Remote sensing, AI and Big Data to reduce water and fertiliser consumption in Spanish plantations

José A. Sobrino

The MORERA project, which is financed by the Misiones CDTI program (R + D + i State Plan), will create a personalised agricultural recommendation service based on satellite images and Artificial Intelligence and aimed at optimising the use of water and fertilisers in Spanish plantations. Led by the company Thales Alenia Space - Spain, the initiative has as Principal Investigator the professor of Earth Physics José Antonio Sobrino, researcher at the Image Processing Laboratory (IPL) of the University of Valencia.

Through the use of new Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques applied to remote sensing and data analysis, the system will develop an irrigation recommendation method, at the plot level, that will allow farmers to reduce the water used in both annual crops as in perennial ones; a low-cost precision agriculture service aimed at improving and promoting the Spanish agricultural industry.

Starting from a new family of compact instruments with nano-precision Freeform optics, the system will integrate data from multiple sources, including AEMET or the European Earth Observation System COPERNICUS. These new instruments, miniaturised for remote sensing in all bands – starting with thermal infrared –, will calculate crop evapotranspiration and water stress, provide a periodic measure of crop status and offer personalised fertigation recommendations in deficit irrigation scenarios, as well as crop yield forecasts. All this, based on AI and Big Data algorithms. This innovative integrated concept represents a breakthrough that responds to the sector’s resource management needs in the context of climate change.

MORERA (‘Monitoring and Recommendations for the Improvement of Agricultural Yield’), which will be released in 2023, responds to one of the challenges of the ‘Science and Innovation Missions’ call to support large strategic R & D & i initiatives in public-private collaboration and aimed at solving challenges in critical productive sectors for the Spanish economy. Through projects such as MORERA, the Centre for Industrial Technological Development (CDTI-Ministry of Science and Innovation) seeks solutions for the development of a more sustainable food sector through the use of innovative technologies.

The project, which has a budget of approximately € 5 million, covers the entire value chain with a consortium made up of technological partners (LIDAX, TWOPTICS), systems experts (THALES ALENIA) and agricultural end users (TEPRO), in addition of different Research centres of international excellence, such as the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), the Institute of Sustainable Agriculture (IAS-CSIC) and the Image Processing Laboratory (LPI) of the University of Valencia, whose representative in the consortium the professor of Earth Physics and Jaume I Prize for Environmental Protection José Antonio Sobrino – acts as Principal Investigator of this project led by the company THALES ALENIA in Spain.