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TITLE
Expert Agricultural Network
MAIN THEME
Agriculture
Country
Serbia
Abstract
Belgrade-based company Agricultural Research and Project Services doo (ARPS or “we” hereinafter) hereby describes its flagship project “Expert Agricultural Network” (EAN). A comprehensive and highly ambitious attempt to bridge many gaps in agricultural pr
Description
Introduction

Belgrade-based company Agricultural Research and Project Services doo (ARPS or “we” hereinafter) hereby describes its flagship project “Expert Agricultural Network” (EAN). A comprehensive and highly ambitious attempt to bridge many gaps in agricultural practice, science and industry in Serbia and beyond, EAN will leverage highest-grade Information Technology to deliver a new way of communication and exchange for all stakeholders in the field of agriculture, fostering a large number of benefits to science, the industry and the public at large. The heart of EAN is the portal www.pesticidi.rs, the infrastructure behind the creation of our “network” concept. Before we delve into the features of the project, however, a few words on the importance of the subject are in order.
It is interesting to think that probably no single language in history ever lacked the vocabulary to refer to “agriculture”. Indeed, it accompanied and shaped almost all of human history: the discovery of cultivation made nomads settle and establish civilizations, while later improvements in the field allowed these civilizations to progress and thrive.
“Agriculture,” however, has many meanings, describing interconnected but separate fields. In the broadest sense, it is a field of human activity, a scientific discipline, and to a huge global industry, relying on science, stock exchange mechanisms and innovation to keep feeding the world. Our project strives to unify these different fields under one umbrella: a comprehensive platform that would allow them to speak a common language and prosper together.
Agriculture in general is a rather dynamic world. The scientific discipline is today a flourishing with new discoveries, vital peer review dialectic and constant emergence of new solutions. Agriculturists and manufacturers constantly strive to find new solutions to increase production outputs, quality, sustainability, long-term growth. Moreover, today more than ever agriculture is also under a very bright spotlight: new challenges are arising from pollution, hunger, climate change, globalization. These challenges require joint action to be overcome.
We capitalize on this dynamism by creating a unified system that will accomplish two things: 1) making breakthrough solutions and information easily available to the public, and 2) creating a platform that will allow experts, businesses and other knowledgeable stakeholders to share opinions and information, stimulating intellectual added value. Hence the name of the project: EAN – Expert Agricultural Network.
Background

The company Agricultural Research and Project Services doo is a startup Limited Liability Company founded in Belgrade in April 2013. Although the company is extremely young, the ambitious idea it is intended to realize is much older – nine years, to be precise. As a young student of Plant Protection, founder and sole owner Marko Kosti
conceived and thoroughly planned how an Agency in charge of reviving agriculture in Serbia should operate. Through the years, while becoming a distinguished scientist and a proven innovator and entrepreneur, he perfected the idea and devised the uttely comprehensive conceptual solution that forms the basis of our work today. A complete description of achieved milestones follows later in the text.
Our mission is to help agricultural science, business and practice to thrive, in Serbia and beyond. Our vision is to become a highly reputable, popular and beneficial institution, operating one of the most popular websites in the Balkans region and the most advanced in the world when it comes to agriculture. Armed with knowledge and skills in our field of expertise and in the field of business management, we will become a flat, collaborative organization solving problems and ensuring growth through creative thinking and motivated action.
The Project

EAN is basically a comprehensive scientific and industrial solution, informational concept and communication-interaction platform. It is initially planned to focus on the encompassing area of pesticides, which are an unsurpassable element in all other fields of agriculture. Pesticides connect agriculture to the food industry (food health) and are a key determinant of cultivated land (un)profitability; as hazardous chemicals, they bear health and environmental risks, making trusted advice and information very useful; they are also products manufactured by a huge global chemical industry. As such, they explain the added value of a comprehensive web platform and network concept such as ours. As explained the core of project is the web portal www.pesticidi.rs.
