An agricultural development expert discuss precision agriculture

We met Aurel Grabocka in 2020 when he expressed interest in Agrio and got inspired by his enthusiasm for making agriculture better. We had wonderful conversations with him in which we learned about the agriculture scene in Albania and his ideas on how to improve it. We invited him to share his experience with precision agriculture, challenges, and his hopes for the future.

Tell us a bit about yourself, and your experience with agriculture. What kind of services do you provide to growers?

I have a master’s degree as an advisor and trainer for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

In 1998 I founded the Regional Development Agency (SME) of Korce, Albania. I am the founder and CEO of RDA Korca since then. It is an NGO.

Mainly, RDA Korca is known as a consulting agency for SMEs and local governments and is a leader in the development of business plans and feasibility studies for SMEs. It has been also a supporter of startups in the region.

Since 2019, supported by two EU projects, we have developed and are working on smart agriculture and regenerative agriculture. Especially we are developing extension agriculture services based on Agriculture 4.0. 

Korca region is one of the most important producers of apples in Albania and we are working to support apple producers in producing high-quality apples. Through smart agriculture applications like Agrio, we support them to use inputs in a smart way and minimize the use of pesticides and insecticides. At the same time, we are cooperating with innovative agronomists to change the nutrition of the orchards and increase their immunity. 

The Objective is to enhance Korca’s farmers by increasing the quality competition of Korca’s apples. 

An agricultural development expert examining an apple tree

How many people work with you? What is their responsibility?

We are a small team of three full-time people. Their responsibility is to train farmers on how to use smart applications like Agrio and team with them to improve the production on their orchards.

The Agronomist supports them in improving the nutrition of the orchards based on the data from weather stations, disease models, smart agriculture applications, and SAP analyzes. 

We hire experts based on the requests and needs of our farmers.

Tell us about the disease and pest challenges? How did you manage plant protection in your fields in the past?

Apple orchards suffer from a lot of diseases and insects. In the past farmers managed plant protection based on assumptions and by cooperating with each other. They were spraying based on their experience and having the same calendar every year. As a result, the use of pesticides and insecticides has been increasing every year.

In the last two years, we have introduced disease models based on data from the weather stations. At the same time, we are introducing Agrio as an application that supports farmers in their decisions to protect their crops from insects and pests. 

Our main approach is to support farmers through Agrio and regenerative agriculture practices based on SAP analyses. The route to take samples for SAP analyses is based on the indicators and indices offered by Agrio.

How did you come across Agrio?

Agrio has been suggested to us by a German expert that visited our farms. He suggested this application as a great tool to improve the protection of the orchards from pests and insects. After using it for some days I had an online meeting with Mr. Nessi Benishti who is the CEO of Agrio. Since then we have increased the cooperation, testing, and working with the tool. We are looking to go even deeper into this cooperation.

Recently, we have started to create Teams to support farmers through the platform. It is very interesting and helpful. Farmers find many beneficial services just by using their smartphones.

A seminar on disease and pest identification in apple trees

What is your perspective on digital solutions in agriculture? What do you wish to see in the future?

We are looking to increase the cooperation with Agrio and at the same time develop the network of farmers. Agrio has a great option of teamwork and cooperating with the farmers and experts on the same platform. At the same time, we can have the support of Agrio experts that support us very fast and with great quality advice.

We are looking to cover all of Albania with our extension services. In the near future, we will have a call to ask experts to join us through the platform and to support farmers with advice.

How the satellite scanning changes the way you understand the orchards’ situation? 

Agrio offers a lot of functions to check the health of the orchards by scanning with satellites. It is easy to compare the images of the satellites, check on graphs how the vegetation is doing, and develop the crop scouting route to visit the areas which represent a decrease in the indicators. It offers the possibility to cooperate with the team, exchange ideas and notes, and check the quality of the work.

Through the satellite images, the farmer knows exactly the location where to check and find out in advance if something is wrong with his crops.

Can you describe a particular case in which Agrio helped you detect a pest or a disease? How is the app helping you with your work? 

Agrio team assists us without request on areas that show a decrease in the indicators. They send to us the location and with the help of the smartphone GPS location, we go to the exact location and check for the problems. In this case, after we send the pictures related to the problems, first there were doubts about nematodes on the roots. After digging and discovering the roots, we have seen that there were no signs of nematodes. So, we continued to check the tree and we found prionus apple root borer. After showing through pictures of the stem borer and after the experts of Agrio helped us to identify it, we received their suggestions for the treatment. After applying the treatment, we saw that the vegetation indicators for this field are increasing, and the trees are doing very well.

Precision agriculture applied to early disease and pest detection in the orchard
Detection of pest infestation in an orchard with the aid of satellite imagery

What is the dynamic in the community of growers in your region? What is the level of interest in precision agriculture solutions? 

We have more than two years of promoting precision agriculture and testing it. It is moving and growing but still, it is slow and difficult. Farmers have a lot of difficulties and lack the resources and knowledge to apply precise agriculture. 

What do you wish for in the future?

We wish to increase the community of farmers that use precise agriculture and improve the quality of their products. We want to decrease the use of pesticides and insecticides and provide healthy food for people. We wish to regenerate soil on our farms and produce dense crops and fruits full of vitamins and proteins.

Anything else that you would like to add?

We are changing the existing agriculture practices and we hope that farmers will change on a great scale. Public institutions, local governments, and universities need to support and develop smart agriculture to change the existing theories and practices. Especially public servants and academia of agriculture departments in the universities must increase their knowledge of precision agriculture and start moving from conventional agriculture to regenerative agriculture.