How did the first digitized field in Serbia increase yields despite the drought?

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A dusty road through dry and cracked earth, surrounded by dried corn in the area of the village of Belegiš, leads to a green oasis of the farm of the agricultural producer Nikola Lončar. This native of Belegiš is the first farmer in Serbia to embark on the adventure of digitizing a farm where he grows vegetables for sale, according to the UNDP Serbia website.
One of the reasons why he decided to take this pioneering step for domestic agriculture is the great risk that droughts have brought in the last few years.
The fact that in 2021, Serbia broke its infamous temperature record, recording the warmest June in the last 100 years, speaks volumes about the risk involved.
– It has become more and more unstable in the last five, six years, and even more. Every year the climate changes. Precipitation is irregular. There are too many of them in the spring, so there are none in the summer, when they are most needed. Since I have been engaged in agriculture, there has never been total damage from drought, as was the case four years ago – Nikola explains.
That very year, Nikola met experts from the Mihajlo Pupin Institute in Belgrade, from whom he procured a smart device Mobisan – a mobile solar electric generator. The product of a multidisciplinary engineering and agronomic team was mobilized, specifically designed for small and medium-sized family farms, since 95% of agricultural farms registered in Serbia have less than 10 hectares of land.
– The device is a combination of sensor-computer networks. It has ground sensors and a digital weather station, wireless communication and a computer system that collects microclimate and land information. He uses them to automatically irrigate and add fertilizer, or pass the information to Nikola so he can decide. It sends them wirelessly to devices like a cell phone. It can be controlled remotely and is intended for the rational use of natural resources. It gives the country no less and no more than it needs. This achieves material savings, but also protects the land from unnecessary excess chemicals – explains Aleksandar Rodić, head of the Laboratory for Robotics at the Mihajlo Pupin Institute.
This year, Nikola had 20 hectares of land under corn, 10 hectares under wheat and more than four under vegetables. He managed to plant two field crops on the same plot, thanks to the fact that he irrigated the field during the entire six-month season. He says that the system he now uses enables him to have stable yields, which is a basic condition for contracting the sale of vegetables to large markets.
– At the beginning of the year I plant vegetables for famous customers. I contract the quantity in the winter and spring for a certain customer. If I don’t have stable yields, I can’t fulfill the contract, and then penalties are paid – he states.
Thanks to the fact that Mobisan works on solar and wind energy, Nikola no longer uses diesel fuel, which saves money and protects the environment from pollution. Replacing the diesel generator with a solar one for a field of 10 hectares per season saves 3,375 euros on fuel, and 6,750 kg in CO2 emissions. In addition, it increased the yield by 30%. The total yield of peppers per season is now equal to one train composition of 10 wagons full of peppers.
– I save my time, because I don’t come to the field every hour to unscrew and turn on the valves, the device does it all by itself. The system tells me how much fertilizer to let go, how much to water and for how long. I save electricity, water and save land. As we did this system, I went on vacation for the first time so that it all worked without me. I operated the device from vacation, from Greece – says the host Nikola.
An investment in a 10-hectare digital field pays off in three years.
– Mobility, plus renewable energy sources are the key to Serbian agriculture. In addition to the scientific and professional challenge, we also had an ethical motive to help Nikola as a representative example of those 95% of agricultural family farms in Serbia, because more than a million people in Serbia are engaged in agriculture and live from it. The solution is not just to give someone subsidies, you have to teach them and give them the technology to be successful – says Aleksandar.
Technological innovations in agriculture enable adaptation to changed climatic conditions and at the same time contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
One of the best solutions
“Development of innovative solutions in the field of smart land use in agriculture” of the Mihajlo Pupin Institute was awarded as one of the 11 best innovative and climate-smart solutions within the project “Local Development Resistant to Climate Change” implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) with the Ministry of Environment, with financial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEEF), eKapija reports.