Calculating Sustainability in Real Time

The xFarm platform acquires new functions to make the agri-food supply chain more transparent  

Maria Luisa Doldi

Digital technology is increasingly making its way into agriculture. This is also affirmed in the latest report of the Smart Agrifood Observatory of the Polytechnic of Milan, which states that in 2022 the market revolving around these technologies in Italy saw a growth in value of 31% over the previous year, reaching an estimated value of € 2.1 billion. In the last five years, therefore, Italian Agriculture 4.0 would have gone from a market that was struggling to take off, with a value of just over €100 million, to a market with significant figures, which has now exceeded two billion in value. 65% of it is made up of monitoring systems for connected vehicles, equipment, and machinery; 20% of systems for monitoring crops, land and infrastructure; and finally, 9% of management software and DSS (decision support systems). The reason for this affirmation of digital is easy to guess: the undeniable advantages it brings in terms of better work organisation, fleet of cars management, optimisation in the use of resources and transparency along the supply chain. It is no coincidence, again according to the report, that among the digital tools that see the greatest growth are those that aim both to support decisions and to manage and organise the farm.

The xFarm Solution

Among the many solutions that the market offers in terms of digitisation for agricultural enterprises, xFarm stands out for its nature as an open platform; it enables the administration of all aspects of a farm – from machine management to crop management, irrigation, stables, etc. The peculiar characteristic is that it is a product not linked to a single brand, but rather capable of integrating machines and equipment from several brands under its own ‘umbrella’. This is a winning choice because few companies today have only machines of the same brand, while all companies need to coordinate the work and use of their machines.

xFarm was born more than a year ago and is now evolving in the light of user experiences and the new needs of farms. In the context of this evolution, xFarm Technologies, the tech company that created the xFarm platform, has announced a partnership with the consultancy firm dss+ with the aim of bringing new solutions to the market for the reporting of emissions linked to agri-food production, including those from activities along the production chain. These emissions have until now been difficult to calculate, thus representing a problem towards complete transparency and sustainability of production.

The Platform Applications

So, in the light of this partnership, how does the xFarm platform evolve? We spoke about this with Federica Spina, Sustainability Manager of xFarm Technologies. 

What are the latest innovations on the xFarm platform?

“The xFarm platform is constantly growing. The Sustainability Module, already present a year ago, has undergone further improvements. By working closely with farmers and food companies, we receive valuable feedback that enables us to offer a product tailored to their needs”.

What does this new version offer compared to the first one?

“Companies, which report their emissions from a corporate perspective, do so by following the most recognised international standard in the field: the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. According to this protocol, companies must report their emissions divided into so-called Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3. Scope 3, specifically, represents indirect emissions from upstream and downstream of the supply chain.

xFarm is an easy-to-use tool for collecting the data needed to report on agricultural emissions. In fact, the tool allows food companies to have visibility and traceability within their supply chain through the precise counting of 4 environmental parameters (including carbon footprint) in real time, every time a farmer keeps track of his operations through our software”.

How exactly does this module work? What is the required input and what is the output?

“It’s simple: the input is all the activities that take place in the field and are recorded by the farmer, by the farm machinery or equipment via app or via the web version of xFarm. Thanks to the contribution of the company dss+, with which we collaborate and which provides the algorithms for calculating the most significant indicators in terms of sustainability, our platform is able to calculate the specific environmental impact of all activities and the aggregate impact of the supply chain, which can be consulted in real time by agri-food companies, so as to have an overview of the entire supply chain available for reporting purposes or to develop strategies that allow to reduce their impact on the environment”.

Who are the target users? What differentiates this solution from similar products already on the market?

“The target is twofold: on the one hand, the farmer, who has the opportunity to better understand the impact of his activities and to have data at hand that he can provide when requested by his customers. On the other, the agri-food companies which, increasingly driven by the need for a concrete commitment to reduce their impact, want to use digital solutions that facilitate the data collection process and the creation of an increasingly accurate and precise database. The specificity of our solution is that it is a tool for the calculation of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) at crop level in real time. The tool, which is in fact certified according to the ISO 14040 standard and uses calculation coefficients from internationally recognised databases, independently calculates the impact, providing a constantly updated overview”.

Are these new modules fee-based?

“Yes, the sustainability module is chargeable. However, customisable packages are available to suit the needs of each customer”.

How is the diffusion of the xFarm platform going in general? How has it developed over the past year? Who uses it and how do they use it?

