How sensors make the world small for crop advisors

"When I notice that there are a lot of chemicals being used somewhere in Africa, I like to change that using the biological resources that are available. Food safety is a theme that appeals to me," says Ewout Schurink. As a crop advisor, he travels around the world and spends a lot of time in Africa. He regularly flies to Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and South Africa, but also increasingly to countries such as Nigeria and Angola.

Previously, for about eight years, Ewout provided information about growing roses in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. Then he went to work at Syngenta, where he shared his cultivation knowledge with floriculture companies, along with his vegetable growing expertise. For two years now he's been active as independent consultant focusing on Africa and on crops such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

Water use
"It's a fun market. Sometimes you have expectations about how the situation will be, but it turns out very differently. Each time you look at how you can help a company," says Ewout. Sometimes he is surprised at what he comes across. "Nowadays, everyone wants to go more towards an organic product, but in practice you see that a lot of non-biological resources are still being used. There is simply no knowledge about resources. Water use is another example, there are areas where they still use furrow irrigation. That means that the paths between the plants are flooded. For example, in India there is a shortage of water, yet growers behave as if it's an infinite resource. Sometimes, 100 to 120 liters of water per kg is used for cultivation. I consider it a nice challenge to get this number down." It is not easy to get everyone onboard, according to Ewout. "It's a very conscious choice by those who to participate, and they see that they can distinguish themselves from others."
Remote advice
"Meanwhile Ewout can give a lot of growing advice from a distance. A variety of sensors allows him to monitor all the companies he advises. "As a crop advisor, it's my job to make sure that people can make day-to-day decisions. When I go to visit, I only have two or three days, and then I have to train them so that they are able to make the right decisions."

"One of my clients has 1,350 hectares of land, of which about 450 hectares are used. We are looking at how to get the most out of the least amount of raw materials. For this we use the Isii, the climate and irrigation computer from Hoogendoorn." Sensors don't have to be expensive, Ewout knows. "Farm21 is one that costs € 20 and together with a € 15 per year subscription, they are ideal for smallholders, companies from 5,000 m3 to 3 hectares. The sensor measures various things such as light intensity, soil or substrate moisture level, the temperature and the EC (the salt content in the soil). We built an app around it to make the daily, weekly or monthly data more easy to analyze. If a sensor fails, the data won't be lost, and you can easily replace the sensor."

Ewout also works with LetsGrow, an online platform that takes data from climate computers and plant sensors and makes it visible in graphs and tables. "I have created a dashboard for a number of clients, which I check every morning to see how things stand. I see how much light they have had, how much the evaporation has been and how much water has been given. If there is a significant difference with what we calculated, I send a message. The grower learns a lot from it, he knows exactly how the crop is doing."
Ewout doesn't like routine. "It is not my aim to have a customer for years. If the grower says at a certain moment: I can do it myself, then I applaud it. Actually, I have done something different every five years. After having had a customer for a long time, I think it would be nice if I could do something else again."

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