Project SMARAGD (smart mechanisation - automation - robotics for an arable farming sector with growth and sustainability) uses the development of light autonomous mechanisation to improve soil quality, increase the resilience and yield of crops and provides opportunities for reducing the CO2 footprint.
Arable farming is scaling up significantly and this demands an increase in the use of bigger and larger machines. However, these larger and heavier machines cause a decrease in soil quality and biodiversity, while increasing soil compaction and crop vulnerability resulting in a reduction in yield.
Technological developments provide opportunities for small-scale and smarter solutions that sustain the soil and save on labour, such as multiple autonomous, small-scale and light-weight vehicles (swarms), fixed track systems, sensing techniques (for weeds and disease recognition), location-specific treatment, etc.
Over the next four years we will be developing autonomous, robotic and innovative mechanisation for the cultivation of high-yield arable crops and field crops. This smart mechanisation will replace heavy large-scale mechanisation, sustain the soil and result in higher crop yields with a reduction in the use of crop protection products, fertilisers and energy for a growing and sustainable arable farming sector.
Proposed solutions for arable farming
The project delivers new breakthroughs in system innovation for arable farming, which provide an alternative for the increasingly heavier mechanisation with its concomitant negative impact on the sector.
This system innovation leads to financial advantages for arable farmers in three distinct ways:
1. Lighter mechanisation means less damage to the soil structure and improved soil quality resulting in higher crop yields.
2. The use of multiple small-scale technologies (robots) provides additional opportunities for intercropping, resulting in a more resilient system with higher yields.
3. The precision technology contributes to the reduced use of crop protection products and fertilisers.
4. The electrical drive creates scope for the desired energy transition in the agricultural sector.
This Public Private Partnership is focused on stimulating system innovation. That means that the approach is more encompassing than simply the production of prototypes. The prototypes are developed with the objective of having them operating in the sector within five years’ time. However, in terms of upscaling there are many questions regarding the integration into current business operations, agreements and ICT standards for the chain and legislation. Developments are required across the sector which demands support and participation from businesses, policy, NGOs and research. SMARAGD is committed to dialogue with these stakeholders and linking with other initiatives.
SMARAGD is currently working on:
- a simulation model for a layout for a company with a mixed crops system and design requirements for prototypes to be developed;
- an autonomous swarming robot prototype that can be mounted with different machines for agricultural purposes;
- a flexible battery management for the effective provision to and use of energy of vehicles;
- three concrete designs and developed prototypes for the above-mentioned applications in the arable farming sector;
- these have been tested in a Field Lab and demonstrated in an interactive setting and evaluated by arable farmers and other stakeholders.