Dutch expertise and Serbian potential: progress in the digitalization of the agro sector in Serbia

Digitalization in agriculture is an area where the new agro trends meet the Serbian entrepreneurial spirit.

Picture of a drone hovering over a field.
Beeld: ©StockSnap

On the topic of agriculture, Serbia can be viewed as a country of contrasts. The majority of farms are small scale family enterprises operating in a circular way without specialization. On the other hand, over the past decade, there has been an increasing trend of opening new, modern agro holdings, which operate in line with the latest standards, using the latest technology. Such farms have a high level of integration of on-farm ICT solutions and sets an example to the rest. Digitalization is one of the priority tasks of the Serbian Government and agriculture could be a sector with exposure to the best of what the latest tech trends can offer.

Agriculture is one of the primary industries that deal with the planets’ rising population and future challenges. Current developments like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, weather extremities and a competitive market have severely impacted this sector. At the same time, such changes forced the process of digitalization and IT integration of agriculture to develop at a faster rate. So-called ’smart’ agricultural solutions can be found in soil nutrition correction, pest and disease management, consumer sales, and risk management efficiencies. Moreover, the process of digitalization in the agricultural sector in Serbia and the intensive use of technology in agriculture have been demonstrated by the most innovative agri-food startups in Serbia recently shown during the EIT Food Innovation Prizes startup competition (read more about this here).

EIT Food is Europe’s leading food innovation initiative, working to make the food system more sustainable, healthy and trustworthy.

Precision tech and smart solutions in agriculture contribute to improved and increased yields, but the major contribution of digitalization in agro sectors is the stewarding of natural resources in a sustainable way. Although agriculture in the country is known as a very traditional and conservative sector, Serbian farmers are also well-known for their entrepreneurial spirit. The development of telecommunications and a wider use of smart phones resulted in the majority of farmers in Serbia using some kind of smart solution in their daily field activities. While digitalization in the sector of agriculture is relatively a new phenomenon, the potential for broadening it is the most present in the areas of North and Central Serbia that aspire to follow this trend.

BioSense Institute in Novi Sad and Agricultural Advisory and Professional Services of Serbia

Serbia is a proud frontrunner in the Western Balkan region in the field of the development of ICT solutions for agriculture. The BioSense Institute  in Novi Sad is, for example, the only Center of Excellence (CoE) in Europe outside of the European Union, with one of its biggest scientific activities being the Horizon 2020 ANTARES project. It is jointly implemented with Wageningen University and Research Center, and DLO from the Netherlands, and supported by the participation of the Serbian Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development. The project aims to support and encourage sustainable economic development in the country and the region by the use of the new technologies and scientific solutions in connecting two of the most prosperous sectors in Serbia, ICT and agriculture, and the combination of the ambition of Serbian farmers, and what the two sectors have to offer will strengthen their competitive positions.

‘’Contrary to popular belief, Serbian farmers show great eagerness to learn and adopt new technologies - they are quite aware of how much digital technologies could help them save both time and money, to produce more with less resources, and with smaller risks. However, although the awareness of digital farming practices is higher than ever, there is still room for improvement. And that is where we (Biosense) steps in.” - stated the director of the Bosense Institute Ms. Vesna Bengin Crnojevic.

Plant seedlings in pots
Beeld: ©J Garget

Digital Farm Open Days

Through trainings and digital Farm Open Days, farmers can see how different AgTech solutions can be implemented in real-world settings. There are plans to further develop the concept of the Digital Farm so that, besides arable crops, it includes viticulture, fruits and vegetable production and more. Furthermore, the Director of the BioSense Institute does see possibilities for further cooperation with the Dutch knowledge institutions: ‘’The Netherlands is the leader in precision agriculture and one of the world’s largest exporters of agricultural products, while Serbia is recognized for its innovation potential, especially in the IT sector. We (Biosense) believe that by joining up Dutch experience and Serbian ambition and innovation potential, we are able to offer advanced solutions for the agriculture of the future, which will be of interest to Dutch farmers as well as Serbian.’’

Another recent development can be seen in the work of the Agricultural Advisory and Professional Services of Serbia which, in the last few years, has applied modern information technologies that have significantly improved the efficiency and quality of services provided. The web application "PoljoSaveti" (AgroAdvice) is the basic tool for recording, coordination, and monitoring of advisory work, and it is also available on mobile devices. The application is part of a platform that, in addition to advisory, also supports professional land sampling activities, as well as certification and licensing procedures for advisors. In the experimental fields of PSSS Sabac, Smederevo Valjevo and Mladenovac, drones were used to implement crop protection measures.

Moreover, all advisors have been trained in the application of digitalization in agriculture and it is planned that in the coming period digitalization will be applied to the maximum in advisory work, as well as to train as many agricultural producers as possible to use digital tools. In May earlier this year, the agriculture extension service has used drone technology in spraying field crops in the vicinity of Belgrade for the first time. (Read more about this here.)

The Dutch smart agro solutions

The adoption of enterprise resource management (ERP) systems in agriculture in the Netherlands has been a front-runner within the Dutch agri-food cluster and an important step towards smart agro solutions and the digitalization of this sector. The shift towards complex managerial tasks and scale-enlargement is already in an advanced phase in, for instance, the Dutch horticulture sector, causing production processes to be highly industrialized by which companies have developed into big international organizations. Farmers in the agro sector are turning to ERP systems to provide integrated, real-time management capabilities. Dacom Farm Intelligence being one of the Dutch firms that allows growers and agribusiness to optimize the quality of the crop with our sensor equipment, data driven software and advisory services.

Moreover, Dutch expertise can offer integrative solutions to the agricultural sector in Serbia and wider region which includes not only the primary production but the entire chain that deals with digital challenges for production and particularly logistics, a crucial part of the chain which often gets left behind.

ICT-solutions in agriculture: Source of inspiration and close cooperation

In order to call attention to, and encourage partnerships within this important trend, the Agro Team of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Belgrade/Budapest is planning to pursue this topic with adequate Serbian counterparts in 2021. The aim is to bring the Dutch and Serbian professionals (also reaching out to professionals from the neighboring countries in region) within the agro sector together, highlight the potential of smart agriculture into Serbian agriculture, and further consolidate relations between the Netherlands and Serbia within the domain of the use of IT in agriculture and digitalization of agricultural solutions. We can learn from each other and jointly move onwards.

Photo credit:

Cover picture by StockSnap via Pixabay
"Seedlings" by J Garget via Pixabay