DEMOFARM Andalusia: applying digital solutions in real farms for a wider spread

#37, September 2023

Ricardo Alarcón

Technical Advisor for the General Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock and Food of the Andalusian Regional Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development.

The Regional Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, and Rural Development of Andalusia, in its effort to bring digital technological solutions to the agrifood and livestock sectors, established the DEMOFARM Andalusia project in May 2022. This initiative is based on the application of digital solutions in real farms run by collaborating farmers and livestock breeders. The aim is to share the benefits and advantages of farm digitization with other farmers and breeders based on their experiences.

The main objectives of DEMOFARM are as follows:

  • Reducing the digital gap in the agricultural sector in Andalusia.
  • Promoting and driving the digital transformation of Andalusian agriculture.
  • Enhancing the technological and general training capabilities of farmers and breeders in the region.
  • Identifying and evaluating different technological solutions available in the market.
  • Increasing the competitiveness of the Andalusian agricultural sector through the use of new technologies.
  • Optimizing production techniques to achieve maximum productivity while maintaining environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

On the one hand, DEMOFARM Andalusia is built upon the implementation of a network of demonstrative farms, considering their productive orientation and their significance in the Andalusian agricultural sector. This includes crops such as olive groves, greenhouse horticultural crops, strawberries, citrus fruits, extensive livestock, and dairy cattle.

Currently, the network of farms is geographically located as indicated in the figure below, with plans to expand the network to include additional farms.

On the other hand, the implementation of tools for the digital transformation of demonstrative farms involves identifying and evaluating various technological solutions available in the market for adaptation to each type of farm. The goal is to find customized solutions for each type of farm while making the results applicable to similar farms. This approach aims to enhance the competitiveness of the Andalusian agricultural sector by utilizing new technologies and optimizing production techniques to achieve maximum productivity while ensuring environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

The project consists of several simultaneous phases:

  1. Analysis and evaluation of commercial tools available in the market for developing portfolios of digital solutions for each productive sector, with continuous updates.
  2. Inclusion of collaborating farms in the DEMOFARM Andalusia network.
  3. Digital diagnosis of the farm, identifying existing digital tools and defining a digitalization plan in collaboration with the farmer/breeder/technician based on the farm's needs.
  4. Selection of suitable digital tools available in the market to carry out the digital transformation, considering economic criteria, tool accessibility, maintenance services, and farm characteristics.
  5. Installation of tools and training for farmers/breeders/technicians to enable their usage.
  6. Monitoring of the implemented digital solution's functionality, defining necessary variables or indicators to assess the tool's effectiveness in farm management decision-making.
  7. Design and creation of promotional and dissemination material for publication on social media, websites, events, and demonstrative meetings.
  8. Planning and execution of demonstrative sessions on collaborating farms, showcasing digital tools to technicians, farmers, and breeders, with a focus on young individuals entering the agricultural sector and others interested in the field.
  9. Design and execution of a training program in coordination with various departments of the Regional Ministry, the agrifood R&D regional institute IFAPA, Agricultural Organizations, etc.

The obtained results will be shared with farmers and breeders through demonstrative sessions held on farms. 

Regarding the demonstrative activities, a field day was executed at a citrus farm for a small group (25 attendees), primarily comprising technicians. Initially, the key factors influencing the selection of digital tools to be implemented on the farm were elucidated, subsequent to an initial assessment of the degree of digitalization. Following a brief theoretical introduction regarding the farm's starting context, a guided tour was organized to the specific areas of the farm where the digital tools were operational, affording attendees the opportunity to witness their functionality first-hand. Two distinct routes were devised to streamline demonstrations and address specific queries. To culminate, participants were directly informed by the responsible farm technician about the progression of the digital transformation process and the merits and drawbacks associated with the novel digital tools.

This format effectively facilitated active participation from attendees throughout the day, fostering interaction among attendees and presenters, thereby fostering a bidirectional exchange of information and knowledge. The demonstrative day has been recognized as a tangible nexus for collaboration among the technical team, the farm, and the attendees.

In the context of the demonstrative day for dairy cattle, due to the scope of the transformation initiative (encompassing a greater array of tools and a diverse range of processes), the organization of four distinct routes was deemed necessary, accommodating the attendance of over 40 individuals, with the majority being livestock breeders. Despite the semblance of the meeting format, this session assumed a more pragmatic disposition due to the multitude of inquiries posed by livestock breeders in real time.

As the project progresses, digital transformation is expected to become more accessible for farmers, breeders, and technicians, providing advantages for decision-making and operational control, as well as addressing challenges in the digitalization process.

In agricultural settings, the automation of irrigation through sensors and controllers ensures the provision of necessary water doses based on humidity and salt concentration in the root zone. Homogenizing irrigation control, crucial for proper fertigation dosing, is supported by sensors providing data about the system's status, leading to faster fault detection and prevention. These measures result in water, fertilizer, and electricity savings.

Monitoring the plant's vegetative state is enabled by satellite imaging platforms and digital traps, aiding in diagnosing water stress, nutrient deficiencies or excesses, as well as pest and disease incidences. These tools are valuable additions to farm management.

In extensive livestock farming, geopositioning and animal activity monitoring tools enhance animal control, aiding in understanding location and behaviour patterns to determine animal health and reproduction status. In intensive livestock farming, robotizing tasks like feed distribution or artificial lactation preparation optimize resource consumption, streamlining other processes. Additionally, various sensors installed in the operation, such as digital silo level control, milk production per animal, etc., facilitate input control, individual animal production monitoring, and data recording.

It is important to note that sensor installation requires proper data interpretation to ensure tool effectiveness. Commercial providers offer initial training and ongoing support to help customers make the most of the platforms and optimize sensor and technology usage.

In conclusion, the DEMOFARM Andalusia project embodies a forward-looking approach to the integration of digital solutions within the agricultural and livestock sectors. By promoting the benefits of digitization through real-world examples and participatory learning, the project is contributing to the modernization and sustainability of Andalusian agriculture. As the project expands and evolves, its impact is likely to extend to more farmers, breeders, and technicians, further facilitating the adoption of digital technologies and enhancing the overall efficiency and competitiveness of the agricultural sector in the region.