Precision agriculture and climate change

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Professor Giuseppe Ferrara, professor of Arboriculture and Fruit-Cultivation at the University of Bari, analysed the experience of two companies located in Puglia that have implemented sensors connected to data loggers on their pomegranate orchards and table grape vineyards.

In2017 was declared the second hottest year on record since temperature started being monitored. According to Cnr data, spring 2017 was the hottest since 1800 in Italy."

"Forecasts predict anomalies that will definitely have repercussions on crops. Extreme conditions lead to long periods of drought and sudden downpours that heavily damage agriculture."

"Persistent drought means irrigation water is increasingly considered a precious asset. People have been talking about precision techniques developed specifically for different crops to face weather events that are more and more abnormal and uncontrollable."

"Precision agriculture was first applied to the open-field herb sector and only later in the fruit-cultivation and viticulture sectors. As for the latter, it involves technologies suitable for a more effective, sustainable and profitable management."

Girth band on vine shoot.

"Determining and interpreting a variety of soil, climate, phenological and productive aspects is essential to apply precision techniques. Monitoring said parameters can be carried out through remote sensors such as drones and proximal devices equipped with various kinds of sensors in direct contact with the element (soil, leaves, fruit, etc.). Proximal sensors are little or non-invasive and make it possible to obtain a large quantity of geolocalised data in little time and at a relatively low cost. Sensors are generally connected to data loggers that can be installed on multiple HotSpots."

Girth band on trunk.

Data loggers can be self-powered by solar panels and rechargeable batteries and can transmit the data received to remote servers through the GSM network inexpensively. This is a typical example of Internet of Things (Iot) applied to agriculture.

Operators can verify the status of crops in real time thanks to an online monitoring panel (or via a mobile app) that shows detected parameters and dynamic charts created using indicators calculated according to algorithms specific to single crops and varieties. In addition, an alert system can warn (email, sms, push notifications) when thresholds are exceeded to arrange correction measures.

Irrigation is among the most important agronomic techniques suitable for this method, especially in light of extreme weather phenomenons.

"In Puglia, multiple sensors to monitor water conditions were connected through a Cloud platform, enabling an 'on time' management of irrigation for both vineyards and pomegranate orchards."

The vineyard owned by Fra.Va., located in Rutigliano (Ba), was managed with sensors. The Italia cultivar is grafted on 1103 P, planted with a 2.2x2.8 layout and inter-row grass Trifolium repens. The sensors installed (soil, plant, climate parameters) to various data loggers were self-sufficient and required limited maintenance. Irrigation was carried out following the indications supplied by the sensors. The effective water volume supplied by emitters was also monitored.

Sensors saved water (approx. 300-400 m3 per hectare) compared with traditional irrigation. In addition, grass did not lead to an increase of water consumption.

"A modern pomegranate orchard owned by Soc Agr. Terzodieci in the Castellaneta was also analysed. Sensors were placed in orchards of the Wonderful variety with a 5.7x3.3 layout and ground mulching. Data loggers were installed with powerful solar panels to make them even more efficient from an energetic point of view. Irrigation was once again carried out following the indications provided by the various sensors. The effects of last summer's hot weather can be seen from the high soil temperature and frequent irrigation needed."
The use of sensors enables the optimisation of irrigation management and therefore the saving of water. It also makes it possible to check the various parameters monitored on demand.

The activities carried out by the University of Bari were supported by the Agridatalog platform (