Smart Intelligence On Way To Croatian Fields

Lauren Simmonds

Through IRI, Matija Žulja managed to get his hands on 6.35 million kuna for the development of a pioneering self-sufficiency system.

”I want to dedicate my time, knowledge, and work to address the problem of hunger in the world. I’m not utopian enough to think that I’m going to be able to do it myself, but I’m 100% sure that we can make a significant contribution with Agriva. If anyone laughs at that, I’m not bothered.”

Back in the summer of 2015, Matija Žulj had the urge to launch a Croatian agro-technological startup, he talked to Poslovni Dnevnik about his experiences and the moves he’s made from then on.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 26th of April, 2018, it’s hard to say whether or not Matija was ever on the receiving end of jokes for that rather bold statement, but today, he’s the one smiling the widest. His company has managed to push itself into the limelight of more than 150 countries around the world, and its technological solution that helps farmers to achieve sustainable and profitable production is globally used by more than 40,000 people who are doing business on the ground itself. Only a few months after the initial interview with Poslovni Dnevnik took place, Agriva was named the best start-up in the world, and shortly thereafter, Matija received a huge investment from the regional VC fund South Central Ventures, which provided him with the “munitions” for strong foreign expansion. Yesterday marked the beginning of a new chapter for Agriva, with which Žulj will approach his goal.

Through the so-called IRI Contest, Agriva and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing signed an agreement with the Ministry of the Economy on granting Agriva a massive 6.35 million kuna in non-refundable funds. The money has been granted to Agriva SMART – a system that is also the first real concrete entry of artificial intelligence into the Croatian agrarian sector. This groundbreaking system will provide farmers with advice on which agronomic practices to use to achieve optimal yields and increase overall profitability.

This truly pioneering venture heads into the domestic field where agriculture faces numerous challenges which involve a drastic decline in production, especially when it comes to fruit and vegetables. For three years, the research and development of a smart system that will be based on a self-employed algorithm to manage fruit, vegetable, and cereal production processes will take place.

It will work on the principle that the algorithm analyses the data from the field in real time and combines it with the otherwise used agrarian practices, and then farmers are “advised” on which procedures will guarantee the ideal combination – a better yield and lower production costs. The focus of the development of the algorithm will be to optimise the amount, the manner, and the timing of fertiliser application, preservatives and irrigation.

When asked about what further contributed to this co-operation, Žulj stated: “We needed a partner for the project who has a strong experience in the field of artificial intelligence, and in that respect, FER is the leader in Croatia,”

“Currently, the solution and databases are key to success because we need a large amount of data and this is precisely the richest wealth of the current system. Now we’ve got hundreds of millions of different records of agricultural production that are collected manually from farmers, which are automated, such as weather data, satellite footage, soil data…” explained Žulj.

The total value of the new system stands at around 8.48 million kuna, and Žulj revealed that the rest of the funding has already been secured. Moreover, he adds that “they have the interest of investors for further investment in the company”.

The joint initiative of Agriva and FER could pay off even more and on an international scale, as he explained, key global competitors have indeed embarked on similar development projects, but as yet, there is no commercial solution of this kind in existence. Current applications are said to be primarily focused on image processing and then deal with the predictions that arise from them, but there are no solutions that focus on concrete recommendations to produce depending on current conditions. Despite the great ambition and significance of the first introduction of artificial intelligence to Croatia’s fields, Žulj isn’t just sitting back, and admits that this is not something that happens overnight.

Žulj stated that the aim is to have everything done within a three year period, emphasising the sheer amount of investment, time and development needed. One should not be fooled about one other thing, either, and that is that the problems Croatian farmers face are enormous, and it is more than likely that most of them aren’t following the achievements of the technology of the new era.

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