Agricultural technology experts gathered in Waterford this week for the launch of a project to digitally transform Europe’s agri-food sector and support vibrant rural areas.
The ‘Demeter’ programme will demonstrate how field and plant sensors, weather stations, and monitoring and control devices can support sustainable, safe-farming and food-production systems.
The €17m programme, funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020, will involve 25 deployment sites, 6,000 farmers, and 38,000 devices and sensors, spanning 318,000 hectares in 18 countries, including Ireland.
The name Demeter is taken from the Greek goddess of the harvest, who presides over grains and the fertility of the earth. The programme includes 60 partners, who will run 20 pilot programmes across five agricultural sectors.
Through its multi-actor approach, Demeter will also include improved farmer wellbeing and support in precision decision-making. One of the core partners is the World Farmers’ Organisation, along with major names in world farming, such as John Deere.
In Ireland, Teagasc will be involved in a project focused on animal well-being, and tech experts will work with farmers and the wider agri-industry in the areas of waste and energy management, precision machinery, high-quality crops, livestock and animal health, and supply chain robotics.
An open call for farmers, technology solution providers, and other interested parties will be launched next year, according to project co-ordinator, Kevin Doolin, director of innovation at the Telecommunications, Software and Systems Group (TSSG) at Waterford Institute of Technology.
“Demeter will demonstrate the real-life potential of advanced interoperability in the internet-of-things technologies across the value chain in multiple agri-food operational environments, involving different production sectors, production systems, and farm sizes,” Mr Doolin said, adding that the €1m-budgeted project demonstrates TSSG’s and the project team’s strength as precision agriculture leaders in Europe.
“It provides further opportunities, including new business models on the farm and in the wider agri-food economy, while also helping to safeguard Europe’s precious natural resources.”
Dr Mark White, vice-president of research, innovation, and graduate studies, WIT, emphasised the impact that projects like Demeter have on Waterford and the south-east’s economy and digital eco-system.
“WIT and its research community, including the high-performing TSSG, have consistently attracted large-scale EU projects and funding into the region, supporting high-end, highly skilled jobs over many years. TSSG’s focus, and recent success, in the agri-tech sector goes a long way to ensure there is a pipeline of relevant technology-based employment opportunities in the south-east,” Mr White said.
Demeter will monitor plant and animal products during their life cycle, from farm to fork, increasing on-farm profitability, lowering farming’s ecological footprint, and decreasing the use of natural resources.
All gathered data will be shared, thus supporting new business opportunities for viable, sustainable rural communities, he added.