Farmer writes: Smart farming and the internet-of-things
Kieran Sullivan jumped at the chance to go to Brussels and take part in a workshop on how the Internet-of-things can help smart farming.

Whether we like it or not, the internet is now part of our everyday lives. We socialise on it, read our newspapers on it, and order our food on it – to name but a few uses. Farming is no different and while we can’t grow food in it, the connected world of the internet is becoming a useful tool in the farmyard.

In its broadest sense for us farmers, so-called “smart farming” means gathering data via sensors connected to the internet and analysing it to make more informed decisions on various aspects of our work. This could be, for example, how much feed to offer an underperforming animal. Another example is the MooCall sensor, which attaches to a pregnant cow’s tail and sends a text to your phone when it senses the cow’s tail moving into its horizontal calving position.

Last week, I attended a workshop in Brussels that looked at how different actors along the food production chain could benefit from the internet-of-things. The European Commission is making funding available for research on large-scale data pilot programmes involving the internet-of-things, and farming is one of the sectors being targeted.

The internet-of-things is an umbrella term for scenarios where ordinary objects such as fridges, cars, and even cows are connected to the internet, to allow easier and more efficient management.

Work already taking place

The first thing that struck me at the workshop was the broad range of data-driven smart farming that is already going on around Europe.

A Dutch potato farmer presented his system, which monitors the soil on his farm as well as the produce it gives him. This allowed him to target which sections required more irrigation, fertiliser, etc.

He also incorporated the effect the weather has on production and used this to decide whether or not to harvest some of his crop ahead of schedule.

A big part of his enterprise involved showing his business customers what produce he had for sale. This was also done online and was connected to his own production cycle.

Work with dairy farmers in Spain also featured at the workshop, where one of the top priorities was the ease of use of the smartphone app farmers used.

A representative from John Deere spoke about how the reduction in available human labour was driving them to build more functionality into their machines. All the extra mini-screens in the cab, someone remarked, means we won’t be able to see out the right-hand window of our tractors soon!

Benefits of smart technology

For my part, I spoke about the need for farmers to feel the benefits of smart technology offerings. Often, we’re the last ones considered when a new technology is being developed.

There was also mention of opportunities for technology to help farmers with compliance issues. Could smart monitoring, for example, help farmers show the Department that they are in compliance with the nitrates directive?

And so the discussion continued. The internet is here to stay and it offers farmers much potential to better manage their costs and their produce.

Now, we just need to start talking about broadband coverage in rural areas – perhaps this is something to bring up when politicians start knocking on our doors looking for votes in the coming weeks.

Kieran Sullivan and his brother farm part-time in Co Waterford. You can follow him on Twitter @kieran_sullivan

Ireland overtaken at the top of world food security rankings
Singapore has overtaken Ireland at the top of the food security index with Ireland scoring highly for access to finance for farmers and nutritional standards.

Ireland has been overtaken by Singapore as the most food secure country in the world. Last year, Ireland finished at the top of the Global Food Security Index for the first time.

The index, which is published by The Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks countries based on food affordability, availability, and quality as well as an adjustment for natural resources and resilience. This new adjustment assesses a countries exposure to the impacts of a changing climate.

The United States and the United Kingdom finished just behind Ireland in joint third position. It is the first year Singapore claimed the top spot. This was largely attributed to its status as a high-income economy where GDP per capita has risen nearly 30% since 2012 (when the index was first published).

Strengths

The index found Ireland had 16 strengths when it came to food security. The country scored 100% for presence of food safety net programmes, access to financing for farmers and nutritional standards.

Food safety, food loss, sufficiency of supply and food consumption as a share of household expenditure were all ranked highly with Ireland scoring above 94%.

Strengths were ranked as any metric above 75%. Coming in just above the 75% threshold were corruption, volatility of agricultural production and political stability risk. Volatility was the only metric where Ireland was ranked below the average of all other countries.

Venezuela

Overall, 70% of countries included in the index recorded higher scores in 2018 with lower-middle- and low-income countries experienced the most substantial gains.

Venezuela experienced the largest decline of any country. Analysts said: “As the economic crisis in Venezuela continues, the country’s food security situation has become critical… demonstrating the significant impact that political and economic insecurity has on a country’s food security.”

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UK can unilaterally cancel its decision to leave the EU – ECJ
The UK is free to revoke their decision to leave the EU without the permission of other EU member states.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that that Article 50, which signalled the UK’s intention to leave the EU at the end of March 2019, can be cancelled unilaterally.

The ruling states the revocation of the withdrawal agreement “must be decided following a democratic process in accordance with national constitutional requirements”. This opens the door for a second referendum on whether the UK is to remain in or leave the EU.

If such a vote were to take place and the decision to leave was revoked the ECJ said it confirmed; "EU membership of the member state concerned under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a member state and brings the withdrawal procedure to an end."

Unanimous

The European Council and Commission had contended that Article 50 could only be halted following a unanimous decision of the Council. This was due to the fear that allowing a country to withdraw from Article 50 unilaterally could be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

The ECJ found that; “To subject that right to revoke to the unanimous approval of the European Council as the Commission and Council proposed, would transform a unilateral sovereign right into a conditional right and would be incompatible with the principle that a member state cannot be forced to leave the European Union against its will.”

Hypothetical

The UK government also tried to have the case declared inadmissible as the arguments presented are hypothetical given it is not their position to revoke Article 50.

Speaking to the BBC, UK Agricultural Minister Michael Gove said the UK had no intention from halting the withdrawal process and called on MPs to support Theresa May’s deal.

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Weekly weather: up to 100mm of rain expected this week
Met Éireann are predicting high rainfall levels for the majority of the country with the south west expected to receive almost 100mm.

Monday

Today will begin mostly cloudy though a little hazy sunshine may occur for a time in the east. According to Met Éireann, other than scattered patches of drizzle or light rain mainly near west coasts and on hills, most areas will be dry. It will stay overcast through the afternoon and evening. After a cool start, temperatures will recover ranging 8°C to 12°C.

Tonight will become quite windy with freshening southerly breezes. It will be predominantly dry but there will be a few patches of rain and drizzle about. Minimum temperatures of 5 to 9°C.

Tuesday

Tuesday will see a dry day in many central and eastern counties. Rain will extend across most of Munster and Connaught by the afternoon. Rain will then gradually spread eastwards during the evening with some heavy bursts possible. Highest temperatures of 10°C to 13°C in moderate to fresh south to southeast winds.

Wednesday

Rain and drizzle may linger across parts of east Leinster and Ulster on Wednesday but it will be largely dry elsewhere. However, another band of rain will reach the southwest coast by evening. This rain will extend nationwide on Wednesday night. Highest temperatures of 7 to 10°C.

Thursday and Friday

There remains uncertainty in the forecast detail for the end of the week but it looks set to stay unsettled.

Farming forecast

Rain

The last part of November and beginning of December were wet and this is reflected in the rainfall figures. Totals for the past two weeks are above normal almost everywhere. They were over twice the average values across the southern half of the country.

For most places it will continue to remain wet in the week ahead with only the northwest having slightly less than anticipated normal levels. The southwest of Ireland will again be the wettest part of Ireland with rainfall amounts close to 100mm expected.

Temperatures

Apart from the northwest of the country where temperatures were fractionally less than normal, all parts were positive by around a degree or so. This trend for positive mean temperatures will continue for the next week.

Sunshine will continue to be close to normal for the time of year with weekly totals of around five to 12 hours.

Conditions

Drying conditions will be poor overall and opportunities for spraying will be very limited, if any. Given the high volumes of rain, land is very wet with many soils waterlogged.

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