Technically, pesticidi.rs will be a data-driven CMS portal with separate databases, integrated with each other and with the front-end through algorithms and rules developed ad hoc. The CMS skeleton will be coded from scratch in HTML and CSS, without relying on pre-made CMS software (such as Joomla! or WordPress). The power of the CMS allows us to deliver our threefold offering, or concepts the scope of the entire project can be broken down into: 1) a database and related smart search system of pesticide brands and their numerous attributes. It will allow users to browse all pesticides available on the Serbian market and be presented with basic advice on their optimal usage; 2) the registered-user-based network (the blend of a mini-SN and a forum with a comprehensive rating system), connecting SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), businesses and other stakeholders and promoting the creation and publication of high-quality informational content; and 3) a comprehensive data and knowledge gathering system that will, once integrated in a novel prediction system based on data mining and other algorithms, forecast a large set of agricultural phenomena.
A close description of each individual concept follows.
1) Database and Search System
This is the core product of the project and the heart of the web platform. It is the database of all pesticides legally registered, and therefore marketable, in the territory of the Republic of Serbia. The database was compiled by Marko Kostić on the basis of year-long expertise and experience. Although information on pesticides is not novel per se, the database is a novelty in terms of its wide scope and quantity of data, and interaction between attributes. Written in MS Excel®, it contains thousands of entries, covering about 1,000 pesticide brands and 113 edible cultures, organized in a rational way by a large number of attributes. As primary attribute it has the nomenclature of pesticide brands sold on the market, all of which have a large set of related attributes, such as: pesticide group (e.g. fungicides), suppliers (by name), group and sub-group of pests (e.g. pathogen), disease, type of culture, registration date expiry etc.
The organization and content of the database allows the execution of extremely complex multi-criteria search queries on the basis of numerous combinations of attributes. Query results will be presented as tables of products/compounds and graphically, in the form of Gantt-like charts recommending usage according to development stages of both plants (BBCH-scale) and phytopathogen organisms (rodents, insects, maggots, mycotoxins, bacteria, viruses, phytoplasma, weeds).
This concept will allow the user to be advised precisely on what pesticides they can and should use in a wide set of situations they might be facing. It is also interesting to note that, aside plant protection, we will also treat human and animal (cattle and domestic) protection, at a minor extent. For example, information and advice on mosquito repellant products will be interesting to users not directly interested in agriculture.
2) Network
This concept is aimed at creating a lively community generating high-quality content and valuable, up-to-date information. Six user profiles (two for physical and five for legal persons), with different registration methods and privileges, have been devised: 1) common users (professional agriculturists, hobbyists or lays); 2) agronomists (individuals: experts knowledgeable of agricultural science and practice); 3) phytopharmacies (local retailers); 4) agricultural businesses (distributors and manufacturers); 5) pest control companies; 6) scientific-educational institutes (faculties or private institutions); 7) PSSS services and possibly other state-owned agricultural counseling agencies.
The idea behind EAN is to create a fully professional communication platform, with no room for disinformation. That’s why anonymity is not an option and every registered user will need to be registered with his full name (person or company) and be held accountable for posted content. All users except common users will have to prove their identity by submitting relevant documentation, which will be checked by the company team. By ensuring actual people and companies are accountable for the advice and info they publish, we will guarantee visitor trust and ensure high-quality content generation. A complex user rating system based on precise algorithms will be established (the conceptual idea already exists), allowing experts and companies to compete among each other for credibility – a valuable currency in an expert network.
Users will communicate through articles and comments, posted information and advice and private messages. Experts will also be able to devise their own suggested plant protection (and nutrition) plans, as will companies, who will also have the possibility to have featured search results in the pesticides base upon paid subscription for the optional service.
