GUEST POST: Giovanni Passuello – App for Regen Ag?

Giovanni Passuello is a Plant Sciences graduate from Wageningen University and Research (WUR) who recently completed an internship with one of the biggest digital providers for farmers. As part of Cycle to Farms, we also want to encourage more young people to share their stories about sustainable agriculture, so we asked Giovanni to share some of his reflections.

What does it takes to create an App for Regenerative Agriculture?

Too often, the debate around the solutions to issues facing the agricultural systems is framed between two positions; supporters of technological enhancements as solution, and advocates of production systems that would mimic the natural systems. However, preferring one approach to the other would ignore some fundamental aspects. Out of think tanks, framework papers and corporate events, the challenge lies in harmonising the two approaches, providing farmers and supply chain managers with effective tools to help  them in their daily tasks.

After carrying out an internship in a company developing a smart farming app, I started questioning myself on how I would have devolved the platform. I decided to focus on how it could be shaped to support an active adoption of regenerative agriculture principles and practices. I looked into many options on the market but none had all the features that I would have expected. So, I sat down, reflected and wrote some guidelines I believe should be considered when creating a digital platform for regenerative agriculture.
Many smart farming systems work as accounting tools for field or stable activities and local weather conditions. Accessing this data is crucial, as provides a source of updated local data to feed the models in the platform, which in turn serve as advices system for the user. However, it is key to further link this information with the long-term effects they pose for the farm. The farmer would then have the possibility to interpret or to simulate the outcome of different management choices. Moreover, the digital representation of the farm on the app should allow for a high degree of flexibility and context specificity of field set up, including mixed crop-livestock layouts. At the same time the advice systems should not be a binary do – don’t response on crop health. Rather it should allow a complete re-design of farm activities, acting on multiple layers: crop, field, farm, and landscape. Decisive in my view, the app should become a way for farmers to demonstrate and certify the use of both regenerative agricultural practices and provision of ecosystem services to supply chain managers and eventually directly to consumers. Diversified products need a market!
With these reflections in mind, what example of features would there be?
1. Crop Rotation: to evaluate trade-off between crops in the rotation with forecast impact on yield, soil nutrient cycle, soil cover, functional traits and income;
2. Nutrient Fluxes Tracker: to adjust the cropping calendar in order to take advantage of crop traits and residual fertility, minimising nutrient losses and efficiently use livestock waste;
3. Exchange farm by-products: to connect farmers in the same landscape but different sectors, aiming at closing the nutrient cycles at landscape level;
4. Direct market channels: to bring together demand and supply of diversified management and niche farm products;
5. Soil degradation prevention: soil compaction risk and erosion risk rating field map for timely field interventions.

I tried to design these features using a holistic approach. To target the stakeholders already involved in regenerative agriculture would be not enough. Rather, the idea behind these features is to empower the actors, giving them data upon which they can decide to adopt the regenerative agricultural practices that are more suitable for their context.

Giovanni Passuello

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With gratitude,
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