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‘Accuracy and effectiveness of information are the key advantages for decision making in agriculture’

Michael Bolsunovsky
Michael Bolsunovsky
First Deputy Director General
Sovzond Company

Michael Bolsunovsky is the First Deputy Director General of Sovzond Company, a Russia-based company that worked with the Ministry of Agriculture to develop the country’s first “System of State Land Monitoring”. In an exclusive interview with Geospatial World, Bolsunovsky tells how Sovzond is trying to put all the relevant information from various geospatial sources into an integrated virtual environment to benefit farmers.

Sovzond has been instrumental in developing the System of State Land Monitoring for Russia. Could you please tell how this is going to help agricultural land administration in Russia?
The Ministry of Agriculture contacted us to help them in developing and implementing the System of State Land Monitoring. It consists of two subsystems: the Agricultural Lands Atlas and the Remote Sensing Monitoring System of Agricultural Lands. Federal Geographic Information System Agricultural Lands Atlas (GIS ALA) was created to provide government bodies and local authorities, legal entities and individuals with up-to-date information about agricultural lands. The Remote Sensing Monitoring System was developed to provide important information for planning, control and management of agricultural lands on the basis of advanced remote sensing data. The System of State Land Monitoring was nominated for the “Geospatial World Application Excellence Award 2013 – for Agriculture”. The system provides the efficiency and effectiveness of vegetation and soil data collection as well as the quality of the acquired data, allowing the government, enterprises and farmers to get most credible information about agricultural lands thereby improving the effectiveness of agricultural lands management in Russia. Our project won the award and was presented during the Geospatial World Forum 2013 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands from May 13 to 16, 2013.

We believe that accuracy and effectiveness of geospatial information are the key advantages for decision making process in agriculture. Technologies develop rapidly and farmers need actual and reliable information. Our task is to combine information from various sources into an integrated virtual environment and to develop useful tools allowing farmers to manage the information.

What are the major trends in the agriculture domain (especially in emerging markets)?
Our company has recently researched the market and analysed the interests of agroproducers in geoinformation technologies. We discovered that Russian farmers are mostly interested in services like inventory and mapping of agricultural lands, registration of actual field boundaries, assessment of crops’ conditions at different stages, recommendations on the usage of fertilizers, yield forecasting and soil mapping. We can offer all these solutions and enable farmers to calculate the cost in terms of harvest per hectare. This includes expenses on fertilizers and seeds, maintenance and repair of technological equipments. Precision agriculture helps in reducing this cost. Our services add a lot of value and are based not only on hardware/software distribution for data collection, but also on delivery of information which is unavailable or expensive when ground based data collection technologies are used. Satellite imagery, yield forecasting, assessment of vegetation phenology, study of soil characteristics are at the top of the list.

Do you think there is a lack of awareness about the use of geospatial technology in the emerging market?
In Russia, agricultural producers do not have enough information about the effectiveness of precision agriculture. They do not know much about geoinformation systems and satellite monitoring. A lack of appropriate motivation for new technologies implementation is caused by investment risks. Most of the Russian farmers are not sure that these solutions could give them substantial benefits. Fortunately, the trend is changing. Farmers have started to invest in information technologies. We are focusing on active promotion of our services. We invest a lot on pilot projects where our customers have to bear a minimum cost for the solution. We are working closely with our satellite imagery partners like DigitalGlobe to develop this market. We have kept our pricing flexible so that even the small farmers can afford our solutions.

How does Sovzond plan to grow its market share in emerging markets where precision farming is not so common?
Two decades ago, we started as a satellite imagery distributor. Today, we are one of the leading companies in the Russian market of geoinformation technologies and Earth remote sensing. Our portfolio includes a wide range of projects related to the development of automated systems that include remote sensing data, Web-oriented geoinformation systems, software and hardware. As for agriculture, we have a vast experience of implementing projects at federal and regional levels. We suppose that the best solution for small agricultural producers, who are not ready to pay significant amount of money for ready to use multifunctional software/hardware solutions, is access to Web-based services by subscription. The benefit is that a farmer can remotely access periodically updated information on regional resources. We are capable of offering these services. For example, we can process multispectral satellite images and make them available on the Internet. The farmers can use these images for monitoring their crops.

What is Sovzond’s next technology innovation in terms of agricultural solutions? Are you moving to mobile platforms and provide real-time information to farmers?
Our major focus is on satellite monitoring. During an agricultural season, a farmer gets information about organic matter capacity in soil, germination of crops, requirement of fertilizers and water etc. They also need information about the impact of natural activities. We offer all this information via Internet. The farmers do not need any special software to access and understand the information. We also work with mobile applications. Last year, we worked with the Ministry of Agriculture to develop a mobile workstation for the Agrochemical Department. The workstation has been developed for automated form entry during agrochemical observations of agricultural lands.

The geospatial industry is seeing a double digit growth. How do you see this growth in the agriculture sector?
In the field of agriculture in Russia, geospatial technologies are mainly used for the development of hardware and software solutions for precision agriculture applications. In this regard satellite navigation plays the key role among all geospatial technologies. Our strategic goal is to provide high-quality information for agricultural producers. We do not only assure fast and effective data collection support but we also propose specific recommendations for the optimisation of agricultural production processes. Based on satellite imagery analysis our company develops technological maps for differential application of nitrogen fertilizer on the stage of frozen/melted soil in spring. Farmers can use recommendations on crop rotation. They can use maps to know about arable lands. All this is focused on reducing cost and optimising production.