How technology is changing Ukrainian agriculture
Vast stretches of flat land. Rich, black soil. A temperate climate. Ukraine is a country ideal for agriculture, where many of the world’s staple crops flourish. But, starved of investment since Soviet times, Ukraine’s farmers still see far lower yields per hectare than their European neighbors. While the sector now accounts for over 30 percent of Ukraine’s exports and 12 percent of its gross domestic product of $100 billion annually, much of Ukraine’s agricultural potential has gone untapped. One way to change this is agritech — bringing advanced information technology to the field. With keen sensors, cheap drones and advances in data management, agritech can vastly increase Ukraine’s potential, say proponents. A crop of Ukrainian startups is demonstrating how.
Studies by the World Bank show that Ukraine loses about 50,000 hectares of farmland every year from soil erosion and land degradation alone — a loss which costs
Ukraine prevent plementing management ny ing Techie Agrieye, to drones, start 50 an Andrey doing percent his estimated hi-tech, systems. multispectral company, just Sevryukov of that. that $10 internet-based He’s compiles billion loss set claims remote up through a a he data year. compa- could sens- land im- using, satellites. of With a field, and this vast describing data, open it the data creates chemical sets a precise from composi- NASA map tion potassium of the levels soil — — nitrates, and its phosphorus, vegetation state. and Then, land and its predicts artificial crop intelligence yields, giving analyzes recom- the mendations on how to irrigate and fertilize crop lands. Such an approach is called “precision farming.” It helps farmers get the most out of the land available: they can budget for expenses, work their land properly, and, with reliable predictions for crop yields, even sell their harvest several months in advance. Agrieye now works with small- and midsized farms in Latin America, the United States, Malaysia and Ukraine. Sevryukov says Ukraine has “one of the most developed agritech sectors in the world, on a par with that of Israel.” According to Sevryukov, U.S. agritech companies focus too much farms, feed the on and humanity small-scale gardens in in the solutions, garages, future.” which like vertical “won’t Ukrainian and Israeli entrepreneurs, in contrast, try to solve large-scale problems, that will be “groundshaking,” Sevryukov said. He adds that Ukraine is lucky to have so many agritech startups, even if most of them are looking to earn money abroad, like Agrieye. The company charges $5 per hectare for its analysis work in foreign countries — but, in Ukraine, offers the service free because “farmers can’t afford it.” But Sevryukov is sure Ukrainians will be able to pay for his company’s services eventually. “Agritech will help agriculture leapfrog 15 years forward in development, and (Ukraine will) catch up with other countries in this sphere,” he says.
Linking farms to banks
While, to some, the subject of agritech summons images of robots working the fields and tending plants, Sevryukov has more down-to-earth understanding of what modern technology can bring in the near future. The next big thing, according to him, is to connect physical things with the online world. There will be technology that will take data from each farm and place it online. Banks will then be able to use this information to decide more quickly where to issue loans to farmers. “This will affect the efficiency of business in this sphere. Food production is a business that will never disappear — people will always eat. So it’s important that this sphere is efficient.”
Finding bad soil
agritech entrepreneur, Sergii Another Skok, and up Australia, holdings In Skokagro his Ukraine, shares international like and already Sevryukov’s Kernel, Germany. Skok works has Ukrprominvest-ahro, ambitions. clients focus with on in His big the Canada, start- agro- soil, Cygnet Agrieye The technology works — larger with. Skokagro companies is developing than those is also contraption different: that The looks company like a box has with created a long a needle coming out of it. The needle goes into the ground and measures the compression of soil. The data collected is placed online so that users can see remotely where the soil is too compressed and needs deeper plowing, where it is not practical even to plant at all, and where a farmer can avoid planting and save money on seeds, fertilizer and water. According to Skok, farmers typically lose 15 percent of their harvest due to soil compression — seeds planted in such soil are unable to develop their root systems, and die. The result is in multimillion loses for agro-holdings. Along with the soil compression meter, the company makes sensors to measure temperature, humidity and wind, giving farmers a fuller picture of their land’s
Rooting out mismanagement
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Change in mindset All agritech experts agree that Ukraine could be among the world’s agricultural leaders if it applies IT on a large scale. However, they also say Ukraine still has a long way to go in this regard. Entrepreneur Skok hopes for a change in mentality in the next generation. According to him, the average age of a farmer is 55, and few are ready to change the way they do business at this age. “A lot of agritech solutions are ready but are still not in use,” Skok said. “There have to be more younger, open-minded farmers, and these may appear in a decade or two.” Petruk from Agtech Ukraine agrees. But he also thinks that agriculture is a conservative field in general. Compared to the fastmoving world of tech, results in agriculture come only with the slow changes between the seasons, with the main results being seen only once a year, after the annual harvest. “But there’s a chance of a breakthrough anyway,” he said. “Ukraine has a lot of programmers and tech experts who are recognized globally. That’s our competitive advantage.” The Kyiv Post’s technology coverage is sponsored by Ciklum and NIX Solutions. The content is independent of the donors.
A photo of fields taken by a drone in Kyiv Oblast. Ukrainian startup Agrieye uses such drones to amass various data. It creates a precise map, describing the chemical composition of the soil and its vegetation state. Then the company's artificial intelligence analyzes the land and predicts crop yields, giving recommendations on how to irrigate and fertilize. (Ukrafoto)
Agritech – the use of technology in agriculture – brings advances and greater productivity to the fields. With keen sensors, cheap drones and advances in data management, agritech aims to increase potential in a sector that accounts for 12 percent of the economy and more than 30 percent of exports. One day, industry players hope, robots may reap harvests instead of humans.