Precision Agriculture and the Caucasus

The article below from Foreign Affairs is a very neat layman’s summary of the Precision Agriculture methodology which YFN Georgia uses. It covers the basics of the evolution of GPS use, property and soil mapping, Variable Rate methodology for use of fertilisers and pesticides, tractor and harvester guidance systems, auto-pilot and remote control for tractors, remote sensing with drones and satellite imagery. From Foreign Affairs:

” Today, however, the trend toward ever more uniform practices is starting to reverse, thanks to what is known as “precision agriculture.” Taking advantage of information technology, farmers can now collect precise data about their fields and use that knowledge to customize how they cultivate each square foot.

One effect is on yields: precision agriculture allows farmers to extract as much value as possible from every seed. That should help feed a global population that the UN projects will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. Precision agriculture also holds the promise of minimizing the environmental impact of farming, since it reduces waste and uses less energy. And its effects extend well beyond the production of annual crops such as wheat and corn, with the potential to revolutionize the way humans monitor and manage vineyards, orchards, livestock, and forests. Someday, it could even allow farmers to depend on robots to evaluate, fertilize, and water each individual plant—thus eliminating the drudgery that has characterized agriculture since its invention.”

Some of the basic technologies involved are visualised below. All of them are available to farmers in the Caucasus through our company.

Our tractor and harvester guidance systems start with very simple GPS-powered Farmnavigator systems from Australian firm FarmAgScan, which provide Parallel Guidance, Contour Guidance, Round & Round Guidance, Lightbar navigation, a Virtual Sprayboom, Field perimeter & area measurement, an external GPS, and export to Google Maps™ or Google Earth™. A good basic, robust unit for those starting out in Precision Agriculture.

A more comprehensive Variable Rate controller and Guidance System is the FarmScanAg AgGuide V4,.

This provides:

Comprehensive mapping, for recording, storage, analysis, printing and record keeping for a virtually unlimited  number of farms, fields, jobs, field perimeters, runlines, marked points, spray and weather data, coverage and elevation maps. On-screen and audible notification of important upcoming obstacles (e.g trees, rocks, poles, perimeters) reduces the risk of in-field collisions.

Guidance, including on-screen visual guidance, as well as steering-wheel- motor and full CANBUS and cm accuracy hydraulic auto-steer guidance are expertly implemented, allowing for broadacre, inter-row-sowing and controlled traffic row-crop operations. Racetrack, contour, parallel, and pivot guidance are all included.

Automatic Boom Section Spray and Rate Control (SprayGuide) reducing chemical usage and overlap or underlap. Rate control provides fingertip regulation of application rates.

Record keeping All mapping data is retained indefinitely allowing for full record keeping of all in-field, sowing, spreading, fertilizing, spraying and harvesting operations, as well as printing, area and product cost analysis. This interacts seamlessly with our Fairport PAM Farm Management Software, documenting all operations, seeding, harvesting and chemical applications, via the PAM PDP module.

Implement guidance (RigGuide), controlling tractor-drawn implements track, depth and other activities.

Variable Rate Control (VRC) allowing rate control of up to 4 products including on-screen fingertip control. Different fertiliser blends or pesticide blends can be mixed on-tractor in real time and documented meticulously, and differential seeding rates applied.

‘Laser’-levelling (LevelGuide) controls a grader blade/bucket to replicate and improve upon standard laser levelling tasks – at a fraction of the standard cost and hassle. Single planes can be easily marked with three points, or a combination of points and defined slopes. With the use of companion software or design services, full-multi-plane cut-fill maps can be used with powerful coloured on-screen mapping including contour profiling. Contour banks are also easy to make.

Multi-camera display allows Images from up to 4 cameras can be simultaneously displayed on-screen, with any enlarged to full screen with a simple touch of the finger.

We now, in partnership with a UK firm, are capable of Electromagnetic Induction Scanning (EMI Scanning) of soils to develop comprehensive soil maps accurate to within 5 cm, allowing management zones based on soil types and drainage characteristics to be developed, improving yields and reducing operating costs. Precision irrigation design, where zones are irrigated according to soil type and plant requirement, dramatically improves product quality and reduces water pumping costs.

Soil Map

Once the enterprise is operational, aerial scanning with light aircraft or drones with MultiSpectral Digital cameras yields tremendous data on plant vigour for every square metre of the property and can be used to estimate eventual yield and schedule harvest time. Remote sensing now is becoming so advanced that our British partners are now providing pre-harvest estimates not only of tonnage of apples per hectare but the number of apples per tree!

vp6

While there are environmental benefits to the use of Precision Agriculture methodologies, reducing overuse of fertiliser and pesticides and intelligently planning property development to reduce soil erosion, the key benefit is economic. Typical benefits seen are:

* Higher yields as plants’ nutritional needs are more accurately met.

* Reduced fertiliser, pesticide and seed cost per tonne of commodity harvested.

