Project tackles growing pains of Europe´s grass producers

April 3rd, 2014
Project tackles growing pains of Europe´s grass producers
Credit: Thinkstock
Demand for turf grass sod production is increasing yearly but, at the same time, producers are facing spiralling costs for fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water.

SODSAT, a two-year, EU-funded project hopes to increase the competitiveness of Europe's turf grass producers by providing a novel remote intelligent turf management system. The SODSAT initiative, which is being coordinated by the Maltese company ATEKNEA SOLUTIONS, aims to achieve this by means of artificial intelligence and satellite imaging.

Sod (natural turf) production in the EU is estimated to exceed 80,000 ha and involves 20 000 workers, generating revenues of approximately EUR 2.4billion. As such, turf grass sod production is gradually shifting from the status of niche production to agricultural crop proper.

In order to maintain the sector´s current profitability and reduce the environmental impact and footprint of sod production, sod growers need to increase or maintain certain quality parameters, such as uniformity of colour, texture and density. SODSAT aims to help them achieve this with satellite spectral imagery to identify excesses or deficiencies in irrigation and fertilization of turf grass sod production.

Launched in February 2014 with FP7 funding, SODSAT proposes to develop a web based expert system, multi-spectral satellite imaging analysis and on-site sensing and portable devices software. The system will provide expert agronomical recommendations based on multi-spectral image processing and on-site sensing.

Christopher Spiteri, of ATEKNEA SOLUTIONS, said, 'Although satellite imagery analysis for crop production already exists, it is aimed and calibrated for traditional crops, such as wheat and maize - not for turf grass sod production. As a result, the development of dedicated new tools to be used in such production fields is necessary. The addition of on-site sensing is not only extremely valuable but could also increase the yield on natural turf grass production.'

The agricultural surfaces used for turf grass sod production are on the rise due to expanding demand and the relative profitability of this type of crop. Sod is typically used for lawns, golf courses and sports stadiums around the world. In residential construction, it is sold to landscapers, home builders or home owners who use it to establish a lawn quickly and avoid soil erosion.

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