‘Virtual adviser’ shows farmers and foresters the path to innovation

Published on
November 18, 2016

Results from scientific research into agriculture and forestry should be translated faster into innovative practices according to the European Commission. From early 2017 a smart web tool will provide knowledge for innovation directly to end users.

“Many research projects in agriculture and forestry produce excellent scientific results,” says Hein ten Berge, coordinator of the VALERIE (Valorising European Research for Innovation in Agriculture and Forestry) EU project. “Part of these results find their way  into ready-to-use methods and techniques for practitioners in the field. However, the EC considers that interaction between research and the world of practice is limited and that, as a result, farmers and foresters are missing innovation opportunities. VALERIE is aimed at bridging this knowledge gap.”

Wageningen Plant Research is coordinating the VALERIE project which is carried out  with 13 other European knowledge institutes and companies. The parties involved are composing an inventory of innovations and document collections relevant to farmers, foresters and consultants, and make this information available via their ‘virtual adviser’ The innovations cover a range of thematic domains, from soil use and disease control to water management and the use of biomass. According to Ten Berge the ‘virtual adviser’ will go online in 2017 as a search and communication tool within the EIP-Agri Service Point, the European H2020 hub for information to accelerate innovation in agriculture and forestry.

Semantic web technology

Ten Berge and his colleagues have found many existing collections of scientific and practice-oriented documents. They use semantic web technology to index these documents and make text fragments findable to users. “We take a ‘fingerprint’ of each document, as it were, by scanning it for key terms from our own vocabulary,” says Ten Berge. “When a user launches a search query, terms in the query  are then compared to those in the fingerprints , tracking down and providing the best matching documents for the user.” The VALERIE vocabulary now consists of a collection of approximately 6,000 terms in the agriculture and forestry domain. Ten Berge: “We are also making short factsheets on selected innovations, that can be found in the document database.”

Ready-to-use techniques

Making scientific information accessible in practice is one thing, but what use is a bulky and well-researched report to farmers or foresters? “A lot of scientific output isn’t ready-to-use for each type of stakeholder,” Ten Berge acknowledges. “For example, the fact that Wageningen has developed a robot that can identify and remove weeds may be useful to some players in the supply chain, but does not mean that such equipment is ready for purchase and use by farmers. The web tool, therefore, separates scientific documents from more  practical information, e.g., in the form of  factsheets, manuals and best practices.”

Platform for contact

And what if an end user would like to implement a specific drip irrigation system, nitrate-capturing crop or strategy for crop protection? Ten Berge: “The web tool is specifically designed also as a platform where businesses, consultants and other actors in the supply chain  can make themselves known. Professionals need these contacts to make innovation work in practice, and share knowledge and experiences.”