Visit at the BioSense Institute and the Krivaja d.o.o. precision farm in Serbia
On 15th May 2019 we took part in a professional day that included a farm visit in Serbia organized by the Ministry of Agriculture of Hungary and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Hungary. The main topics of the event were the digitization of agriculture and the field demonstration of precision farming. The participants included professionals who are interested in these topics.
Arriving to Serbia, first we visited the 86th International Agricultural Fair in Novi Sad, where Geert Kits Nieuwenkamp, the agricultural specialist of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, welcomed us, and showed the stands of the pavilion where companies such as Hypor and Cawi Pig Farm Solutions (pig keeping and breeding corporations), Ottevanger Milling Engineers (a storage technology and fodder production organization) or Koppert (an organic plant protection agent and beneficial living organism distributing company) were represented.
Next we visited the Hungarian stand and listened to Dr. László Matus, desk officer responsible for digitization in the Ministry of Agriculture, make a presentation on Hungary’s Digital Agricultural Strategy. During his speech Dr. Matus emphasized that irrigation will be a topic of focus in the agricultural strategy in the coming years and that water rights related measures and the usage fee of future irrigation systems will be managed by informatics systems. He added that the digital reform of the Hungarian public institution system is also an issue on the agenda. This will help reduce the administrative burden on Hungarian farmers, with the paper-based documentation system being replaced by an electronic one.
After the fair the BioSense Institute, located in the building of the University of Novi Sad, hosted us. Sanja Brdar, head of laboratory and researcher dealing with bioinformatics, artificial intelligence and big data systems presented the activities. She highlighted that this organization is an international interdisciplinary research institute, which was created with the help of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Development Innovation Programme (it is the only institute formed this way from the European Union) and mostly researches issues surrounding precision farming and remote sensing. The BioSense Institute works on agricultural robot technology developments in cooperation with the University of Wageningen. For example, they have developed tools that can detect the amount of carcinogenic aflatoxins produced by some mould fungi in the crop directly during harvest. They have also developed plant health analysis systems that can detect infections in the crop still that are invisible to the human eye after harvest, as well as many other innovations and manual hyperspectral measuring instruments providing information on the photosynthetic activity and the health status of the investigated plant stands (similar to NDVI cameras). Then we listened to Gordan Mimić, researcher of informatics and meteorology of the University of Novi Sad, who talked about the AgroSense platform developed and operated by BioSense. Through this platform several useful services can be accessed for free. By entering the platform farmers can locate their own fields on the map of Serbia. This allows them to observe them remotely with the help of the weekly recorded high resolution satellite images and the recorded data of the local meteorological measuring system. The platform creates long data sequences, which along with the maps and images can be accessed even years later. Farmers can use AgroSense to upload the agricultural activities that have been carried out in each field and to document the status of the plant stand through their own photos in a certain period. They can also use it to record the results of soil analyses on their fields or to report the appearance of diseases/pests, which can be a useful warning system for other farmers. In addition, the platform contains a harvest loss calculator, a mechanical sowing machine calibration and a sprayer calibration application.
After the presentation we visited the plant of the Serbian Krivaja d.o.o. which researches precision farming, and produces traditional arable crops (barley, wheat, maize, sunflowers, soybeans and recently rape) on about 2,500 hectares. The manager of the company, István Harmati, shared his experiences, and explained how to start and carry out precision farming today. He voiced his opinion that precision farming consisted of technical, informatics, information and production technology opportunities which make arable crop production more efficient. The company’s objective is to produce quality plant products in the most cost-efficient way, while also protecting the soil and the environment. Practices like sowing differentiated amounts of seeds, precision nutrient management (based on precision soil analysis, yield maps and runoff maps) or precision plant protection can be observed in the plant. During production the company uses 24×24m large blocks, since this large area can be regarded a homogenous unit, and they aim to choose the production objective and the respective technology optimally for each unit. To this end, the working width of all the machines used by the plant is either 24 metres or a whole number divisor of 24 metres. István also mentioned that professional, precise and careful employees are needed to apply these precision technologies. With this in mind, the farm provides continuous training for its employees. They are also in contact with a number of institutes dealing with precision farming, including the BioSense Institute or the University of Novi Sad, but they are always looking for cooperation partners also from Hungary.
At the end of our visit the employees showed us the plant’s most interesting machines. We saw a harvester equipped with a CropScan measuring unit, which provides real-time data not only on the amount and moisture content of the crop during harvest, but also on its chemical composition (e.g. protein, starch and oils). We also observed a precision sowing machine which was made by the workers of the plant by modifying a traditional one, and we saw a sprayer the working width of which can be divided into sections through individually adjustable nozzles, enabling it to be used for plant protection treatments restricted to patches.
Although the company already provides several opportunities for the optimization of production precision farming, is still at the beginning of its development path. Technologies enabling the mechanical weed control of plant rows with the help of artificial intelligence, carrying out plant protection treatments using drones, and providing many other opportunities which seemed impossible a few decades ago, will gradually start to appear. Although today they require serious investments, and the legal background regulating their use is still missing in many cases, it is obvious that the digital revolution is gaining ground in modern agriculture. This will be followed by the development of the necessary regulatory framework and a drop of prices in the case of precision tools.