Sensors, drones, autonomous tractors: How the introduction of 5G will transform Croatian agriculture

22. April 2021. Nikola Vido

The future of agriculture is in the hands of artificial intelligence, machine learning, drones, 5G, big data, IoT, augmented reality, and robots.

Given that 5G technology is crucial for economic and social development and raising national competitiveness, all advanced countries have 5G defined as a strategic technology. In October 2020, Hrvatski Telekom launched the first commercial 5G network, bringing the fifth generation of the mobile network to Croatia. It is the technology of the future that will mark the coming decades and bring revolutionary changes in healthcare, transportation, education, agriculture, energy, entire economies, and could potentially be as significant as the discovery of electricity or the first car. With the development of 5G technology, 2.3 million new jobs are arriving in EU countries, and global GDP could grow by $ 4 trillion by 2030. The leader, in cooperation with Hrvatski Telekom, is researching the impact of 5G technologies on our daily lives.

The story of agriculture in Croatia has long been the story of a problem whose root has grown so deep that neither grandfather nor grandmother nor granddaughter nor dog Žućo nor cat could pull it out. But just as a mouse appears in that story where they painstakingly try to pull out a beet, an unexpected hero – technology – appears in an agricultural story. In the last few years, very successful agricultural stories have sprung up in the fields and behind computers, and with the arrival of a booster such as the 5G network, magic beans could sprout that will soar agricultural production under the clouds.

Digitization of agricultural production

Agriculture is progressing at a slower pace than some other industries, but in recent years we have witnessed faster development. In the last seven years, we have been able to witness the beginnings of digitalization and more serious financial and information literacy of farmers. Finally, in 2021 we can say that the market has reached the stage of full awareness of the need for digitalization of agricultural business and is ready to choose the most appropriate solutions – says Matija Žulj, founder and CEO of Agrivia, whose software solution for digitalization of agricultural production is used today on all continents. , and in Croatia, they have about five hundred users. Farmers who are professionally engaged in this branch of the industry have recognized, he claims, the importance of digitalization, which enables them to be competitive.

– In just over seven years of business, we have developed into a global company present on all inhabited continents. We are currently present in more than 100 countries and have offices in London, Warsaw, Bucharest, and Zagreb. Our software for agricultural production management is used by professional farmers of all sizes, food companies, agro-banks, and other stakeholders in the agriculture and food industry, and is localized in 15 languages ​​- says Matija Žulj, founder and director of the global company Agrivi.

However, it is not just about recovering the economy and placing products on the market well, but also solving the problem of food production and supply. Marko Jurčević, associate professor at the Department of Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering and Electrical Measurements at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, recalls the estimate of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that in 2050 our planet will need 70 percent more food than in 2009. With this in mind, it is even clearer why significant improvements in agriculture are necessary. It is already a great contribution that the application of technology can timely eliminate problems with crops that are often noticed too late, especially with a 5G network that can support many more devices, machines, and sensors and provide an even stronger foothold for precision agriculture.

– Large agricultural lands sown with a crop require monitoring the progress of crops every few days due to possible diseases, pests, monitoring the effects of drought, or the need for irrigation – says Jurčević and actually gives an undeniable argument for the presence of smart devices and technology can help grow food. Automated agricultural surveillance is even more pronounced if the effects of climate change are taken into account. – It is estimated that any increase in average global temperature by one degree Celsius can reduce the yield of corn by 7 percent, wheat by 6 percent, and soybeans by 3 percent. The concept of precision agriculture will help farmers better control pests and diseases. The document ‘Draft Agricultural Strategy 2020 to 2030. More than a farm’ indicates that technological innovations in agriculture will be encouraged in the next decade in order to best respond to the described challenges – adds Jurčević.

The Internet as a first step towards an agricultural future

The precondition for surrendering to the wave of digitalization and diversification of agricultural production is the introduction of a stable and fast internet network in rural areas. This was also pointed out by the Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, who is in charge of the European Green Plan, describing the introduction of broadband internet in the agricultural world as a necessary step for the implementation of agricultural reform. One of the advantages of introducing new technologies that communicate with each other using the 5G network is the possibility of accurate detection of which crops a disease or parasite has appeared on. So the necessary pesticides or mineral fertilizers can be used in a targeted way, which reduces the use of chemicals in agricultural production.

