CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin, the largest citizen science study ever carried out in Flanders into heat and drought, is installing 500 smart sensors or ‘field daggers’ in various potato fields throughout Flanders in order to gather information about the microclimate on our potato fields.

Since we naturally not only see the effect of dry and hot summers in our gardens, parks and green public spaces, CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin is also examining the impact of extreme weather conditions on potato crops.

Potatoes are extremely sensitive to extreme weather conditions. It is well known that they do not appreciate extended drought and heat, nor do they like extremely wet weather. It is a crop that performs best in typical Belgian weather, variable, without extremes. However, in recent years, we have increasingly seen longer periods of drought and heat, which has its impact on potato farming. ‘In 2018, our yield was 30 to 40 per cent lower than normal,’ says Jean-Pierre Van Puymbrouck, Chairman of Belpotato, the trade association for the entire Belgian potato supply chain. ‘In 2019, there was a 5 to 10 per cent loss, and last year we were down by 20 per cent.’ Furthermore, it also endangers the quality of the potatoes. 

500 smart ‘field daggers’ throughout Flanders

CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin is primarily focused on the effect of heat and drought in gardens, however, 500 smart temperature and soil-moisture sensors are also being installed in a variety of potato fields. The participating fields are spread all across Flanders and were selected in consultation with the Institute for Agricultural, Fisheries and Food Research (ILVO), the inter-provincial Potato Production Research Centre (PCA), INAGRO, the Hooibeekhoeve, Agristo and Clarebout. This broad partnership demonstrates that the entire sector is convinced of the necessity to use new technology in efforts to achieve sustainable production that can stand up to the climate in the future.

Keep track of the measurements via WatchITgrow

The sensors measure both the temperature and the soil moisture, very accurately and every 15 minutes. The temperature is taken in 3 places; close to the ground at a height of 12 cm, on the soil surface and below the ground (in the top 10 cm). It is also in this top layer of earth that the soil moisture content is measured. For the first time, these detailed measurements will provide an insight into the microclimate in which the potato plant grows.

All data are automatically uploaded daily via the Internet of Things in, VITO's online information platform, helping farmers to monitor their lots easily and efficiently. WatchITgrow uses various data sources, including satellite images, weather information, soil data, Internet of Things and user data and, as such, generates information about the progression and health of crops. Thanks to this information, farmers can act in good time or make adjustments where necessary and improve their production sustainably.

Screenshot WatchITgrow

A unique set of data and soil analyses

Meanwhile, researchers are also using the data to gain a unique insight into the microclimate on potato fields. It is also important to know that this is all to be combined with soil analyses, conducted by the University of Antwerp.  With this, a study will be made of the soil's capacity to store carbon, and the presence of organic material, which is crucial for healthy soil.

Ultimately, the intention of the CurieuzeNeuzen project is to share the knowledge gained with potato farmers, helping them to respond better to hot and dry periods thanks to targeted and objective information.

About CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin

CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin is an initiative from the University of Antwerp and De Standaard in close collaboration with Rabobank, Orange, VITO, Flanders Environment Agency (VMM), the Department of the Economy, Science and Innovation, the Department of the Environment, Bio-Planet, DPD and Aquafin.


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