To help feed a growing population, farmers cannot rely on manual labor, outdated equipment, and ideal weather conditions. They need to incorporate the latest technologies. That’s the goal of the BioSense Institute of Novi Sad, Serbia, which is working to upgrade farms in the country and throughout Europe with a host of devices.
Founded by IEEE Members Vladimir Crnojevic and Vesna Crnojevic Bengin, BioSense has developed a system that includes nano- and microelectronics to monitor the health of crops and soil, drones to map the fields to spot infestation and count plants, and artificial intelligence to automate manual jobs. All the devices are connected to the Internet, allowing crops to be monitored remotely.
The system is part of the Antares project, which aims to connect a number of farms in Serbia to the Internet this year. BioSense received a €28 million grant (US $35 million) from the European Commission and the Serbian government.
The institute also is participating in the Internet of Farms 2020 project, which is introducing the Internet of Things through 19 pilot projects across Europe. IoF2020 is being funded with €30 million by the European Commission’s largest R&D program, Horizon 2020, which invests in the continent’s economic growth and sustainability.
LAY OF THE LAND
Crnojevic’s strategy is to experiment with technologies on each farm to develop best practices. “What we learn from one farm, we’ll apply to the other,” he says. “And what we learn from the other, we’ll apply to the first.”
AgroSense, a digital platform developed in the Antares project, collects information from satellites, soil moisture sensors, and other sources and makes the data freely available to farmers on a mobile app. The app, which BioSense developed, can tell farmers about specific areas of their land based on their GPS coordinates. It took the farmers no time at all to start using it, Crnojevic says.
“They can check how much rain is expected in the next 48 hours based on where they are standing in the field,” he says. “They can also document information, such as how much fertilizer they used that day on each crop.” Such input, along with other data available to the farmers, can help them estimate their yield, he adds. The service is free to them.
To make money, BioSense plans to provide its services based on anonymized and aggregated data gathered via AgroSense to those involved in the business end of agriculture, such as insurance companies and banks. Insurers can use the data to estimate crop damage caused by a hailstorm. Bankers can use the information to help decide whether a farm is a good loan risk. “The current process for evaluating these factors are painful,” Crnojevic says.
BioSense plans to use its income to develop services that will further help farmers improve their production, such as advanced monitoring tools and novel IoT sensors.
SMART SEED SELECTION
Beyond the technologies themselves, BioSense is helping farmers in other ways. It developed an algorithm to determine how 180 soybean varieties would fare under 18 conditions including soil quality, fertilizer, and weather. The algorithm can sort through 80,000 data points to come to its conclusion.
Last year BioSense won the Syngenta Crop Challenge in Analytics, a competition that seeks smarter ways to select seeds.
BioSense’s new algorithms could be incorporated into its programs to help farmers maximize yield and profits. Beyond that, the company plans to introduce genomics technology, which could be used to develop crop varieties that better survive insect infestations, diseases, and other threats.
This article is part of our April 2018 special issue on agtech.