Future of precision agriculture in Russia

Precision agriculture technologies, which help to increase profitability of agricultural business, are becoming more and more popular in Russia. The way forward for Digital Agro (a subsidiary of Uralchem) is a precision fertilizer application service based on soil-fertility maps.

At present, most farms in Russia use fertilizers without considering different factors which influence the application efficiency, and this fertilizing method lose them from 2 to 10 thousand rubles ($30-$155) of marginal revenue per 1 ha of treated area. In a number of farms, this is due to the lack of modern machinery for precision application of expensive fertilizers, and another reason is that almost none of agricultural enterprises has maps for variable rate technology.

Developers from Digital Agro allied with engineers from Kverneland Group СIS (the representative office of Kverneland Group in Russia) to work together to popularize and look deeper into the possibilities of precision (variable) fertilizer application. Kverneland Group, apart from machinery manufacturing, is widely known for its developments in the field of electronic systems for agricultural machines. The Kverneland product line includes Exacta fertilizer spreaders that allow to run the full range of precision fertilizer applications.

“Exacta spreaders are a good example of technical facilities required for our technology,” said Alexey Trubnikov, Director for R&D at Digital Agro. “They incorporate a variety of technologies that make it easy and reliable to ensure precise distribution of fertilizers. The thing which is also important is that this machinery is manufactured in our country making its maintenance as affordable as possible.”

The first training session as part of the partnership between the companies was held at the Kverneland Group plant in Lipetsk, where they talked about the mechanism and main stages of introducing the precision fertilizer application service in the operation of agricultural enterprises.

So, the first step is to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the state of fields, taking into account not only the crop productivity, but also the topography and agrophysics of the areas under analysis. In order to identify fertility zones, they use data of over 2 thousand multispectral satellite images of the same fields over a period of 35 years; afterwards, soil scientists make a retrospective analysis and field diagnosis of the factors limiting crop yields in low and high fertility zones. As a result of this work, job cards are drawn for smart machinery with the purpose of maximum economic efficiency in different areas.

Then the machinery comes into play. The Geospread control system installed on different models of Exacta mineral fertilizer spreaders automatically automatically adjusts the working width and the supply of the required amount of fertilizer based on the data of machine operation rate and its position in space (field boundary, headland and area already treated) collected with the help of a geolocation system. With Geospread, fertilizers can be applied in compliance with job cards made up beforehand achieving a perfect overlap and precision in application with the minimal underuse or overuse, and also, depending on the complexity of the field outline, to save from 5% to 15% of fertilizers compared to conventional fertilizer spreaders. The human element is excluded in the operation based on job cards, the entire process of controlling the amount of fertilizers to be applied to different areas of the field with different fertility is carried out automatically and does not depend on the machine operation rate.

Thus, the optimal precision fertilizer application and more efficient use of fertility of different field areas can result in a significant increase in the income of any agricultural enterprise from one hectare. As an example, experts from Digital Agro estimated that the use of precision fertilizer application technology in a 5-year perspective may provide an up to 80-million-ruble growth (about $1.2 million) to a farm with the total area of 5 thousand ha and operating revenue of 50 million rubles (around $760 thousand) a year, which is around 60%.

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