copy the linklink copied!Chapter 15. Case Study 10. Data infrastructure and the potential role of the government supporting the data infrastructure – example of the Akkerweb in the Netherlands

The Akkerweb is an open platform for digital services for precision farming. This case study provides a practical example of how public-private partnership on an open data infrastructure can facilitate the creation and uptake of value adding services by the private sector, supporting productivity growth and sustainability improvement in agriculture. As such, the Akkerweb is a new way for the government to support access to advise services to farmers. Akkerweb is a foundation, founded by both Wageningen University and Research and a farmers’ association, Agrifirm.

    

copy the linklink copied!Context: Fostering capacities, good use of public data and support private sector services development in precision agriculture

The problem

Farmers have been using guidance systems, yield monitoring, variable rate application,1 long-distance transmission of computerised information (telematics) and data management for a long time (OECD, 2016[1]). The use of digital tools on-farm has been developing over time and a farmer can end up having to manage a multitude of unrelated systems giving various information (e.g. about yield variation, production assets characteristics) but rarely connecting the different elements to explore correlations and causations. Most data points make more sense when provided with the context and put in relation with benchmarks, trends, or causal references, applying and testing knowledge obtained from experience, either on farm but also though innovation and research.

One of the key reasons data has not been used to its full potential to date is that farmers often lack the tools and skills to analyse jointly those multiple sources of data and fully exploit them. The inability to link data across systems, each focussed on a specific task, prevented both insights into the relationship between certain management practices and within the farm system, at least in the absence of costly manual data synthesis.2

This fragmentation of data created a data gap that not only prevents its efficient use on-farm, but also its reuse for research and deeper analysis. While on farm, a large amount of data is acquired but cannot be combined to produce knowledge beyond the initial intended purpose; on the research side (relying on some public data such as remote sensing data), data is often only available at in an aggregated form. The use of this data for the production of knowledge at the level of the individual animal, field or farm is then limited, and, where it does occur, is often costly and cumbersome.

The Akkerweb brings together public and private data to support precision agriculture

Akkerweb is an initiative of both Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and farmers’ association Agrifirm. In this joint venture, both scientific knowledge and a practical approach to farmers’ problems is combined. The Akkerweb was thought as an open platform for precision farming, enabling to bring all farm data together and in addition, proposing a variety of agriculture related applications usable by farmers, using this data, to support their decision making process in order to optimise their production objectives.

In in particular, WUR currently provides free satellite data, which require specific analytics capacity to interpret and translates them into in vegetation indices. Those vegetation indices are complex mathematical combination or transformation of spectral bands that accentuates the spectral properties (how leaves react to ultraviolet, visible, and infrared frequencies) of green plants so that they appear distinct from other image features. Such indices usually provide indication of the amount of vegetation, meaning the percent cover or the biomass, and they also distinguish between soil and vegetation. The tech start-up Bioscope combines a mix of public and commercial satellite data and drones data to provide a guaranteed data stream essential for precision farming.

This data is then combined with other data from the private sector and farmers, for a range of advice services. Some applications have been built in by the WUR research team, others are added by the private sectors, and require payment.

The platform compiles information made available by farmers in one “geo-platform”, where the geo-spatial location is a key connection between activities, data sets and analyses. For arable farmers a ‘crop rotation application’ is the entry point to explore the data and serves as the foundation for all the functionalities that provide added value to farms operations (e.g. for fertilisation or crop protection). 

Farmers can freely open an account and add information that is securely managed. In Akkerweb, the farmer can combine his farm specific data with data from public sources (e.g. satellites, soil maps, weather data, parcel maps from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO)), but also proprietary data sources such as sampling bodies (laboratories and certification), other parties in the value chain, farm management systems, own sensors etc. Active links are available with the data store of the national Paying Agency (RVO) and with other farm management systems, to prevent double entry of data. Only the farmer has access to his own data but he can grant access to others on his own discretion. In this way, he can give access to his advisor to help him monitor the crops or interpret a soil analysis.

Farmers are therefore free to share enriched data with advisers and other users on the platform, to obtain practical recommendations (or actionable insights) to optimise crop production. The system itself provides interoperability of data. Any data provider can upload their data (e.g. soil laboratories) and make them available to farmers. Different private sector companies have their own “app” on the platform for farmers to use at their discretion. Akkerweb is in the first place a digital repository and work bench. Applications are built on top of this data repository either by the public or the private sector, ranging from visualisation to analytics and decision support.

It is generally accepted by the user community that farmers are the controllers of their data and the platform was built as GDPR (European Union, General Data Protection Regulation) compliant.

copy the linklink copied!Lessons learned

Lesson 1. To be adopted and successful, digital technologies have to be designed based on expressed user needs

Commercial GIS software, in use by many professionals, failed to gain traction in farming because of their price and complexity. The GIS functionality in Akkerweb is designed based on expressed user needs. In that sense, Akkerweb filled a need. Moreover, the ability for third parties to develop applications is a strong advantage over some of the other platforms.

Lesson 2. The success of the platform relies on the integration of all public and private sector stakeholders of precision agriculture

Other technical platforms offer similar technology, but a success of Akkerweb is the strong interaction between stakeholders, which provides both scientific backstopping to models and algorithms, and practical approach concerning functionality. Public bodies are participating in the data repository construction by linking their agriculture policy data (for example LPIS) to the platform as well as supporting the pre-processing of satellite data.

References

[1] OECD (2016), Farm Management Practices to Foster Green Growth, OECD Green Growth Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264238657-en.

Notes

← 1. In precision agriculture, Variable Rate Application (VRA) refers to the application of a material, such that the rate of application is based on the precise location, or qualities of the area that the material is being applied to. Variable Rate Application can be Map Based or Sensor Based.

← 2. See for instance: Scientists to create dairy-farm 'brain', Bob Mitchell for UW-Madison Department of Dairy Science, 29 August, 2017, accessible at: http://www.agriview.com/news/dairy/scientists-to-create-dairy-farm-brain/article_e56e7e80-9c89-53ab-9639-c4eaac835ec1.html

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Chapter 15. Case Study 10. Data infrastructure and the potential role of the government supporting the data infrastructure – example of the Akkerweb in the Netherlands