“Scary” words from technology world, must-know for agrarians

“Scary” words from technology world

Internet of things, drones, big data – in more detail on trends that will help Ukrainian agrarians to make a technological leap.

“Anchor” of the Ukrainian economy – agrarian sector – is currently forming 12% of the country’s GDP. According to the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Volodymyr Groysman, the state counts on it.

At the same time, the Ukrainian agriculture is characterized as conservative business, which is hardly oriented in technological trends and even more hardly implements them into business-processes.

On the one hand, there are farmers and small agricultural enterprises that have no considerable financial resources. They invest in technologies only when they see that this is successfully working in the neighbor’s field. “Farmer – self-serving person, he is interested in quick financial outcome. He is not ready to invest money with an outlook for year or two and is willing to know exactly what benefits the use of particular technology will bring”, – said Expert on Land Issues of Ukrainian Agribusiness Club, Roman Grab.

On the other hand, there are major agricultural holdings, controlling over large-scale fields and having considerable resources. They realize that without innovations it would be difficult to meet the increasing demand for food products and other challenges of the future. Therefore, they try to monitor the technological trends and put them into practice whenever it is possible. Although one can hardly call this mass phenomenon.

We have studied such trends and found out what benefits they can bring and already bring for Ukrainian agrarians.

No. 1 IoT

Internet of Things – this is what abbreviation stands for. IoT concept provides for the use of a big variety of transducers and “smart” sensors collecting information and transmitting it into internet. Thus, the user can remotely control over situation and automatically collect analytics. The simplest sensors analyze the state of soil, air temperature and humidity, state of plants. And on a real-time basis this data is transferred to farmer’s smartphone or tablet. We can also monitor movements and make the most convenient routes for agricultural transport.

Keenan international company shows the interesting application example of IoT in agriculture. It controls over 11 thousands of enterprises throughout 25 countries and about 1 million cows as well. On this scale even small cost reduction for each animal unit results in significant output savings.

To manage the feed manufacturing process in a more efficient way the company installed two groups of sensors: first – on cows’ feeders, second – on the neck of each animal. Sensors keep track of filling of the feeders and count the number of bends of cow’s head over the feeder. Real-time data analysis illustrates how much cows eat and when the stock shall be replenished.

IoT-devices can also be used to control over the birth process of cows. Moocall company is selling gadget attached to the tail of a cow, and tail movements are used to analyze when the birth begins. At this very moment the signal is sent to the central server and the veterinarian departs. According to the company itself 20 thous. farms around the world have already purchased their device.

IoT-devices for agricultural sector are also being created in Ukraine. Last week, for example, such device was introduced to public by Senior Research Fellow of Institute of Cybernetics of National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Igor Galelyuka, at the meeting of Tech Today Hub, held by Vodafone and NDI Foundation companies. Gadget called “Floratest” determines the state of plants. When a plant is stressed – for example, it is frozen or has an overabundance of fertilizers – the information is displayed on the screen. According to Galelyuka, device is suitable for monitoring of several plants. To collect data on large areas, he offers using wireless sensors networks.

More than 20 thous. farms around the world use IoT for control over birth in cows

To send data from IoT-devices to the servers of agricultural companies wireless networks are usually used and SIM-cards are “sewn into” sensors. Such connection is called М2М (Machine-to-Machine) and communications service providers have separate tariffs for it. The press-service of Ukrainian communications service provider Vodafone told that Ukrainian agricultural sector is taking the lead in М2М implementation rates on a par with retail.

No. 2 Drones

Drone, quadcopter, UAV – all these words mean almost the same: small flying platform, programmed for certain tasks. Drones are usually equipped with photo- and video-cameras. They may be palm-size and may reach 2 meters in diameter. They may be fully autonomous or remotely controlled by a person.

Ukrainian agricultural holding “Kernel” is currently using 11 drones Phantom 4A working prototype of drone-sprayer was created by the Ukrainian startup KRAYDrones are frequently used in agricultural sector for photo and video shooting of fields and mapping of problem areas. Special person in agricultural company, monitoring agronomist, analyzes the obtained data, determines the type of the problem and predicts the yield. Ukrainian agricultural holding “Kernel” is currently using 11 drones Phantom 4 having that kind of functionality.

