Thomas Been and his team are working on a digital twin that displays the existing nitrogen cycle on an arable or dairy farm and with which researchers and farmers can determine how to close the nitrogen cycle as much as possible. A little less abstract: the required models are linked and provided with company data, sensor data, weather data and other observations of the company.
Because data is different for all companies, the digital twin becomes specific for each company. The twin makes clear where it is necessary to supplement nitrogen or to prevent losses. Researchers can do scenario studies with this model, without having to test all scenarios in practice. Farmers know more quickly where they stand and what measures they should take that best suit their business. Ultimately, this project should lead to a kind of nitrogen dashboard, with which the researcher will be able to control the parameters and the farmer will be able to optimise the use of nitrogen at the farm.
Priority area leaders Thomas Been and Claudia Kamphuis say that nitrogen was chosen because this substance is currently particularly interesting to growers, farmers and the government. “We also have many models that zoom in on nitrogen, such as growth models (when does the plant use how much nitrogen?) and soil models (with nitrogen binding and leaching depending on soil, crop, weather) and business management systems that supply the required nitrogen input, for example the nitrogen that has been brought onto the land as natural manure or fertiliser. We make these individual models ‘talk’ to each other to monitor nitrogen in the cycle, in order to limit losses and to minimise use”.
According to Been and Kamphuis, the possibilities are endless. “If we develop a digital twin for nitrogen, we’ll also have an infrastructure that should be able to work with organic matter, water, phosphate and diseases and pests”.
The development of the digital twin requires many different types of expertise. That is why plant, animal, soil and environmental scientists, economists and data scientists are working together on the development of the digital twin for the ‘digital farm of the future’.