Internet of Things in a sea of plastic

Euronews headed to Almería, in southern Spain, otherwise known as the sea of plastic: tens of thousands of greenhouses that supply much of Europe with tomatoes, bell peppers and other vegetables. It is also a study site.

“We’re trying to simplify the acquisition of data for growers into one single cloud database. Then, using artificial intelligence and big data technology we’ll be able to reach certain conclusions, for the entire region, and this will allow us to compare and further improve the way the product is grown,” explains Manuel Berenguel, Professor of Systems Engineering and Automatic Control at the University of Almería.

Soil moisture, plant growth, the composition of the air inside the greenhouse and other indicators are measured to help farmers grow better products while optimising irrigation and the use of fertilisers. On a large scale, smart farming has substantial economic benefits for the producers.

Cynthia Giagnocavo from the University of Almería is part of the team working on the EU-backed research project.

“The Internet of things and these sensors and all the information – all the data that we’re gathering – can be aggregated at certain levels, fed into the cooperatives, and used to give feedback, so that they can have much better sense of their processes of production, their efficiencies, their water use, the amount of labour that they put in – whether it’s market information, are they producing the right varieties, etc etc,” she says.

Once the tomatoes are picked, the data harvesting continues. Two million kilos of tomatoes are processed in this sorting facility every day – and the bulk of the work is done by machines. They take pictures of each tomato, which is then automatically sorted by size, colour and even taste.

“There’s no doubt that this kind of technology gives us a competitive advantage,” says Cristóbal Ferriz, chief operating officer at the farming cooperative CASI. “This facility is possibly the most advanced in Europe at the moment. As you can see, there are very few people working here. All the manual selection processes, which are expensive and complicated, have been reduced to a minimum.”

Researchers are working on gathering all the information, from greenhouse to processing, into one single database. This would provide traceability from farm to store, increasing food security and making the whole chain more efficient.

Jorge A Sánchez-Molina, researcher in automatic control at the University of Almería, explains: “This would mean the farmer could get information about the products he has shipped, the processing companies could get information about the products they’re receiving and the consumer could get information on the entire food value chain.”

Source: Euronews

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