*Reduced fuel consumption as tractors and harvesters operate as efficiently as possible under guidance.

*Better use of irrigation water and reduced water pumping costs as irrigation water is applied only as and where needed on management zones.

*Higher prices for cereal commodities; correct management of nitrogen and soil moisture results in more wheat growers capturing bread-baking wheat contracts, replacing imports.

*Higher prices for horticultural products like grapes, apples and peaches; careful control over nutrition, irrigation and harvesting time results in higher quality commodity produced at lower cost. Vertically integrated wineries using remote sensing and differential harvesting report increased margins of USD$20,000 per hectare.

The cost of technology is dropping fast; this robust mini-drone, possibly suitable for crop scouting and likely to be able to accept MSDP cameras in the future, may sell for less than $500.

For more details, contact Simon on simon@yfn.com.ge

Advertisements

Cancellation of SOCAR’s Urea Plant in Kulevi; Conflicting Narratives

This week, Azerbaijan state-owned oil and gas company SOCAR announced that it was cancelling its construction of a urea plant at its Kulevi Free Zone on the Georgian Black Sea coast. The cancellation of this $700 million project, agreed with the previous government in 2012, has come as a blow to investor sentiment.

SOCAR’s local management claim that the reasons for cancellation are complex,  but they have ruled out corruption as a factor in the cancellation. From Commersant.ge

A cancellation  of the construction of a carbamide plant in Georgia by SOCAR (State Oil Company of Azerbaijan) is associated in particular with fluctuations in the energy market, long-term gas supply and other issues, Vagif Aliyev,  head of Investments Department of  SOCAR, told Trend.

According to him, SOCAR with the full responsibility declares that ” no other subjective factors have effect  on the  adoption of this decision.”

Aliyev also says  that in recent days the media and social networks spread unjustified and  untrue speculative information about stopping the project.

As the head of the Investment Department at SOCAR adds, a  serious work has been carried out on this project for a considerable amount of time, but after these issues arose,  the project was revised which led to the project’s cancellation.

Meanwhile, the Georgian Ministry of Energy, has a different take on the issue;

In particular, the Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze said that the reason for the suspension of the project was the disadvantage of the project for the Georgian side, as well as for Azerbaijani.

Deputy Energy Minister Mariam Valishvili told  “Commersant” that negotiations are continuing at this stage, and the project is not derailed, but just delayed.

“We had to supply gas for the needs of the enterprise that we get at the social cost. It is a 20-30% increase in consumption, as the production of carbamide  is a  very energy-intensive project. We can assume that the problem is in the supply of gas – about 1 billion cubic meters per year, “- she notes.

According to her, this is due to the fact that the opening of the Kulevi free industrial zone was delayed which had to include a carbamide factory construction.

It is interesting that SOCAR declare the project to be cancelled, while the Ministry declare it to be simply postponed. Given that SOCAR supply the vast majority of Georgia’s gas for residential and industrial use, it seems odd that a lack of gas supply would cause the project to stumble; SOCAR’s gas pipelines have substantial capacity and are well engineered.

In exchange for gas transit through Georgian territory, SOCAR is obliged to provide gas to Georgia at a very concessional rate for domestic use. To what extent the Energy Ministry was concerned that a billion cubic metres of gas annually for urea manufacture would disrupt this concessional residential supply is not known to the public.

The implications for Georgia’s agricultural sector are significant. Around half of Georgian farmers use fertiliser presently. Of those, more than 90% solely use nitrogen fertiliser rather than blends such as NPK or other products. Currently, Rustavi Azot , owned by entrepreneur Roman Pipia, and supplied with gas from Russia, has a dominating position in the Georgian market, being the sole local manufacturer of nitrogenous fertiliser in the country. Rustavi Azot produces ammonium nitrate as well as anhydrous ammonia. While SOCAR’s urea plant at Kulevi was aimed largely at the export market, domestic sales would have stimulated some price competition in the market from which farmers could have benefited. Urea is more amenable to use in solution than ammonium nitrate and has fewer compatibility problems when mixing with other fertilisers.

It is to be hoped that this project can go ahead at some time in the future. Substantial construction projects like this one help stabilise the local currency and create rural jobs in an area where many IDP’s have been settled.

UPDATE:

SOCAR Georgia’s General Director confirms that the Kulevi urea plant project is postponed, not cancelled. From Commersant.ge

The carbamide plant project in Georgia was temporarily postponed, but not closed –  Director General  of SOCAR Petrolium Georgia Mahir Mammadov states.

According to him, various speculations appeared in the media in this regard  that do not correspond to reality – the factory cannot be built until the completion of the Shah Deniz project, which is why the project was simply postponed until the appropriate time.

“We had some problems in connection with the project due to the economic situation in Azerbaijan. Therefore, the construction of the plant has been delayed, but we will definitely return to this project. It was our decision and the government of Georgia agreed with it. So the project is postponed, but not cancelled, “- says  Mahir Mammadov.”