Turning a small hazelnut plantation into a successful AgTech startup

(From left to right) – The three founders of the Smart Watering company are Dragan Cuca (Hardware Manager), Lazar Jovanovic (CEO), and Zoran Djukic (CTO)

It is not uncommon for big ideas to arise from small things. In their case, it all started from a hazelnut plantation on the family estate.

During his studies and internship at a company in Novi Sad, Lazar Jovanovic (owner and co-founder of Smart Watering) had been considering starting his own farm. He wanted to bring the family land in Mali Zvornik back to life.

It seemed like an excellent investment to invest in hazelnuts. However, he knew nothing about hazelnuts, let alone serious agriculture. He learned on the go – from acquaintances, other farmers, and friends.

The plantation started well. However, frequent trips from Mali Zvornik to Novi Sad for irrigation became a real problem. Traveling 150 km to check the valves and soil moisture made little sense.

He was on the verge of giving up, and then he talked to his roommate, Zoran Djukic. They wondered – could we use technology somehow for remote irrigation management? You know, like when you open the garage door with a remote control.

The idea of remote irrigation turned out to be a successful notion

As engineers, they quickly sketched the first version of the device with sensors, made it, connected it to the phone and mounted it in the hazelnut plantation. Great. They irrigated the hazelnut remotely via the application. Problem solved, that’s it.

People started to inquire and marvel at the innovation.

  • “Where did you buy that?”
  • “Come on, make me one too. I travel to the orchard a lot.”
  • “So you know exactly when the hazelnut needs water?”

They realized they had a market for their device in Serbia… And soon, globally.

English subtitles available in the video.

Smart Watering – a device that makes life easier for farmers and improves production on farms

Today, we are a company with over 60 clients and cover the entire region, and we are expanding into global markets. Zoran Djogic and Dragan Cuca, with their extensive experience at giant companies such as Delta Agrar and global automotive companies, respectively, have joined our team, demonstrating the success and need for this solution.

A mentoring program within the Delta Agrar Business Incubator that we passed in 2018 also supported our development. Because we’ve proved that the concept can sustain in the market, that opened doors for us to large companies where we could test all functions and measure every little detail.

For example, the MK Group doubled corn yields thanks to our solution.
Delta Agrar saved 17% water and reduced orchard visits by 4x.


What are the features of the Smart Watering device?

It is an automation in irrigation. Our device allows you to irrigate and fertilize orchards via mobile app – as much as they need and when they need it.

Sensors at various depths help measure soil moisture. Analytical data within the application allows you to monitor the condition at all times and react when necessary.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to make decisions, despite the data the application provides. Yet, we sometimes don’t have the time to interpret complex analyses.

To help our users recognize when and how much to irrigate, we have developed a system of daily irrigation recommendations. You no longer have to interpret the data on your own. Thanks to the AI, you get a ready-made solution on the spot.


Positive reactions at the beginning but also distrust

Although we experienced great reactions when we started in 2018, it took a lot of effort to gain market trust – and it still does. Anyone who has tried to do business in agriculture knows how attached farmers are to their land.

When they see a business person entering their field, they just look at their own hands, rough from work, and immediately become guarded.

It’s easy for anyone to give advice from the office. Our farmers are on the field day after day, with the searing sun, and bide their time until the season is over. Every mistake is too expensive. There’s no going back.

Rather than believing we know best, we had to meet with our farmers with kindness and consideration.

We rolled up our sleeves, got our boots dirty, and visited every farmer who called us. We showed them the technology on the spot. This approach pays off to this day. Many farmers call us to see how we’re doing, too.

The situation is much different today compared to the beginnings

Now, in 2023, anyone in Serbia who is engaged in agriculture has already somehow heard of us and our competitors – that is – automatic irrigation systems.

There is still some distrust among farmers. Everyone is skeptical of everything new at the beginning.

However, the fact is that we must use resources more carefully in the coming years. There are more efficient ways to get a better yield.

It is our amazement by the power of technology and its ability to improve food production worldwide that brings us to the office every day.


What are our plans for the future and what do we recommend?

We are grateful to all our clients, partners, and employees. Without you, we wouldn’t be where we are today. In the future, we see Smart Watering as a company that has developed a range of tools for fruit growers.

We see the potential to conquer as many global markets as possible as the leading Serbian technology company in agriculture and bring our domestic innovation to their orchards.

We want to educate domestic farmers about the use of technology. It is important to track the metrics. It is important to enjoy the fruits of our labor and not depend on unpredictable seasons. In agriculture, we can’t prevent many factors (bad weather, economic environment, workforce…) but there are many things we can predict and control (irrigation, fertigation, yield…).

the-future-of-agriculture-is-bright-Good and bad seasons and times pass, and I expect that in the year 2023 things will improve globally for the better, and that we can look forward to years of progress and successful work-lazar-jovanovic-ceo
If we were to give advice to partners and other players in the market, it is to visit farmers and feel what the situation is like on the ground. Trust of hardworking farmers is difficult to gain, and easy to lose.

The best feeling is when they approach us at the end of the season and say to contact them whenever we are in the area because Smart Watering has somehow made their lives easier.

Leave a Reply