ISPA Account

Precision Agriculture in Bulgaria

Precision Agriculture in Bulgaria
Rositsa Beluhova-Uzunova, Dobri Dunchev
Agricultural University-Plovdiv, Bulgaria
In Bulgaria the government statistics office does not collect official information on the adoption of precision agriculture (PA). The implementation of the first PA technologies in Bulgaria can be traced back to 2002-2003 with the use of lightbar displays for spreading fertilizer. A few years later with the advent of automatic steering systems it is possible for the displays to be used for sowing and mechanical weed control. After 2009 these technologies are common in the Bulgarian fields.
Now most of farm machines are equipped not only with global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) displays and steering systems, but also with systems for implement guidance on slopes and systems for section control for sprayers. The innovative solutions include also yield monitoring, which creates detailed digital yield maps during the harvest. 
The adoption of these PA technologies however is concentrated mainly on big farms in North Bulgaria which are specialized in grain and oilseeds production. According to the Agricultural census in 2016, around 2350 large holdings with economic size (i.e. gross value of crop and livestock output) of more than 250 000 EUR are specialized in extensive production, represent 45% of the national value of farm output and cover around 68 % of the agricultural area.
Majority of the big holdings also use soil sampling, variable rate application, Geoscan and weather monitoring technology. A few big fruit and vegetables producers use precision irrigation systems and precision planting. By contrast, small and very small farm do not adopt PA technologies and their access to new technologies is limited. The livestock sector is lagging far behind crop production in PA implementation.
A few companies are offering wide variety of different products – precision farming systems and different software. However, the implementation is limited and only in the big farms. At present, the investments in precision agriculture depend on the economic potential of the individual farmer or entrepreneur. Therefore there is a lack of comprehensive information on the investments, the level of digitalization and on the technologies for precision agriculture.
In Bulgaria the benefits of PA adoption are widely discussed in different forums, conferences and seminars. However, there is no official information about farmers` perception related to PA. In this regard, in the end of 2018 a random sample survey of all farmers was conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and later the results are published in newspapers [1] and in the draft of the Bulgarian strategy for digitalization in rural areas. The data from a sample of 258 agricultural holdings shows that 49% of respondents are not familiar with the new technologies, only 4% of the farmers are planning to invest in PA technologies and 38% of the farmers do not intent to implement digital technologies.
In Bulgaria the survey of PA technologies is more widely discussed in universities and scientific institutes. Remote control methods began to develop as early as the 1970s in different institutes. Even then, the satellite and airplane images are used to assess the crops condition at the Space Research and Technology Institute.[2]
At the Institute, over the last few decades, scientists have used satellite imagery to monitor the condition and characteristics of the land and mapping. The Institute has participated and been funded by a number of projects related to the use of satellite systems and their application in agriculture. The projects are funded by both the Research Fund and international projects under the 6th Framework Program, the 7th Framework Program, Horizon 2020, the European Space Agency (ESA) and others.
Various universities in the country are also involved in the application of space technology in agriculture. The Sofia University "Kliment Ohridski", the Geological-Geographical Faculty, has a similar experience in which for years the implementation of geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote methods has been developed, including the use of satellite images and drones.
The Agricultural University-Plovdiv is conducting experiments on its experimental fields, located near the city of Plovdiv, related to the development of different crops and varieties of wheat, barley, maize, sunflower and others. The university has a PA master courses and it is part of ERASMUS projects in the field of PA.[3]
Other opportunity for PA adoption and digitalization is related to Agricultural Hubs. Under the Horizon 2020 Program, a project SmartAgriHubs is selected and coordinated by Wageningen University and Research. Bulgarian AgroHub.BG is part of the European SmartAgriHubs project.[4]
[1] https://iconomist.bg
[2] http://www.space.bas.bg/en/index.html
[3] https://www.au-plovdiv.bg/en/
[4] https://agrohub.bg/?lang=en