3) Knowledge gathering and prediction system
The whole ARPS concept will be organized as an information and knowledge gathering application. This idea has three implementation methods. Firstly, the website will supply large amounts of data concerning usage patterns and preferences, profiles of registered users, market trends etc. published articles and user-defined protection plants will generate knowledge. Secondly, the company will collect weather data from external services and from in-house operated weather stations. One device manufactured by Fitopromet d.o.o. one of Croatia’s major pesticide manufacturers, has been handed out to ARPS for free for the purpose of testing. Thirdly, users will be allowed to post multimedia (pictures) and textual descriptions of diseases they have identified in their cultures. Such data will examined by experts and companies willing to give advice.
The pool of data and knowledge gathered through the methods listed above will be extensively analyzed through data mining algorithms, and a prediction system of agricultural phenomena (e.g. sensibility to weather conditions, appearance of diseases pests, needed pesticide quantities etc.) will be designed. The system will most likely rely on neural network algorithms, and identified parameters will also serve as the basis for the building of simulation models that would increase the models’ forecasting power.
The website architecture, a key feature, can be seen in the uploaded figure that contains red text and is now described.
The five buttons on the top show a user-account specific menu. The “Special Options” segment features an “alarm,” real-time warnings about newly appeared pests (signaled by users) that pose major economic threats to cultures; a “urgent reply,” where users can ask for quick suggestions (e.g. within 30 minutes) by connected users; and “follow areas of interest,” an optional newsletter service. The part below the numbers in brackets is the variable section of the web page. In this case, the top of the pesticide search page is shown. The middle part is the fixed header and the five numbers indicate the five top-level sections of the area.
[1] “Pesticides” points to the database and related search. [2] “News” contains searchable articles and expert analyses, which can be commented by users. [3] “Offering” is a B2C and C2B, section showing commercial offerings by registered legal persons. These companies can show offers, but also become paid subscribers and integrate theižr own featured suggestions in other searchable parts of the web site. [4]”Agroprofiles” is the section dedicated to user profiles. [5] “Contact and Info” is a standard section, containing About Us, FAQ, etc.
The project is indeed very ambitious. We however believe that the key to its viability lies in the year-long efforts put behind the creation of the database and the design of user interaction. Moreover, the team’s and founder’s deep understanding of the issues at hand grants us with a high dose of flexibility.
What Has Been Accomplished

Although the portal has not yet been coded, its conceptual solution has already been holistically defined: the database has been fully written, but not yet coded into a web-friendly file, while the complete methodology of its search has been conceived and systematized in writing and graphically; web site architecture has been conceived, as well as usage principles and the related functioning of the system of registered user types and privileges; a prototype graphical interface has been designed.
ARPS also has access to several domain names in the “.rs” and other top-levels with domain names being valuable keywords in the field of agriculture. In particular, concerning pesticides, we have access to the domain names: pesticidi.rs (the web address intended to the website), pesticidi.org, pesticides.mobi, pesticidi.mobi, pesticidi.eu, pesticidi.info, pesticides.me and pesticidi.me. All these domains have been parked by the founder several years ago.
In terms of Intellectual Property Rights, extensive web browsing and a thorough research of Espacenet and other IP databases have shown that no solution such as ours has been implemented or protected as IP in the whole world. Since in the Republic of Serbia is still not possible to patent software, the complete set of relevant IP has been protected through copyright attributed to the founder and sole owner. These copyrights are meant to be exclusively licensed to Agricultural Research and Project Services doo through binding agreements. Protected IP rights include the holistic concept and web site architecture of the portal pesticidi.rs., the database of pesticides and the search methodology. A copyright application has been submitted to the Republic of Serbia Intellectual Property Office under title “Expert Agricultural Network (EAN)” and number A-2013/0082.
Moreover, as the project partly relies on outsourcing web design and development, binding agreements with subcontractors will enforce the retention of all IP rights within ARPS’ exclusive ownership. We will organize the transparent procurement of IT services from the best and most reputable contractors through Requests of Tender (RFT) or comparable methods. Also, five distinguished scientists of agriculture have signed Letters of Intent with us to participate in the project.