“The xFarm platform continues its diffusion with an even more international trend than last year. More than 300,000 farms are currently registered, covering a total of 3million tracked hectares. The countries with the largest diffusion are Italy and Spain; however, in recent months, we are also growing a lot in France, Poland, Turkey and Brazil. The trend is undoubtedly positive; there are those who use it in a more advanced way and those who are still novices. At the corporate level we are structuring ourselves to facilitate the adoption of these digital technologies, and to do this the areas of training and support have grown significantly. In addition, we are working with many partners, such as agribusinesses and machinery manufacturers, to create a system and be able to involve farmers even more, with the aim of making their work efficient and improving sustainability”.

Why co-operation with dss+ ?

“This cooperation has existed for several years. dss+ is a long-standing partner of ours with whom we discuss and develop new solutions together. As far as the sustainability module is concerned, we have found excellent synergies by combining our digital DNA and our practical approach in the field with their in-depth knowledge of analytical and strategic methodologies, advising companies in the agri-food sector to accompany them on paths towards greater sustainability.

Our ongoing collaboration allows us to develop new products in the field of sustainability, aimed at providing solutions to the current challenges posed by the need to transform one’s business models to reduce one’s impact on the environment. We are currently working together on regenerative agriculture issues, launching pilot projects to accompany and provide valid and reliable tools to companies interested in learning more about the subject”.

What regenerative agriculture means

  • The term indicates an approach to agriculture that goes against the trend of monoculture and purely industrial farming practices. It is proposed as an alternative to intensive food production, capable not only of having a reduced environmental and/or social impact, but even a positive one. The definition given by the organisation “Regeneration International”, which has been promoting this agricultural practice for years, states: “Regenerative agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in reduced carbon and improved water cycle. Specifically, regenerative agriculture is a holistic land management practice that harnesses the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density. Regenerative agriculture improves soil health, especially through practices that increase soil organic matter”. Practices that characterise this type of agriculture include all those that aim to minimise physical, biological and chemical alteration of the soil (e.g. minimum tillage); keep the soil covered at all times with vegetation or other natural material; increase the biodiversity of plant and microbial species; integrate animals and plants as much as possible on the farm (e.g. agroforestry).

Digitisation for regenerative agriculture

At the recent edition of the Agri Data Green Summit, the event organised by xFarm Technologies, numerous players in the agri-food chain shared their experience in digital. Among the messages of the conference: even in agriculture, digital innovation does not only just mean developing new software and technologies, but rather responding in a different and new way to real and widespread problems. For example, the problem of climate change. Coping with climate change, providing the sector with new tools for risk management, also means spreading regenerative farming practices to increase carbon sequestration and, in the future, enable new forms of income for agricultural companies. These are important prospects for ensuring stable and sustainable production. In this context, increasingly connected agricultural machinery and equipment capable of generating useful data for the entire supply chain, including food companies, will play a fundamental role. One can therefore understand the usefulness of the new extension of the xFarm platform with tools capable of accounting for Scopo 3 emissions along the supply chain. This allows companies to work much more precisely to reduce these emissions, which represent a large portion of the equivalent CO2 emitted for food production. To achieve this new model of agriculture, however, in addition to the use of new digital technologies, it is also essential to adopt a new approach and work with new types of machinery. In this regard, states Antonio Salvaterra, Marketing Director of Argo Tractors, speaking at the Agri Data Green Summit: «Argo Tractors’ development plans include very ambitious goals in the area of digitisation of agricultural processes. These processes – which are still ongoing – have come to life thanks above all to major investments in digital services, Isobus technology, telematics, remote diagnostics and assisted driving. The Landini Farm and McCormick Farm Apps represent a concrete response by Argo Tractors to the need of agricultural entrepreneurs to manage their farm fully. With the App it is possible to study and apply agronomic models, create prescription maps, integrate field sensors and define traceability and sustainability protocols. We are not approaching the subject on a theoretical level, all this is already reality and available on the market. Farmers and agro-mechanics can digitise their companies, an indispensable evolution to increase the quality of work and pay greater attention to the environment, resource utilisation and quality of life».

An increasingly digitised future

Helping agricultural enterprises with digitisation is not easy but at xFarm Technologies they are convinced that there are great opportunities. Digital can enhance both farmers and the companies themselves thanks to the increasingly precise data that can be collected and interpreted. Satellite monitoring, predictive analysis and machine learning are just some of the tools of Agriculture 4.0 that are increasingly establishing themselves, changing the way farms work.

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