ATHENS – For millennia, Greek farmers have used tried-and-true techniques to till the soil and produce some of the greatest crops the world has ever seen – to this day – but now a few are employing a marriage of science and agriculture.
In a world with smartphones, smart TV’s and smart cars that drive themselves, some farmers now are jumping off their tractors and dropping their hoes to move to smart methods of growing and producing.
In a feature, Agence France-Presse (AFP) illustrated the change through one of them, Sotiris Mournos was pictured using high-tech techniques to use his cell phone to check microclimate and humidity data about his fields on the plain of Imathia in northern Greece.
“The high-tech farming techniques he uses are making slow progress in Greece’s tradition-bound and struggling agricultural sector, but growers like him see them as key to their future,” the site said.
Mournos, 25, employs a Greek smart-farming app to boost production of his family’s cotton fields and fruit trees, the report noted, a young man in a field filled with the old.
Using real-time data recorded by a weather station, he can analyze and correlate the impact of weather conditions on his 10-hectare (nearly 25-acre) cotton plantation.
“We’ve managed to reduce the use of fertilizer and irrigation… (and thereby to) increase the financial return” of the farm, said Mournos, who gave up studying computer science in college to devote himself the family farm in the town of Platy.
It helps to be able to quickly and accurately measure the humidity or the nitrogen level in the soil to be able to reduce the excessive use of fertilizers and save water, he said of the advantages.
As in many other southern European countries, Greece’s agricultural sector is chronically short of water and smart farming could help deal with that problem, the site also said.
Agriculture has been a losing game for many in Greece, especially the young, who moved to the cities to find better-paying work without the back-breaking labor and morning-to-night hours of farming.
Agriculture now represents just five percent of Greece’s Gross DomesticProduct (GDP) of 208.43 billion euros ($216.2 billion) which is half what it was in 2002.
FIELDS OF WORRY
The New Democracy government, wanting to keep the industry going as agricultural products represent a good chunk of exports, from saffron to nuts, budgeted 221.98 million euros ($231 million) over the next three years to revive the country’s farming industry.
Most of that comes from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy innovation fund. “Most young people in my village prefer other jobs and have given up working in the fields,” Mournos told AFP.
Not him though, and he said he will use farm apps on his phone and not just sticking his finger in the wind, saving that it has cut use of fertilizer by 40 percent in his cotton field and avoiding pesticide sprays, which resulted in saving 9,000 euros ($9,325) – without affecting production rates.
He’s one of the few who are trying it though as tradition in Greek farming runs as deep as the roots and many areas used for agriculture are so small and the reluctance so strong that apps aren’t making big inroads yet.
Analysts note many farms are on hilly or even mountainous terrain and Greek farms are often family businesses or involve rented fields, making investment in tools and practices less appealing.
An “endemic” lack of cooperation among farmers prevents them from sharing costs, Aikaterini Kasimati, an agricultural engineer at the University of Agronomy in Athens, told the news site.
That has seen Greece lagging other European states in the use of smart farming, said Vassilis Protonotarios, Marketing Manager of Neuropublic, a company specializing in digital agriculture.
He said farmers could benefit from new technology without having to invest in expensive equipment or have “specialized digital skills,” although smartphones abound everywhere.
Organic farmer Thodoris Arvanitis said many though aren’t eager to embrace new technologies because they don’t know enough about them and prefer long-used conventional methods.
“Farmers won’t go after technology when they don’t have enough money for fuel” his farm being in the small town of Kiourka, some 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) north of Athens.
Machi Symeonidou, an agronomist and creator of the agricultural IT startup Agroapps said the indifference or resistance to change will likely wane as technology takes over more fields.
Added Kasimati: “We see a constant degradation of fields and a fall in yield,” she said, adding that water was also becoming expensive. But as the technology becomes simpler and cheaper, these tools will see more use.”