The sensors are already in the fields

In the near future, Žulj expects rapid development and divergence of solutions, and, as he says, 5G will certainly encourage a hitherto unimaginable technological leap in agriculture. – Everything will result in the farmer gradually becoming a farm manager and production supervisor, and less and less a manual worker, and he will use agronomic knowledge and experience, which is extremely valuable, to the full extent. In addition, decisions at all stages of production will be made based on the information they will receive through connected sensors on production surfaces, mechanization, and smart irrigation systems. Modernization and digitalization will thus allow yields to grow and environmental damage as a direct consequence of agricultural activity to be reduced – describes Žulj changes that will completely transform the concept of farmers and even visual identity because it could very quickly replace waterproof boots and blue jumpsuit with polished shoes and suit.

It is a process that has already begun to roll. Sensors on agricultural land are already doing their job, measuring and reporting on the type and amount of precipitation, water content, soil nutrients, and soil temperature. – Many farmers have already installed various equipment in their fields that use the existing widespread 4G networks, which also enable data transfer at high speeds (up to 100 Mb/s). If we compare 4G networks with 5G networks, in the latter we expect many times higher data transfer speeds from as much as 5 Gb / s to 10 Gb / s, significantly less delay in data transfer with a much larger number of devices or sensors that can be used, even by lower prices. For example, it would allow farmers to install more sensors to monitor field conditions, probably in the near future even to remotely control agricultural machinery, and finally to help them manage their activities more efficiently and have fewer bad and uncompetitive products – argues Jurčević. He says it will be several more years before commercial 5G networks become available in rural areas as densely populated urban parts of the country are usually the first to schedule the expansion of a new network. So, in his opinion, 5G should come to Croatian fields in full force in three to five years.


– Sowing, complete monitoring and protection of crops, monitoring of weather conditions, harvesting, or harvesting are jobs that can be done completely independently by agricultural machines today. Autonomous tractors sow, drones with various sensors or cameras monitor crops and identify possible problems, small robots take soil samples to determine the required amount of fertilizer or pesticide to be used and in which locations. This approach to agriculture, the so-called precision agriculture in the world, as well as in Croatia, is not uncommon, and 4G networks are already used for such activities – explains Professor Jurčević that even now technology allows work on agricultural land without significant human intervention.

Precise and more economical agriculture

How 5G will change agriculture is a question we also asked Marko Kozjak, co-founder of the VeeMee platform, which brings together farmers and family farms. The future, and in some segments the present, is precision agriculture, IoT solutions, and Farm Management.

The concept of precision agriculture is based on the selective monitoring, cultivation, and treatment of smaller segments of agricultural land. Kozjak specifies that in precision agriculture, with the help of sensors, the growth and development of each individual plant can be monitored and problems in their occurrence can be recognized. Variations of the observed elements such as yield, soil fertility status, weed status, disease development, etc. are monitored, which significantly reduces the cost and facilitates the solution and prevention of problems. All of this, he says, enhances long-term food production planning and helps preserve the environment and achieve self-sustainability.

Five ways 5G will transform agriculture

1. Precision agriculture will come to life as it was conceived. Thanks to the data collected by sensors and drones, crops will be treated according to their real needs, which will be reflected in better quality fruits and targeted, reduced use of raw materials.

2. Connected agricultural machinery and sensors will enable the sharing of large data on the basis of which artificial intelligence can identify which practices work best to increase yields.

3. Allies in precision agriculture are drones that not only record and scan the situation in the field but can also spray certain crops.

4. Smart irrigation can bring big savings to farmers. Probes buried in the ground report data on soil moisture and salinity, allowing better management of irrigation and fertilization cycles.

5. The 5G network also brings a new tool for plant protection – the geolocation of insects that can do great damage in a very short time.

Source: 5gradar

– We also have the development of robotic machines, and hyperspectral images from satellites and spacecraft are used for monitoring. But there is a problem here in the lack of precision caused by high sensor prices, resulting in either too few sensors or lower recording frequency. The only viable solution is a network of numerous small, inexpensive, and connected sensors that monitor the microclimatic conditions on each micro-unit of the surface in real-time. This is made possible by the Internet of Things (IoT) standard, and will only be achievable through the application of 5G technology, which enables significantly higher device density (sensors) – one million per square kilometer, significantly lower connection energy, higher speeds, and throughput. Also, 5G solutions do not require a complex local IT infrastructure – explains Kozjak. Well-designed Farm Management solutions rely on the information obtained from the IoT sensor network. They are crucial to replace the previous manual data entry, and the final effect is more economical production and significant savings in raw materials, human and machine labor, and savings in energy consumption. And all this thanks to timely information gathered with the help of a system that reduces the ‘human factor’ to a human measure, Kozjak’s conclusion is that 5G network technology increases the efficiency of food production in agriculture while raising ecology, economy, and quality of life to a higher level.

