and vineyards. With support from Hortgro Science and the European Space Agency high-tech facilities are directed to growers through the FruitLook programme. Ruben Goudriaan, Project Manager at eLEAF for South Africa is proud of FruitLook’s latest results, now in its fifth season. He reports that sixty percent of those participating show ten percent more effective water use due to the company’s use of satellite information.
One out of five even indicates their efficiency in water use has increased by more than 30%. This means growers are using less water to produce more fruit. According to Goudriaan, a recent query indicates half of the 270 active participants have been able to reduce water consumption by ten percent as they place greater reliance on eLEAF’s digital service. Andre Roux, Director of Sustainable Resource Management at the Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape Government oversees the programme and says:
“Currently we have more than 1,075 users registered on the web portal and the number is increasing every week.” The secret to eLEAF’s success is its ability to apply complex algorithms on raw data gleaned from the satellites, turning this information into easy to understand and visually effective imagery. This unique facility is called Pixel Intelligent Mapping which is all about creating the ‘clever pixel’. Simply put, it creates images of vineyards and orchards that show how plants are coping and where water should be deployed.
In providing quantitative information it improves water usage and reveals the biomass growth of target crops. The Pixel Intelligence Mapping developed by eLEAF form the foundation for the applications and management systems that present farmers with increased practical and usable data on weather, water and the state of their crops.
With the clever pixel based information available on their mobile devices or office computers fruit growers and their irrigation experts can fine tune their husbandry skills, gaining the highest yield for the least water possible. “It’s making more for less.” explains Goudriaan.
The international partnership behind Fruit- Look brings together a government department, a space agency, private business and growers generating valuable results for South Africa’s growers along with equally impressive statistics. FruitLook delivers data on more than 170,000 hectares of fruit crop with users calling up 22,500 hectares of satellite based information on a field by field basis.
Meanwhile, arable farmers have not been left behind in the use of open data. Cropscan 250m is a facility developed by South African based firm enterpriseEvolution and it extracts data provided by eLEAF but for a wider geographic area than provided by FruitLook. It offers arable farmers information on crop conditions throughout the country during the summer growing season. It presents detailed information on water use and provides information on the state of grain crops.
While Fruitlook focuses on field by field data for fruit growers, Cropscan 250m looks at a much wider area, aimed at supporting precision arable farming.
As awareness grows about the value of Cropscan 250m Piers Kenyon of enterprisEvolution Technology Holdings reports, “We have recently been approached by the Department of Agriculture’s Crop Estimate Committee to look at feeding our data into their system to improve accuracy through weekly reporting and analysis.” Meanwhile Kenyon hopes to develop similar services for sugar cane producers, rolling out the intelligent technology, made possible by access to open data.
FruitLook and Cropscan 250m both combine satellite imagery and weather information. The services provide a dataset made up of information on crop growth, crop water use and leaf nitrogen content. Hugh Campbell, General Manager of Hortgro Science assesses the value of the programme for fruit growers and says, “It has the opportunity to save water but more importantly to ensure that an orchard stays within the required norms to optimise production.”
His ambition for the new technology is to ultimately maximise productivity of every single drop of water. eLEAF aims to become the data provider of choice for agricultural businesses and armers worldwide. “We plan to set-up our data processing and sales portals in such a way that we can sell our data worldwide at an affordable price.” says Mechteld Andriessen, Projects Account Manager at eLEAF.
Open data and the company’s close collaboration with service providers ensures it can efficiently deliver relevant information to the end users. Without doubt open data is enabling eLEAF to roll out services to a
growing number of farmers. With a changing climate, rising costs and increased competition for water, the technologies designed to help farmers in the Western Cape are transferable to other environments and can assist in achieving higher yields with less water.
Andre Roux believes FruitLook is offering farmers and the greater community a win-win solution. “Increased water use efficiency is one of the best ways of dealing with the impacts of climate change and saving water also results in saving electricity used to pump the irrigation water and reduces deep infiltration of fertiliser, which leads to input cost savings.”
The open data based operation at the heart of the FruitLook project will surely become a valuable, if not required, tool for farmers across the globe.