Smart agriculture in Ukraine: IT innovations for sustainable farming

Ukrainian start-ups are rushing to stake out the most profitable market niches in the agricultural sector, while venture investors foretell a bright future for agro-technologies, though showing no haste to invest in them. Meanwhile, some agro-corporations are already building their businesses on IT solutions of local developers. So, what is going on in the agtech market – a sector of agricultural technology, which is both new for Ukraine and rather controversial?

The agricultural sector has long remained on the periphery of IT entrepreneurs and venture investors’ attention due to certain skepticism as for agtech, which is traditionally associated with agro-companies owners’ conservatism and low market reach of basic information technologies. However, in 2014, the situation started changing owing to one-off successful projects and growing interest from innovative agro-companies.

It took only one year after the launch for Drone.ua to become the main airborne prospecting provider for Kernel, the largest agro-corporation in the country. Starting in 2015, it uses five quadrocopters and two drones, while forecasting the yield and receiving vegetation indexes and information on evaporation/nitrogen via an IT-solution of the Pixel Solutions start-up.

Created in 2014, Petiole, a “smart” tracker for plant growth, hit the top 20 hot start-ups in 2015 according to CNBC, an American business TV channel.

Although agtech still cannot compete with mainstream niches in a number of top projects, IT entrepreneurs’ interest in the agricultural sector has been growing from year to year. This is caused by an enormous share of the agro-industrial complex in Ukrainian economy. In 2014, the agro-industry became the largest source of the country’s foreign currency earnings. According to the State Fiscal Service, in 2015 Ukraine got $14.5 billion from the food and agricultural products export, which made up 38% of the total exports, while the metallurgical industry was left far behind with its share of 24.8%. Based on the Ministry of Agrarian Policy, in the 2014-2015 seasons Ukraine ranked third among the world’s leaders of grain exports, following the US and the EU.

Also, agtech is attractive for Ukrainian IT entrepreneurs since this is one of the world’s trends and agtech projects are in demand among large agrarian corporations, though sometimes this demand doesn’t get corresponding financial support. In general, local IT entrepreneurs don’t tend to overestimate the current Ukrainian market readiness, often considering the domestic agtech a testing ground.

Source: ukraine-economy.org

New ‘Locomotive’ Powering Ukraine as Economy Retools After War

Ukraine is starting to live up to its reputation as Europe’s breadbasket.

Exports of wheat, barley and sunflower oil are at or near all-time highs, part of an agricultural revival that began to take hold in 2013. The industry’s rise coincides with declines in export mainstays such as steel and iron ore, which are produced largely in the nation’s east and have suffered amid the conflict there with Russian-backed insurgents. Trade data due Tuesday are set to underline the shift.

Agriculture has become “a locomotive of the Ukrainian economy,” central bank Deputy Governor Dmytro Sologub said in an interview. “The numbers are really stunning.”

Agriculture’s ascent may only be starting. Irrigation projects could help boost the grain harvest to 100 million metric tons from 66 million tons, according to Agriculture Minister Taras Kutovyi, who hasn’t provided a timescale for the increase. Other potential drivers include canceling a ban on selling farmland, a requirement of the nation’s $17.5 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

The shift can be seen in Ukraine’s goods exports, more than 40 percent of which are now agricultural products, while the share of ferrous metals has shrunk to a quarter. Ukraine, a country of 45 million people, could one day produce enough food to feed half a billion, Kutovyi predicts.

There are downsides. There are already record stockpiles of wheat globally. Also, an over-reliance on one group of commodities can sabotage economic growth when their prices decline. But global demand for grains and food is set to advance in the long term, making demand less vulnerable than for metals, according to Olena Bilan, an economist at Kiev-based investment bank Dragon Capital.

Agriculture has been key to Ukraine’s recovery from a two-year recession, with the economy surging 4.7 percent from a year earlier in the fourth quarter, the most since 2011. While the government is lagging behind in some reform efforts, favorable rainfall in the fall and winter mean there could be another record harvest this year, according to Tetiana Adamenko, head of the National Weather Center’s agriculture department.