– New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) paired with a platform like VeeMee will give customers a much greater connection to the food source and control over knowing what they eat and drink, which is an important component for a healthy life – says Marko Kozjak, founder of the platform VeeMee.

Drones as part of farmers’ fleet

The introduction of a 5G network is a key prerequisite for the full implementation of precision agriculture. IoT solutions on the 5G network will significantly increase the efficiency of technology to the extent that it can be called a revolution, says Kozjak, who does not miss the opportunity to point out that IoT solutions concretize measurable data performance, primarily in the focus of system automation and easier management of agricultural production. and emissions and by increasing efficiency. – Increasing profitability with automation and support of the production process from planning, through cultivation, care, and yield to product recognition and marketing, are well-founded arguments in favor of choosing a return to nature in partnership with technology – explains the co-founder of VeeMee to recognize agriculture as a profitable industry within which it pays to build a career and family life could increase interest in agriculture.

But how do farmers breathe? Do they want to adopt innovations and change traditional work patterns? Osijek startup Orqa, globally known for its drone control goggles, conducted a litmus test of the market a few months ago. – We suggested to the farmers contact us to talk about how the application of drones on their plantations would work. We detected that there is absolutely a lot of interest. Both small and large farmers want to invest in their plantations by introducing new technology and thus increase the profit margin of their hectares – says Ivan Jelušić, co-founder of Orqa, who believes that with a tractor, seeder, and other attachments drones will soon become part of farmers’ fleet. It will be a logical upgrade to existing machines and tools, an upgrade that literally blows agricultural production to another level. – In addition to regular spectrum images, drones can record plantations with multispectral cameras that have the ability to detect various occurrences on those plantations. 5G will enable all these sensors and drone images to be sent in real-time to processing data centers to help farmers draw conclusions in the formats of predictive analysis – explains Jelušić about the future from which we are only a few years away.

– Drone as a service (DaaS) model will certainly be an excellent starting point for both small and large farmers to introduce drones in their operations – said Ivan Jelušić, co-founder of Orqa.

The first step in applying this technology in the field should be taken by large farmers. With one drone strike, it is possible to capture large areas, and small farmers usually have small, dispersive plantations that the drone quickly captures and has to change the plot, which is operationally quite inefficient. – Over a period of several years, I believe that the prices of drones will become slightly lower. As a result, the service of using drones will become closer to small farmers. However, it is good for them that the testing of drones in agriculture, the graduation of all that technology, and the science behind them, are great. The right way for smaller farmers to implement drones in the production process will be drone rental services – points out the technology director of Orqa. The drone as a service (DaaS) includes pilot and analysis of plantations from the air, and the farmer has no obligation to obtain a license, software tools, pilots and is not responsible for the drone, which can be quite expensive. – In this story, Orqa is only a technology provider, we have domain experience with drones and with the transport of data from unmanned platforms over the public network and we do this in partnership with Hrvatski Telekom. Orqa as a company does not have domain experience and knowledge in agriculture, however, our technologies can give expert farmers a new set of tools and opportunities to increase the efficiency and yield of plantations – explains Jelušić.

What does it look like when they dig into modernization?

The founder of Agrivi, Matija Žulj, underlined that 5G technology opens up a huge potential in the economy, enabling key production data to be collected even faster, better and cheaper. We have already written about the great potential of 5G technology for the economy, but in the context of agriculture, it should be noted how much the introduction of this network will favor the further development of agro-technological companies. Žulj emphasizes that 5G will enable such companies to optimize costs, new opportunities for product development, and added value, but also to accelerate the implementation of solutions for agricultural production management.