Before the drones emerged, company was analyzing the field maps with the use of satellite images. And it was not very convenient. Even with the maximum zoom level the satellite failed to provide such detalization as done did. Moreover, the field is not always located within the visibility zone of satellite. However you may launch drones on any day and at any time of day or night.

Furthermore, drones may be used to spray chemicals in the fields. Traditional sprayers leave traces in the field and “tread down” part of the yield. A spraying from small aircrafts is too expensive. Therefore, drones are considered as the alternative for these two methods.

A working prototype of drone-sprayer was created by the Ukrainian startup KRAY. Having diameter of 2 meters it may move at a speed of 100 kph (62 mph). Drone’s working cycle – 15 minutes of flight and 1 minute of maintenance. During this minute operator manages to replace the discharged battery. Tank’s capacity for chemicals is 22.5 l and 15 kg, for one cycle drone may treat up to 14 ha. According to developers, its overall performance is 27-48 hectares per hour and 300-500 hectares per day.

300500 ha per day may be treated with chemicals using drone of the Ukrainian company KRAY

 In the next six months KRAY plans to launch mass production and enter the American market. According to startup’s estimates, the UAV market for air entering is estimated at $1.8 bln.

Founder of SmartFarming company, Artem Belenkov, said that sometimes Ukrainian farmers are interested whether it is possible to use drones to protect fields. Theoretically speaking, it is possible, but it is rather costly and ineffective. The cheapest option – is to equip usual drone with thermographic camera at the cost of $ 5 thous. It may be airborne without a pause for 15 minutes only. Professional drones, staying airborne for 2 hours, cost about $30 thous. “Once a month farmers constantly address to us. But when they become aware of the cost, they usually refuse”, – Artem Belenkov said. He believes that the most effective way for theft prevention is not the purchase of drones, but change of management system of the enterprises or revision of their administrative systems.

No. 3 Big Data

Another trend from the IT world is Big Data. In other words, it is the collection and processing of large data bulk, ensuring the exact predictions and generally simplifying the management processes of enterprises.

Bid Data remains the most “undeveloped” technological trend for Ukrainian agrarians. Nevertheless, there are three directions along which they either collect and analyze information or consider it as the prospect.

The very first – database of land plots and their owners.

Major agricultural holdings operate vast areas under different lease agreements. For example, SmartFarming company is working with the enterprise, possessing 400 thous. ha of land and about 200 thous. of lease agreements. All these agreements have different statuses and terms of lease, they shall be timely prolonged. “Inventorying of lease agreements and database creation of owners, who has what inheritance right, and what is their status – is a huge table, which is constantly being updated”, – Artem Belenkov said. According to him, information on mapping of 600-700 villages, where the plots of land are located, full map of equity participations, including for potential redemption, are entered into the table.

200 thous. of  lease agreements in 600-700 villages – bid data requiring steady monitoring

As a result, we receive multilevel map of state of all plots. One can see where the self-acquisition of territories took place, were the enterprise cultivates someone else’s plot – Big Data provides for confusion avoidance, which often occurs at such a scale. Moreover, we may see the technical losses, for example, due to swamping and their minimization options. “I can tell from my experience that, one time ago, there was a plot of 50 ha thous. and its technical losses amounted to 1 ha thous. Data analysis helped to find out that 300 hectares of technical losses could be cultivated and, therefore, to save on lease and employees”, – Artem Belenkov said.

Big data processing may also be used for the pricing environment analysis. Having compared the data, inclusive of weather conditions, political and economic processes in the exporting countries and purchasing countries, we may, for instance, raise the demand and set the best price for our goods.

According to Artem Belenkov, major large international companies are already doing this analytics, but no one in Ukraine is focused on it. Typically the marketing experts develop prices based on simplified factors, such as goods manufacturing cost, fixed margin, prices for similar goods, discount volumes, etc. Therefore, Big Data application in pricing – is the vacant niche for analytical companies.

Big Data analysis is also globally used for precision agriculture. Agricultural monitoring services of the enterprises collect the parameters for the fields with the use of transducers and sensors, analyze them and make a forecast. Software and even artificial intelligence algorithms are used for the analysis. Therefore, for instance, one can predict where, when and what crops shall be sown to get the desired yield. This is yet another vacant niche for Ukraine, at which major agricultural holdings are just looking attentively at present.