Basically, the idea is now ready for deployment. What is needed now is coding, development, testing and conceptual fine-tuning.
Market Snapshot

As evident from all above, Pesticidi will offer solutions to a variety of problems. It will allow scientists to effectively communicate and even compete on a state-of-the-art platform. Individual visitors, both lays and professionals of agriculture, will have access to free and high-quality information and advice and be able to interact thoroughly. Pesticidi will also be a powerful B2B platform, connecting a large set of specialized manufacturers, a service currently unavailable to both domestic and foreign businesses. The C2B-B2C opportunities offered by the “offerings” section also allow businesses to generate sales leads and users to receive customized market feedback. We will not directly favor manufacturers or distributors, but will offer them a shortcut to publicity, but at the “price” of active and responsible engagement.
We will initially generate most revenue through the sale of advertising space and through subscription fees. The B2B advantage and the general value and quality of information is likely to generate traffic by both new and returning visitors.
Official statistical data offers a promising outlook in this sense. According to a 2011 research by GfK Group (Available at: ), internet penetration in Serbia reached 53% (3.3 million people) in only 15 years. Moreover, people mainly access the Web from friends’ or relatives’ devices and, although 16% of the internet population buys online, an impressive 72% is active on social networks. Before full technological literacy is achieved the high WoM potential and value of information will drive visits by irregular internet users, while the Social Network model is likely to be appealing. Target audiences have a high stake in the information and collaboration we offer, and since they are highly specialized, they are naturally prone to generating WoM with affiliated persons in their fields.
Another study, Mediascope Europe 2012 by IAB Europe, revealed similar patterns. It also uncovered that 57% Serbian respondents stated the internet allowed them to make good buying decisions (against a 51% European average), and 81% stated the internet generally helped them in everyday life (Srbi društveniji od proseka. 2012. B92 News [online]. 11 Feb 2012. Available at: ). This corroborates our problem-solving model. Niche topics such as human and (domestic) animal protection pesticides largely widen our target audience.
Our extensive preliminary research there are no direct competitors, as there is no website like this in the entire world. There are private websites, or websites sponsored/operated by major pesticide manufacturers, that offer lists of products and some limited B2B communication (e.g. www.pesticides1.com), but not one that offers such a comprehensive solution – one readily available to the common user.
There are no highly professional websites on agriculture, in Serbia or in the surrounding regions. The only mildly comparable web venture is www.agroupozorenje.rs, which publishes general news on the appearance of pests across plant species, but is limited to the Vojvodina region and to monthly subscribers.
We are confident that holistic know-how and the painstaking background preparation required by the project (database, usage concept, architecture, seeking of expert support etc.) represent strong barriers to new entrants.
Future Growth
Many growth opportunities are available to the company. The core project is a web venture, which means once the platform is operational it can be improved and maintained without high injections of capital, while revenue can be expected to rise alongside visit and activity rate.
One of the strategically most promising aspects of the nature of the business is the possibility to migrate the functional software platform to other markets and languages. While financial expenditures are high in the realization of the initial functional platform, once it is developed it can be easily translated to other languages and slightly modified as appropriate. Moreover there are considerable partnership possibilities for foreign companies, who might have an edge in their knowledge of local markets and regulations.
Aside consistent capital investments in the building of the portal and the establishment of the network, no major capital expenditures will be indispensable until the portal enjoys high popularity, activity and user pool. At that point, gathered data will be sufficient do implement the prediction and simulation algorithms. Possibilities for anticipating growth through investment however exist, mainly in terms of setting up a network of company-owned weather stations and creating a service of counseling on the field performed by specialized company staff.
We expect the company to become profitable shortly after the online launch.
Contact
Ivan Karaman
arpsdoo@gmail.com
00381621610484
Agricultural Research and Project Services Ltd.

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Abstract.docx