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Statistics Netherlands to use precision ag sensor data

Statistics Netherlands (CBS) is investigating the possibilities to use data collected and/or generated by precision agriculture equipment for its national statistics reports.

The agency says that it aims to stay innovative as far as data and statistics collection is concerned and that the use of big data from precision agriculture equipment like soil moisture and crop sensors, but also milking robots can relieve farmers from (obligatory) reporting their data through questionnaires which is common practice until now.

Agricultural statistics

Methodologist Ger Snijkers from Statistics Netherlands (CBS) says: “We are in line with these developments and are now examining with a team of researchers to what extent the data that farmers collect every day can be used to make our agricultural statistics. This has a number of advantages for both CBS and farmers. We are also looking for cooperation with external parties in this area.”

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Statistics Netherlands wants to use big data from precision agriculture equipment like soil moisture and crop sensors. - Photo: Mark Pasveer
Statistics Netherlands wants to use big data from precision agriculture equipment like soil moisture and crop sensors. - Photo: Mark Pasveer

3 main research questions

Tim Punt investigated the system of an innovative farm to study the usability of these new data as part of his study in Econometrics & Operations Research at Maastricht University.

To this end, a link has been sought with a project on precision agriculture that was set up in 2017 by the Applied Data Science department of TU Eindhoven and the Southern Agriculture and Horticulture Organisation (ZLTO).

Tim Punt:

How can we supply information back to the farmer on the basis of this data so that he can actually do something with it?

“3 research questions are central to CBS,” says Punt. “The first question was: can we use this sensor data as a source for current statistics? Question 2 was: can we also make new statistics with this data? And the third question was: how can we supply information back to the farmer on the basis of this data so that he can actually do something with it? That last aspect is important, because that way the farmer also benefits. We are trying to complete the data circle. Together with the innovative farm, we worked on a prototype of a dashboard that should provide insight into the ins and outs of his business.”

Trust is essential

“On paper, the idea of using this new data is simple,” says Snijkers, “in practice, however, that is not the case.” Punt confirms that: “There are a number of factors that we have encountered. Protecting privacy and trusting that data is handled securely are essential. In the end we were able to convince all involved that this is guaranteed at CBS as an independent party.”

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For CBS, it's important that the farmer also benefits from supplying his data to the agency. - Photo: Mark Pasveer
For CBS, it's important that the farmer also benefits from supplying his data to the agency. - Photo: Mark Pasveer

“The results are promising, we were able to extract a lot of data that is currently being collected on the basis of questionnaires from the data file. It is still quite a challenge to bring these data from the agricultural sector as a whole together and to convert them into high-quality statistics.”

First proof of concept

Snijkers emphasises that this research is a very first exploration. “We are still at the beginning and now have a first proof of concept. We see possibilities, but there are also the necessary challenges. We want to expand our network – also outside the agricultural sector – and would like to get in touch with companies to work together, for example with business organisations that have expertise in this area. By combining different expertise, we think we can take the datafigation of agriculture and business a step further.”

Companies interested in a collaboration with CBS on sensor data in business, agriculture, dairy farming, horticulture or another sector can contact Ger Snijkers at collaboration@cbs.nl.

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