The project «Plant Protection Optimisation with Precision Farming Technologies runs from 2019 to 2026 in the Swiss cantons of Aargau, Thurgau and Zurich. The aim is to achieve pesticide savings of at least 25 percent by implementing technology-based measures. Around 60 farms are involved in the project and use resource-saving technologies on approximately 900 hectares of broad acre crops, vegetable, fruit and vine farming.

The use of plant protection products in agriculture needs to be optimized due to side effects with negative ecological consequences. The Swiss National Action Plan for Plant Protection, launched in 2017 by the Federal Office for Agriculture, shows ways of avoiding inputs into the environment and promotes projects helping agriculture to achieve its goals.

Addressing environmental challenges with digital technologies

The three agricultural centres initiating the project and the three cantonal farmers’ associations agree that all possible measures need to be addressed to meet the challenges and that the opportunities offered by digital technologies should be used to this end.

Precision farming technologies can be used to better determine and implement the right time, place and type of plant protection measure. This ranges from avoiding the use of plant protection products by using mechanical weed control methods, to reducing the frequency of treatment by exploiting the optimum time for treatment, to eliminating overlaps inside and outside the field. Precision farming technologies available on the market, such as satellite-guided steering systems, satellite- and sensor-guided crop protection and hoeing equipment, robotics applications, drones and farm specific crop protection forecasting systems, allow the use of crop protection products to be optimised and reduced.

Swiss resource programme fosters innovation

The use of these precision farming technologies is not yet widespread in Switzerland for procedural and economic reasons. The resource project financed by the three cantons and the Federal Office for Agriculture will demonstrate the benefits and applicability of the available technologies under Swiss conditions.  Farm businesses will be supported in the use of the technologies by extension and financial assistance.

Seven measures to choose from

The farms will select at least two of the following seven measures:

  1. Farm-specific forecast data and treatment recommendations
  2. Satellite-based steering systems
  3. Satellite- and sensor-based crop protection equipment
  4. Foliage specific application of herbicides with sensor technology
  5. Sensor-controlled alternative weed control in arable and vegetable farming
  6. Robot-based alternative weed control in fruit growing and viticulture
  7. Use of drones to exploit optimum treatment time and drift reduction in vine and fruit growing

For the implementation of the selected measures, the participating farms will receive annual surface-based contributions.

Flexible implementation of measures

The surface-based participation fees enable the farms to implement measures flexibly, either with existing self-mechanization, newly purchased equipment or via contractors. In this way, anyone and everyone, regardless of whether they are more or less interested in technology, can implement measures and contribute to optimizing crop protection and reducing application rates by using precision farming technologies.