Digital agriculture is at a turning point and the expanding market for technological and organisational aspects is constantly growing. Although the digitisation of the agricultural sector has many advantages, there are still obstacles to the development of its full potential in Europe. Abderrahmen Ben Chouchane explores these technological changes by looking at Italian agriculture.
Digital technologies can help European farmers provide sustainable and quality food. Not only do they help farmers produce more food with less, but they can also help fight climate change.
Giovanni Nardecchia is a young Italian agricultural entrepreneur who studied Agricultural Sciences and Technologies and decided to invest his talent in the family business.
“The land is about 8 hectares and we mainly cultivate olive trees” said Mr. Nardecchia,
“Given the area we are in and the numerous European laws, we try to do our best. My father worked here for many years and it took me a long time to convince him of how important change is.”
Mr Nardecchia explains the first steps:
“The use of drones allows a considerable saving of time, resources and energy, given that they can do tasks that would otherwise be for one or more people. Despite this, the olive tree must avoid being subject to an excessive lack of water at the beginning of the vegetative season (spring) and in the summer months. A good solution is micro-irrigation, which allows the plant to receive the right amount of water, avoiding damage deriving from excessive humidity.”
Technologies of this kind are developed, for example, by Carbon Bee, which proposes a measuring instrument (mountable on drones, robots, and tractors) capable of collecting detailed data on plant diseases.
“CarbonBee is also really good because drones are also excellent tools that help determine the health of crops from area to area. This allows the farmer to intervene in the most appropriate way, possibly redistributing the quantities of fertilizer, water, and pesticides,” Mr Nardecchia said.
In the past two years, thanks to Airbnb, he has been able to transform the abandoned house into a small agritourism, increasing the family income.
This dream model created by the Nardecchia family does not represent the Italian majority, in fact, the statistics show it. The adoption of new technologies remains far below expectations and varies from region to region.
The European Commission has been monitoring the digital progress of the Member States since 2014. For the 2020 edition, Italy ranks 25th among the 28 EU Member States.
According to the EU average, Italy has very low levels of basic and advanced digital skills. The number of specialists and graduates in the sector is also far below the EU average. Although the country ranks relatively high in the supply of digital public services, their use remains low.
Francesco D’Angelo lives in the province of Dogliola in a renovated farm, surrounded by 3.6 hectares of land which has 150 olive trees and a grove with a wonderful view of the sea.
Mr D’Angelo said: “It sounds good but after working for 50 years in these lands you understand that it is hard to change and what they don’t tell you is that you need money to buy all the new stuff (technologies) they talk about and then they should give us courses to learn how to use them. However, for some of us it takes at least another 50 years to adapt.”
Under pressure, D’Angelo had to adapt and began selling vegetables online using the MangioaKm0 app which is used to sell local vegetables and fruits online.
“It certainly helps me to make some more money than usual but unfortunately I compete against large companies that are much more technological and much more effective than mine. This gap must be addressed so that everyone, including small and medium-sized farmers, can access and benefit from the technology,” he said.