How tech­nol­ogy is chang­ing Ukrainian agri­cul­ture

Kyiv Post Legal Quarterly - - Contents - BY DENYS KRAS­NIKOV KRAS­NIKOV@KYIVPOST.COM

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.

Pre­ci­sion farm­ing

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

grow­ing con­di­tions.

Root­ing out mis­man­age­ment

Star­tups ing nur­ture mu­nity in­dus­try. pro­mote Yuriy Ten IT com­mu­nity, years Petruk in­no­va­tion. builder like the role Agri­eye ago, is who’s of an he which, IT ex­am­ple and founded in try­ing agri­cul­ture. Skok­a­gro once of to Agtech sparse, this in­crease are — Ukraine, rooted an is be­com­ing en­trepreneur raise in an Ukraine’s the as­so­ci­a­tion bet­ter level and un­furl- able of com- the to to com­pa­nies log" Petruk He be­tween thinks or­ga­nizes with the agri­cul­ture adop­tion agri­cul­ture mee­tups firms of pro­duc­ers, and new and hackathons, tech­nolo­gies bud­ding try­ing agritech and "form is the matches star­tups. a only proper way up tech dia- the agri­cul­ture “The Petruk oth­ers, also in­dus­try high­lights not us­ing play­ers them, the will im­por­tance will man­age sim­ply to of die sur­vive. trans­parency: out.” Some Euro­pean ers used to su­per­mar­kets feed their chick­ens. even want The to know use of the tech­nol­ogy type of corn can farm- help farm­ers keep track of such de­tails down to the last bag of feed. Mean­while, the most pop­u­lar tools in Ukraine are ones for elim­i­nat­ing waste and theft. Com­pa­nies are de­vel­op­ing elec­tronic data­bases to track what they buy and how much they spend. Us­ing th­ese, dis­hon­est em­ploy­ees — say one who steals 50 liters of fuel a day — are easy to root out. “You sack sev­eral such (em­ploy­ees), and the tech­nol­ogy pays for it­self,” Petruk said.

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.

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