Serbia: Opportunities in precision agriculture

World potato day celebrated; new data on land usage; raspberry crops devastated by hailstorms; dwindling natural rescources - a weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Serbia.

Green grass after watering
Beeld: ©Henryk Niestrój

Precision irrigation introduced in cooperation with Dutch company

Last week, PIK Becej, a company focusing on irrigation, which operates within the MK Group, organized an open field day. The organizers presented a precision irrigation project that was implemented in cooperation with the Dutch company Dacom. The project was also financially supported by the Dutch Government.

During the event the company  showcased the practical implementation of precision irrigation management and control technologies in field, with the aim of improving the efficiency and saving water. To that end  soil sensors were placed on the irrigated plots. These combine information received from weather stations and weather forecast, in order to better calculate the amount of water needed for irrigation. The software provides information on the depth at which water is available for crops and if additional irrigation is needed.

Water is one of the most important natural resources. According to data from the 2023 Agricultural Census done by Statistical Office of Serbia, only 8.3% of the agricultural land in use is irrigated in Serbia, with 27.5% of farms engaged in irrigation. Regarding the structure of irrigated areas by land category, arable farming and horticulture lead with 72%, followed by orchards at 23% and vineyards at 2.0%. Among the irrigation methods, surface irrigation is the most commonly used at 42%, followed closely by drip irrigation at 41%, while sprinkling accounts for 17%.

Unlocking the potential of digitalization for the agricultural sector requires concerted action by all stakeholders involved. At the presentation of precision irrigation technology in PIK Becej all key players were present from governments officials to knowledge institutions, technology providers and the farming community. It was common conclusion that a joint action and cooperation is needed to preserve natural resources and to achieve sustainable production in agriculture.

World Potato Day organized in Serbia

On May 30 this year, for the first time, the celebration of World Potato Day took place in Guca, Serbia. The organizers of this event were the Potato Center Guca and the Dragacevo Ecological Society. They organized discussions on the state of potato production, processing, and sales. In addition to the official part of the program dedicated to potato professionals, there was a segment of the program that reminded all participants that Guca is also globally famous for its brass music festival. A lunch consisting of potato dishes was enriched with music from the local brass orchestra. Organizers of the World Potato Day in Serbia invited restaurants, hotels, family households and other hospitality businesses which prepare food across Serbia to celebrate world potato day by preparing and serving potato dishes and specialties to their guests, customers, and family members.

Potatoes are one of the cheapest sources of carbohydrates, making them an excellent alternative to bread grains (wheat and rice) in many countries. Due to potatoes' importance and value, the United Nations, at the end of last year, declared May 30 as World Potato Day. In Serbia, potatoes are grown on about 20 thousand hectares with average yields of 15 to 17 tons per hectare, although better producers achieve yields of 40 to 60 tons per hectare. Mr. Dositej Obradovic, Serbian poet and the first Minister of Education, introduced potatoes to central Serbia at the beginning of the 19th century.

Most agricultural land in Serbia under arable land and gardens

According to the 2023 Agricultural Census brochure published by the Statistical Office of Serbia (RZS), Serbia has 508,325 agricultural households, with the vast majority being family farms (506,323). The total available land area amounts to 3.94 million hectares, of which 82.1%, or 3.23 million hectares, is used as agricultural land. The agricultural workforce in Serbia comprises 1.15 million people, including 1.13 million members of family households and only 1,070 permanently employed individuals on family farms, of whom 10% are women.

The largest proportion of family farm owners, 44.72%, are over 65 years old, followed by those aged 56 to 65, who make up 24.51%, indicating that more than two-thirds are over 56 years old. Most agricultural households (69 percent) consist of one to two members. Among farm managers, men predominate, comprising 77%. Family households use 90% of the utilized agricultural land, with the majority being arable land and gardens (77.7%), followed by orchards (6.0%) and vineyards (0.6%). Corn is the most represented among cereals, accounting for 50%, followed by wheat at 40%, with other crops making up the remaining 10%. The census registered 725,408 cattle, 2.26 million pigs, 1.70 million sheep, 149,558 goats, 21.60 million poultry, and 1.26 million beehives. There are 482,498 tractors in the country, with seven out of ten households using their own tractor.

Hail halves raspberry yield        

Due to the weather conditions, the raspberry yield has so far been halved compared to last year and a maximum of 25 to 30 thousand tons can be expected if there is no more hail until the harvest, said the president of the Association of Raspberry Producers, Dobrivoje Radovic. He stated for the Beta news agency that, in the preceding days, the hail and the floods had damaged around 15% of the yield and that, due to the lower price, the lack of agrotechnical measures and the April hail, the yield in certain parcels would be lower by 40-70%. He pointed out that, in the previous year, around 55 thousand tons of raspberries had been produced and that, together with the 2022 stock, nearly the entire quantity of around 65 thousand tons had been exported, whereas a smaller quantity of processed products remained. Radovic said that the minimum input purchase price for the 2024 yield would be €3.4 per kilogram.

Serbia used up its natural resources for this year

WWF Adria announced that Serbia has depleted its natural resources for the year, a month and a half earlier than in 2023, with the new global ecological debt date to be determined on June 5. This means that as of May 23, Serbia's annual demand and consumption of natural resources have exceeded what the Earth can produce or renew in a year. The organization explained that the day when a country's natural resources are exhausted is calculated based on the number of days in the current calendar year multiplied by the difference between the global hectares per capita and the biocapacity of that country. According to WWF Adria, the reduction in Serbia's population revealed in the 2022 census is a significant factor in the country's earlier ecological debt, as fewer people in a country correspond to a larger ecological debt. Globally, Earth Overshoot Day was observed on August 2 last year, and this year's date will be revealed on June 5. The organization notes that in the region, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro have similar ecological debt dates compared to the previous year. WWF Adria concludes that achieving results requires all countries to commit to adopting and fully implementing laws on nature restoration, regulations banning single-use plastics, and protecting 30% of the Earth's surface, as planned NoviMagazin reports.