Local startup Veles Sense developing software for early detection of grapevine diseases – Innovative solution from Serbia to also reach viticulturist countries in Mediterranean

Source: eKapija Monday, 06.05.2024. 11:33
Zarko Ljubenovic surveying the vineyard with a drone to collect the data for software development (Photo: Ivan Buzarski)Zarko Ljubenovic surveying the vineyard with a drone to collect the data for software development
Grapevine diseases, such as esca, which affects 5% to 19% of the vineyards of certain varieties on an annual level, are so destructive that they cause enormous material damage – EUR 8 to 9 billion on a global level.

Symptoms can appear on all parts of the grapevine, and viticulturists most often have two days at the most to react once the disease occurs.

Due to the limitations when it comes to the use of pesticides, there is currently no efficient solution for the suppression of grapevine diseases, and in the market of precision agriculture, there are no specialized solutions.

An opportunity was spotted here by Veles Sense, a startup founded in September 2022, when it started developing a software solution. This is a family company, formed out of the desire to use its knowledge in the field of the digital processing of images and machine learning to make a contribution to the sustainability of agriculture.

The software that we are developing is based on the methods of machine learning. To train the software, we are using images of grapevine made with a multispectral camera from a drone, as well as a multispectral camera which makes images from up close. It is precisely these kinds of cameras that enable us to have, in addition to images in the visible spectrum, images from other spectrums that are not visible to the naked eye. This will enable our software to, for example, detect certain grapevine diseases, a lack or a surplus of certain nutritional elements and irrigation problems, before the symptoms become apparent on the surface of the plant – Zarko Ljubenovic, CEO and co-founder of the company, says for eKapija.

Parallel with the development of the software, they have also been developing the business model with the help of the funds and the mentors they have had on several projects and accelerators. At the moment, two projects are ongoing: STARTECH, which is being implemented by the NALED with the support of Philip Morris Operations a.d. (ReConEsca project – solves the problem of unbalanced data collected in the field), and Mini Grants, which is financed by the Innovation Fund from the EU pre-accession funds and the budget of the Republic of Serbia, from the part belonging to the Ministry of Science, Technological Development and Innovations (PlantYsense project – automatic detection of grapevine diseases.

He clarifies that the advantages of this solution lie in a quicker surveying of larger vineyard areas (thanks to the drone), that is, an earlier detection of the diseases and other stresses suffered by the grapevine, before they become visible to the naked eye, which gives viticulturists more time for a timely reaction.

Upon the completion of this season, we will have the first version of our software. During the previous season, we established cooperation with wineries in Serbia in which we will test our software. When we validate our solution in Serbia, the plan is to enter new markets, primarily in the traditionally strong viticulturist countries of the Mediterranean – our interviewee announces.

He adds that, through research and talks with agriculturists, they have learned that there is plenty of room for innovations in the field of viticulture.

– The problem we are addressing is quite complex due to the manner of growing grapevine and the places in which the diseases occur, so the challenge in viticulture is bigger, which is why there are fewer ready-made solutions in the market than in other fields of agriculture, which we see as a developmental opportunity – says Ljubenovic.

He also says that their experience so far, regarding the interest of agriculturists in new technologies, has been positive. Nearly all the viticulturists they have talked to are interested in their solution and, so far, nobody has declined the offer to have their vineyard surveyed by a drone to the end of software development.

– What a majority of viticulturists turned our attention to is the problem of the availability of manual labor force, especially in the season, when the demand is increased, and the supply is lower and lower with each year. That is precisely one of the fields where our solution can be of use, because the use of new technologies will become increasingly inevitable. In the past years, in the wine industry, the trend is that the consumers are increasingly educated when it comes to the selection of wines, so the demand for better quality wines is increasing, which creates room for companies such as Veles Sense to offer their innovative solutions, which are moving in the direction of preserving and improving the quality of the wines – Zarko Ljubenovic believes.

Aleksandra Kekic

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