– A concrete example of the impact of the 5G network on the use of Agrivi software can be explained by the example of our user – Moslavina fruit. This is an agricultural farm that produces apples on over 200 hectares, and the permeability of the telecommunications network, both in offices and in the orchard, is extremely important to them. This is a prerequisite for optimal use of the Agrivi application in the cloud and connection of sensor devices, as well as the use of the application on a smartphone in the orchard where work orders are distributed and the orchard status is entered on a daily basis – Žulj elaborates. This is followed by Boris Drilo, a member of the Management Board of Hrvatski Telekom. – Sensors and a large number of connected devices are at the same time an extremely important segment of 5G networks, and the sensors can be used in agriculture, so we are close to the level that the sensors are almost integrated with fruits and soil. This would know that the plants should be irrigated at some point, some necessary minerals should be added to them when it is the right time to gather the fruits and the like. Agricultural machinery can therefore become autonomous.

A large part of the production has been digitized in Rajska, which is a pioneer of hydroponic cultivation in Croatia. This tomato producer from Kerestinec near Zagreb has deeply plowed into modernization thanks to the vision of the founders and the funds of the European Union. Back in 2009, they completed the first major investment cycle in which they built state-of-the-art greenhouses on 2.5 hectares and invested five million euros in technology, and in the second cycle production capacity was doubled by expanding greenhouses to five hectares.

– When we talk about technological solutions, Paradise tomatoes are grown using state-of-the-art, modern technology, thanks to which the plants are completely protected from external disasters, and they are provided with an ideal ratio of nutrients, humidity, and temperature. Tomatoes grow in compost bags through which they get all the nutrients dissolved in the water. Mineral-type nutrients are introduced into the greenhouse by fertigation through irrigation, and excess water is drained, filtered, and reused in a closed system in which nothing is thrown away. Dosing of nutrients, ventilation, determination of humidity and temperature in the greenhouse is computer programmed – describes the director of Rajska Zvonimir Belić a smart and complex production system that could not function without digital technologies.

– From the very beginning of production, we have focused on the quality and taste of tomatoes, and thanks to technology and not using pesticides and herbicides in the protection of tomatoes, we maintain the highest quality of our products – says Zvonimir Belić, director of Rajska.

Although it improves production processes, technology cannot replace basic natural elements such as water, air, but also insects. For example, in the cultivation of Paradise Tomato, one of the main roles is played by 10 thousand bumblebees that pollinate tomato flowers. The role of people should not be neglected either. Workers are our invaluable capital, said Belić, who believes that in the coming period we will witness the widespread use of 5G technology in agriculture.

Return on investment

The introduction of advanced technologies into the production process requires serious investment. The construction of infrastructure is a big stake for mobile network operators, and farmers, in addition to high investments in technology, must also take into account the cost of its maintenance. – Farmers who have accepted the principles of precision agriculture in their fields are already using quality sensors and equipment that communicates via existing mobile networks, and this equipment is very affordable. With all the benefits that come with applying precision agriculture, the initial investment can pay off in just a few years. If we are talking about investments in, for example, drones or self-propelled tractors, of course, the investment costs are significantly higher and that such will be able to be used by larger manufacturers in the near future – says Professor Jurčević. He points out that in the near future incentives for the use of new technologies in agriculture can be expected, which could bring the application of today’s unimaginable devices and machines closer to even smaller farmers.

The view is always on the Government when it comes to agriculture, so it will not be any different in terms of technology. – Production costs are extremely high, so we continuously appeal to the Government to provide farmers with more favorable production conditions, which also affects the formation of prices of domestic products and competitiveness in the market. Technology simplifies production processes and can significantly raise product quality. However, a number of new technologies and opportunities to improve production must be accompanied by appropriate measures by the competent ministries and other institutions – said the innovative tomato producer Belić.

Many still find sensors, self-propelled tractors, and drones too futuristic and wonder why bother with it when the fruits are already growing. The co-founder of VeeMee confirms that the question really arises as to whether all available technology is needed by all farmers. Although it is not necessary for smaller agricultural productions today, he claims, in the future, it will be a part of their production, ie it will become a standard. – I would draw a parallel with the roads that were built while farmers used plows and horses. The roads did not necessarily allow for easier work then, on the contrary, they may have made it difficult to move from field to field. Today we use them and consider them the standard of modern society. 5G technology is a ‘road’ for future technology upgrades and modernization of agriculture – concludes Kozjak.

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Content created in cooperation with Hrvatski Telekom

Author: Nikolina Oršulić


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