Geek Farmer

Will tomorrow's farmers be geeks?

Put on connected glasses, look at your crops, and know in a few seconds if they are sick, what they are suffering from and how to take care of them: will the farmer of tomorrow be a geek addicted to the internet? "It's not for tomorrow," admits Pascaline Pierson, head of the "digiferme" installed by Arvalis-Institut du végétal in Saint-Hilaire-en-Wöevre (Meuse). "But probably for the day after tomorrow.
Sn this experimental farm, surrounded by engineers and technicians, it is testing what could be the agriculture of tomorrow: ultra-connected, less strenuous, but also more ecological.
"There are three levels of research," says Pierson: "testing what exists, testing what can exist tomorrow, and doing research and development.
It is via this third axis that the connected glasses were born, which in particular make it possible to keep your hands free by sending data directly by voice command. The research also focuses a lot on grazing solutions, as the farm has some 55 head of cattle.
"Today, you can measure the height of the grass by hand," says Pierson. "Our ambition is to find the right sensor - laser, infrared, etc. - to measure. And to imagine a farmer tying the tool to his boots and knowing, just by walking through his meadows, how long he can keep his cows grazing in a particular spot.

Expensive investments

Nowadays, in the absence of high-tech boots, farmers often already have a USB stick in their pocket. "You plug it directly into the sprayer or tractor box," explains Denis Franck, a farmer in Verneville (Moselle), and "it triggers itself (the sprayer) when you need to treat.
Not yet in his forties, he has been cultivating a hundred hectares of rapeseed, barley and wheat for 13 years. Never resistant to new technological tools, he tried this year to fly over one of his plots by a drone fixed on a microlight.
For 11 euros per hectare flown over, he received in his mailbox a very detailed map of his field showing him centimetre by centimetre the doses of nitrogen required for his wheat.
"It varies between 32 and 58 units," he explains in front of the map striped with red to light green areas, "for an average of 40 units. He didn't have to make the settings himself: the sprayer only had to read the USB key.
It's convenient, but he won't repeat the experience: "I usually spray 44 units everywhere," the farmer explains. The savings he could make with a drone are too small to justify renting one.
Especially since he has already invested: it takes 11,000 euros to add the "precision farming" option on a sprayer. Last year, two new tractors with self-steering were added to the range - an additional 15,000 euros per vehicle.
Brand-new tractors that make the difference, especially when it comes to spreading. "In the past, it was done manually: we opened when we thought we had to spread, and closed when it was enough. Now, the GPS gives the order, and you can see that when you did it manually, you opened much too early and closed much too late. So we save on fertilizer, and it's better for the soil.
He was able to afford this investment by sharing the costs with a neighbour. But for some, the farm of the future has been synonymous with financial hardship. "It's true that some dairy farmers have been in trouble after buying milking robots," says Pierson.
If there's one investment Denis Franck would be willing to make, it would be for a "sprayer that detects weeds and only passes over this spot" - savings in perspective, good for the soil.
One of the lines of research focuses specifically on plant protection products and their substitution, stresses Ms. Pierson: "If tomorrow we are no longer allowed to use glyphosate: how do we manage weed control? ».

READ UP : Organic agriculture: robots to put an end to herbicides?

Header image : Intelliscout

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