Wanted: students who fancy a road trip

A van will be setting out from campus on 6 June for a four-year tour of Europe.
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The trip will involve doing research and collecting data from farmers. That data will be used to develop an app that helps small-scale farmers implement precision agriculture. The coordinators are still looking for researchers and students who are willing to take part in the project, which means spending a few weeks travelling around Europe in the van. ‘The more students know about this, the better.’

The multi-year road trip is funded by the European Union, says WUR lecturer Teun Vogel. He is involved in the project thrugh his own company Cambisol. ‘At Cambisol, we have been carrying out assignments on sustainable land use for years, mainly in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.’ Cambisol is working with the Environmental Sciences Group and the Soil Physics and Land Management Group, says Vogel.‘WUR is coordinating the project and Cambisol is responsible for the innovation side.’

That innovation aspect consists of developing an app, explains Vogel. ‘At present, it is mainly large farms that have access to precision agriculture and digital tools. That is widening the gap between rich and poor farmers. We plan to build an app that gives all farmers easy access to geo-data and maps, free of charge. Because there is an awful lot of data available but at the moment it isn’t easy for farmers to use that data, for example because they can’t afford to or don’t have the time to delve into it. The software will give farmers clear information — in one and the same app — about soil quality, crop quality or the weather, for example. That will help farmers be more targeted in their use of water or crop protection agents. It will therefore be easier for small farmers to introduce technological innovations such as precision agriculture.’

Assessing requirements

The app will be called Phito, says Vogel. To build the app, they first need an idea of the requirements of small-scale farmers. And that is where the van comes in. Vogel: ‘Over the next six months, we want to speak to as many farmers as possible, throughout Europe. We will be asking them what this app should have and what would be potential game changers for their business operations. That is why we are asking students to drive the van around Europe and interview farmers, for example by visiting as many farmers’ markets as possible in Spain. At the same time, the students will get an opportunity to collect data for their theses and enjoy a great road trip.’

Student drivers have already been found for trips to Spain, Portugal and Italy. ‘But we need more,’ says Vogel. ‘And the road trip will continue even after the app has been built, in order to collect more data and spread the news about Phito.’


The van will be parked in front of the Forum entrance on campus on 6 June between 16:00 and 18:00 for a special presentation. ‘We will be making a festive event of it,’ says Vogel. ‘The van will be unveiled and then we will wave it off as it starts its road trip.’ The first destination is Spain, where an ACT group will be doing interviews with farmers. Vogel: ‘It’s my dream to drive around Europe in a van, so of course I want to join the trip too. There is a project meeting in Italy at the start of October, and I will take that opportunity to ride in the van then.’

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