Nowadays farmers have to speak digital language

For good or not, but smart technologies and digitalization is our future that is happening now and if we want to stay on the market, we have to adapt. 

The American Farm School (AFS) is not only an educational institute in Thessaloniki (Greece) but is also a research farm that aims to demonstrate sustainable farming methods that are economically viable, socially responsible and ecologically sound.

The Farm has poultry division, horticulture, dairy division, winery and krinos Olive Center that produces premium products sold on the open market. The farm serves as a base for the implementation of new innovative solutions and is the leading innovation facilitator in the region. Today we talked about Industry 4.0 and its application in agriculture with the prominent experts from the AFS Dr. Ilias Kalfasan agronomist with a specialty in Plant Protection and Dr. Evdokia Krystallidou, an expert in Animal Management and Associate Director of the Strategic Programs Management Office.

How did you come to the idea of Industry 4.0 based solutions?

– Our farm academy has always been open to new ideas and tried to follow trends and demands of the real economy. On the other hand, we are continuously looking at what our farm needs, what can improve its efficiency and quality. For good or not, but smart technologies and digitalization is our future that is happening now and if we want to stay on the market, we have to adapt. We always start with a concept, and always brainstorm the ideas how to realize it in a digital environment. – For this we always need sensors, IoT technologies and big data analysis. (Now AFS has 15 fully automated meteorological stations,  the LoRa Network – IoT telecommunication network in Northern Greece, covering 2.2 millones hectares of land and a digital monitoring of free grazing animals). Here you can learn more about LoRA project:

One of our recent projects is a Smart Farming Initiative under the Intelligent Agriculture Program. The idea of the project – to boost technology transfer in Greek agriculture. For instance, the initiative includes installation of telemetry field monitoring devices in different parts of the country that will contribute substantially to the decision making process of the producers, e.g. determining the need for irrigation and / or the amount of irrigation water. These devices will be connected to the cloud to send real-time information on a variety of soil parameters. The information is accessible both through a computer and via smart devices, and is presented in a user-friendly format via maps.  More details  here: http://smartfarminginitiative.gr

– Speaking about requirements, can you please name key skills required for successful implementation of Industry 4.0?

 First of all, we have to remember that we implement technologies not to be trendy, but in order to make use of them. Therefore, it is very important to be able to interpret the data acquired by sensors. Nowadays, farmers, apart from being a farmer, have to speak digital language, and be able to make a forecast and implement actions based not only on the experience but on sensors’ data interpretations.

Second, an industrial expert in agriculture has to understand that the farm is a part of the greater network and therefore, thinks systematically and strategically. It is also important to be a good team player and be able to adapt to changes quickly.

Communication is also of high importance. Since the work is getting more interdisciplinary, engineers, technical members and farmers have to work together and communicate with each other. We have noted that quite often the experts, farmers and consultants  speak about the same thing but do not understand each other. Therefore, it is also of great importance to be able to explain technical things in easy way, so that farmers without a deep technical background could understand the content and use of applied software.

– How do you think, is an e-learning course a good tool for mastering technical skills?

Yes and no at the same time. When it comes to the elderly farmers, who barely can use computers, they need a more personalized face-to-face approach with training in small groups of 2 or 3. But when we are talking about young generations and consultants, who conduct training on the software, it is a great way to widen the knowledge and safe time. And we believe that your INDEX-Industrial Expert online course or our recent project NEXTFOOD, both focused on practical case studies, contribute to the crucial transition to a more sustainable and competitive economy.