EkoNiva has always been famed for the use of cutting-edge technologies. Some years ago, the adoption of the herd management system allowed the company to scale up its livestock breeding business by means of increasing the number of cattle and expanding EkoNiva’s presence in the market. State-of-the-art machinery with a wide range of precision farming functions enables specialists to use a rational and effective approach to cultivating every square metre of the vast land plots. Furthermore, digitalisation of operations on the farm is getting higher on the list of priorities. Recently, the major milk producer has made a further significant advance in this domain – the creation of a new EkoCrop mobile application for crop farming. Its development began in January. As early as November, the product was supplied to all EkoNiva-APK subsidiaries.
EkoCrop is meant to be used mainly by agronomists, chief technicians and herd managers, heads of enterprises and their deputies. Around three hundred leading company specialists and top managers received tablet PCs with the application installed on them, underwent training and started using the novelty on the farms.
‘EkoCrop is designed to enter the latest data on the work in the fields into a central database and generate subsequent reports’, says Sergey Kapustin, Precision Farming Director, EkoNiva-APK Holding. ‘This helps to prevent human error and speed up obtaining and processing of up-to-date information. Earlier, routine reporting involved an agronomist, a record keeper, a chief agronomist and the management, which was far from perfect. A vast amount of data was input in Excel spreadsheets. Delays in information transfer would sometimes be up to two days, which we were not happy about, because the more people made up the chain the greater was the risk of mistakes and misinterpreting. The app has transformed the format into “an agronomist responsible for the area – a central database – end users” and reduced the amount of time to just a few moments.’
Another significant advantage of EkoCrop is security. Unlike what many other well-established providers of similar services have on offer, this solution stores all information, which is circulated only within the company’s IT infrastructure, solely on EkoNiva’s own servers.
Let us present the key features of EkoCrop.
When the app is run for the first time, it needs an Internet connection to download a map of the fields and all the relevant data – employees who are connected to the service, fleet of self-propelled and trailed machinery, fertilisers, plant protection agents etc. After that, the user can go to the countryside and utilise it offline to input information, which will be added to the databases when the application is online again. By default, synchronisation occurs automatically every hour, but it can also be done manually.
‘The amount of data displayed depends on the level of access and the area of responsibility of the user’, adds Sergey Kapustin. ‘For example, an agronomist can only see the territory they are in charge of and its specific characteristics. Top management has more information at their disposal to be able to take strategic decisions.’
The location of a person holding the device is indicated with a blue dot on the map. Every field has its own registration card and is marked with a colour, which denotes the crop grown there. The card lists all the operations performed on the land. The user can fill it in with the new ones. In the application, a specialist can find the last month weather records for a chosen locality and a two-day forecast. In addition, the app displays visual information on crop rotation for the past three years – dates of sowing and harvesting, yield, fertilisers and the application rate, tractors and trailed equipment used to apply them. Moreover, a plan for the next year is also available here.
Based on the data from EkoNiva’s meteorological stations, a weekly air temperature and a precipitation diagram is made up. Besides, agrochemical properties of soil in every field are also at your fingertips.
‘One more useful feature of the innovation is Field Examination’, continues Sergey Kapustin. ‘Let’s take a corn field, for instance. An agronomist examines it and enters the current parameters in the digital form – phenological stage, pest presence per 1 sqm. and their species, plant diseases, amount and type of the weeds. You can even upload a photo taken with the in-built camera or choose it from a gallery. Finally, they add a comment, and the card is ready. It is a sheer novelty for us, and it is invaluable as specialists used to make a simple visual assessment of crops, take some pictures for their own use, make conventional notes…’
Clicking the Farm tab, a user can see the cropping pattern, compare the plan from the beginning of the season and the actual scope of works completed in the field to evaluate the progress.
Furthermore, the reporting module with flexible settings allows a specialist to access a list of operations carried out for a specific crop within a certain period on a chosen farm.
‘We have been using the application since May, and it has taken us to a new level’, shares Aleksey Nizkodubov, Chief Agronomist of the Left-Bank Operation of EkoNivaAgro. ‘From the start, we have been actively using the Field Examination option. Now, all the necessary data are close at hand, we get up-to-date information instantly, which enables us to take decisions on urgent issues quicker. It really is an innovation of the future.’
It is worth noting that the app is not merely an accounting and monitoring tool, it is also a reference source. Its previous version could boast an illustrated guide to weeds with a description of their botanical composition and control measures.
'In my opinion, it is very convenient, although it would be good to supplement the gallery with photos of different growth stages of weeds’, comments Sergey Kapustin. ‘So, there is room for perfection. For example, we want to improve the functionality of the app with a machinery guide which contains pictures, detailed specifications and setting manuals. From my point of view, this will be of great help especially to new agronomists who don’t know the fleet well enough. They can start the application, pick the corresponding section, find the model of interest, choose the make of the unit and adjust the settings of the machine step by step to fit a particular task.’
EkoCrop was developed within approximately six months, which is a comparatively short period for a user-friendly application with such a large variety of options! Specialists of EkoNivaAgro, Voronezh oblast, were the first to explore the new tool, while by September, the tablets were distributed all across the holding subsidiaries.
‘In winter, we are going to give users the right to edit data for 2020 so that the agronomists can complete the lists of operations which had been conducted before the novelty was adopted while they are not yet tied up in seasonal activities’, concludes Sergey Kapustin. ‘In this way, people will be able to practise their skills of using the app before the next sowing campaign starts, because when the work in the fields commences in 2021, we would like to abolish Excel spreadsheets and stick to our in-house solution only.’
On behalf of our colleagues, we would like to thank the team of developers for the early implementation of the project and congratulate the company on a new important step towards the digital future of agriculture.
By Aleksandr KUTISHCHEV