In Bulgaria, the entrepreneurial spirit of Managing Director Petko Vasilev and our slogan “Make yourself grow” are a powerful combination. The result: a close-knit team and digital ideas like the Digital4Cast.
Petko Vasilev made his first money with vending machines, building up a small retail chain before selling his company. The entrepreneurial spirit of the Bulgarian, who was born in Moscow in 1980, was thus evident at an early age – and he has retained that streak to this day. “I always try to discuss new opportunities and ideas even before their time is ripe.”
Petko Vasilev brought this attitude to bear in other industries to begin with: He had no points of contact with agriculture – until a headhunter lured him to Bayer in 2009. “Agriculture is a big sector in Bulgaria. It has always interested me.”
Indeed, he considers agriculture to be a fascinating industry: “It’s very dynamic, very diverse.” He adds that you have to understand the needs and requirements of farmers and translate them into suitable products. “And agriculture supplies food for all of us. From that point of view, it’s a very noble industry. Being a part of it gives you a very good feeling.”
▶ How Digital4Cast works
Using a drone and software, Digital4Cast determines the number of plants within hours, analyzes stress and detects weeds. In the video, Petko Vasilev shows how the analysis works on a farm.
Move to KWS: “The right decision”
Petko Vasilev was actually happy working at Bayer when he was solicited again five years later in 2014. This time it involved a possible move to KWS. Curiosity and the desire to “keep on developing myself personally” led him to take a look on the Internet to find out more about the potential employer, which had been operating in Bulgaria for less than 10 years at the time.
“What I read about the company piqued my interest for several reasons.” In particular the corporate culture founded on a tradition of family ownership and its specialization in seed breeding as a core field of activity swayed Petko Vasilev to sign up. “After nine years, I can say with complete conviction that it was the right decision.”
Petko Vasilev says this although the first few months were bumpy. The previous Managing Director had just left KWS, and other employees also had ambitions to move. “I was obliged to put together a team that would again be able to deliver good business figures and success. It was like we were rebuilding a house from scratch.”
"Agriculture is a very noble industry."
In retrospect, Petko Vasilev also describes this process as helpful and successful. KWS in Bulgaria now has 17 employees. “All our achievements and all the results of the past years are definitely due to the work of this team,” he emphasizes.
The portfolio includes all the country’s major crops. Grain corn accounts for more than 70 percent of net sales, and KWS is the leader in silage corn, a niche market in Bulgaria. Winter wheat is profitable as well, “and our sunflower seed is also developing into a successful line of business.” The crop was part of KWS’ portfolio in Bulgaria back in the early years and saw an upturn again in the middle of the last decade. “We now put a lot of effort into it. Farmers in Bulgaria are now starting to associate sunflowers with KWS again,” says Petko Vasilev. However, you can search in vain for sugarbeet in Bulgaria.
As one of the southernmost countries in Europe, Bulgaria also has to contend with climate change. “The greatest demand in the market is for hybrid seed with drought tolerance,” says Petko Vasilev. He is referring primarily to the drought- and heat-tolerant varieties with ClimaControl3. It is clear to the foresighted entrepreneur that new breeding methods will also be needed to counter climate change. He is committed to that goal in his work as honorary Chairman of the Board at the Bulgarian Seed Industry Association in the EU country.
Digital4Cast: Analysis within a few hours
Petko Vasilev adds that “one of the new possibilities that make my work at KWS truly fascinating” is the digitalization of agriculture. Five years ago, the regional team of Southeast Europe launched a project with the idea of “how we could roll out digitalization in our region.” That’s how Digital4Cast came about in cooperation with the technology provider Agremo, which was still a start-up to begin with. Digital4Cast was developed as part of the myKWS platform, where it is offered as one of the tools for Southeast Europe.
Here’s how it works: KWS employees fly a drone over a farmer’s cultivated area and take photos from the air. The resultant image data is fed into Agremo’s software and generates a map of the cultivated area. After less than an hour various parameters are known, and after a day farmers have a detailed analysis of their field in myKWS.
The most popular analysis is stand count – determining the number of plants, states Petko Vasilev. “Just a few hours after flying the drone, we can tell how many plants are in a field with an accuracy of more than 99 percent.” Stress analysis and weed detection are also possible with Digital4Cast, while yield forecasting is a feature that will probably be developed in the future.
Digital4Cast gives the sales team a completely new tool in the truest sense of the word: The employees themselves become drone pilots, which presents no difficulties in view of the fact that controlling the devices is becoming easier and easier all the time. And while the drone wends its way in the sky after takeoff, “our employees on the ground can keep talking with farmers and make additional offers.” In this way, Digital4Cast also becomes a door opener.
Digitalization project: From Southeast Europe to the world
In five years, the project has gone from strength to strength and is spreading to neighboring countries. Interest has been aroused in Central Europe, too, and the technology is also being considered for other crops besides corn moving forward: In the U.S., for example, it is of interest to colleagues from the Business Units Cereals and Sugarbeet.
“In a few years, digital services will be one of the most important pillars of agricultural work,” is Petko Vasilev’s conviction. Technologies are developing at breakneck speed. One thing is clear to the Managing Director: “Digitalization in agriculture is not the future, but the present.”
© KWS SAAT SE & Co. KGaA 2023