Into Precision Farming or How a Bulgarian Company Uses Technology to Optimize Agricultural Performance
Agriculture is traditionally important for Bulgaria’s economy. The contribution of the sector to the country’s external trade is quite significant as it constitutes 8.5% of total exports and 9.1% of total imports. For 2019, the net worth of the agricultural income for the country was around €2.1B. However, this number accounts for a 7.5% decrease compared to the 2017/2018 period. When it comes to agriculture, numerous factors such as weather conditions, natural disasters, pollution, and even peculiarities of the farmland such as topography and location, can influence gains. The existence of so many variables makes it hard for farmers to optimize their performance and maximize their profit. The digital era has brought a solution to farmers in the form of technologies. Innovative advancements in the sector now offer numerous ways of dealing with all these variables efficiently.
From hardware, through software and practical guidance
In a nutshell, NIK is a group of companies that offer a range of services: from soil sampling equipment and machinery to laboratory analysis and satellite mapping. NIK also supports several software platforms – GeoScan, which provides farmers with access to the results from the laboratory analysis of their fields and monitors the arable lands and TechnoFarm. which is responsible for processing the data of different farms. With the help of such kinds of software, farmers can receive various data for their fields including soil and prescription maps that are crucial for determining the number of fertilizers for a specific area of a field.
The services of NIK are distributed in three main divisions – a machinery and equipment division (the company distributes agricultural machinery of the American manufacturer Valley and the French Berthoud); an agronomy business division (that includes consultancy services to farmers) and a software division where NIK has introduced a SaaS model of offering those agricultural platforms to farmers.
Precision Farming and Contemporary Innovations
According to Kaloyan Kumanov, one of the partners at NIK and the CEO of the Romanian branch of NIK, precision farming is very important to understanding NIK’s philosophy. “Precision farming comes down to the 4 main principles of putting the right amount, on the right spot, at the right time, in the right way,” shares Kumanov. What drove NIK’s founders towards innovation was namely the motivation to optimize the inputs of farmers and maintain their fields homogeneously. This idea stands behind NIK’s decision to specialize in all equipment, consulting, and software – to cover the holistic approach to precision farming.
The Sofia-based soil and plant analysis laboratory of NIK(also known as NIK Agro Service) processes up to 1000 samples per day and is, in fact, the biggest in Eastern Europe. The laboratory partners with USA’s Cornell University and Holland’s Wageningen for the development of innovative agricultural technologies. For 2019, NIK has generated a revenue of over €23M. But what is the reason for the accelerated development of the brand?
How It All Started
NIK has a long history dating back to 2002 when Ivo Kumanov, Kaloyan’s brother who is currently CEO of NIK, started off as a distributor of automation systems for agricultural machinery. Initially, NIK offered solutions for measuring the area – back then, it was a big problem for farmers that they did not know what was the actual size of the surface they were cultivating. This was a serious problem as the size of the rent paid to owners, and, respectively, net profit, depended on the area cultivated by farmers.
About 4 years later, Ivo Kumanov was the one to take the decision to change the way NIK operated. After registering the fact that the market was full of such area-measurement GPS devices, he came up with the idea that NIK could evolve by offering GPS equipment for the machines, which were actually working in the fields, not just for measuring the land like it was before. The new change would introduce to the firm the concept of in-field guidance. This was the moment when NIK contacted their main supplier – the American Trimble. Listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Trimble offers a variety of software and hardware solutions to farmers. For NIK, this was their first partnership with a professional manufacturer focused on agriculture. In the beginning, Trimble supplied NIK with professional GPS equipment which enabled tractors to move semi-automatically, thus improving the planting and cultivation processes for the different fields.
The second stage of innovation for NIK took place in 2009. Up to this point, the company had been run by Ivo and Kaloyan Kumanovi. The two brothers had come up with the idea of expanding NIK’s service portfolio by creating a laboratory for soil and plant analysis that they were going to use to further optimize fertilization for different types of field. The only problem was that they had no technical expertise and this type of analysis was unknown in Bulgaria to this point. This is when one of their clients Kostadin Kostadinov became their partner and founded NIK Agro Service laboratory for agricultural analysis.
The company has expanded its services several times ever since. Currently, NIK also offers mappings of the fields of their clients. The mappings are created with the help of satellite photos and are used to determine the vegetation indices of different crops (thus providing the farmers with data about the development of their plants).
Ivo and Kaloyan Kumanovi and their two partners Svilen Kostov and Kostadin Kostadinov are the main contributors to NIK’s development in the market of agricultural innovations.
According to Kumanov, NIK’s clients are facing an improvement between 10 and 20% in their productivity, yet the percentage depends on the type of product or service a particular client has chosen.
NIK now has over 5000 clients in Romania and Bulgaria. The brand also has a R&D engineering office in Italy and has recently opened a commerce there. As noted by Kaloyan, their partnerships with companies such as Bayer and Sumi Agro Europe help them expand and attract customers both in Europe and internationally. The brand would like to expand its coverage and its next target is Ukraine. Another goal of NIK is to develop an automated production line.
“Having this unique mix of IT developers, hardware and mechanical engineers in our company, we’re able to offer the solution, the optimization, and the consultancy to farmers,” says Kaloyan Kumanov.
To him, the biggest challenge NIK is facing is educating the market. “We have been pioneers, we have introduced a lot of things for this market and we have a lot of preaching and education in the different divisions of what we’re doing.” Another challenge that the brand is facing is connected to educating and training their team as a lot of its members do not come from the sphere of agriculture. In Kumanov’s view, there is not really competition in their sector right now as the market is still developing and only a small number of companies are offering solutions. “Currently, we are creating professionals and expanding the level of the knowledge of the market,” he concludes.