Smart logistics for crop protection in agriculture


Taking the lead with intelligent stainless steel containers

In Autumn 2020, the member companies in the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) presented their own “2030 Commitments” in response to the European Commission’s Green Deal. The agenda of voluntary obligations covers innovation and investment, circular economy and the protection of users and the environment. The German branch of Sumi Agro – a distributor of crop protection products whose parent company is the long-established Sumitomo Corporation (Japan) – has reacted with a holistic system-based approach called Easymatic. The aim is to establish a flexible and intelligent reusable system for crop protection on the agricultural market. This reusability combined with digitalised traceability makes Easymatic a pioneering project in this sector. The focus is on reliability, robustness and logistical convenience. The main technology carrier used here is the Variotainer ECO, a hazardous goods container from SCHÄFER Container Systems with an integrated RFID tag from AEG ID and a smartrac NFC module. The closed transfer system comes from Agrotop and is connected via a commercially proven basket fitting, while the intuitive Easymatic App secures the ERP connection. 

To minimise user exposure to crop protection products and keep the environment free from contamination, the crop protection industry has made a commitment to the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI) that agricultural safety and environmental technology would be made available to all European farmers by 2030. 


Easymatic – proven technology combined with innovation 

To achieve this goal, Sumi Agro and a number of well-known partners have developed the so-called Easymatic System – consisting of a container for hazardous substances (Variotainer) with integrated transponders, software and a closed transfer system. Tasked with system integration were the IBC manufacturers SCHÄFER Container Systems along with Agroptop, the German specialist for crop spraying technology. This approach enabled sophisticated subsystems which have been used successfully for decades to be combined into an innovative and coherent overall concept. 

“The packaging is just as important as the content and that’s why we’re especially pleased that Sumi Agro, as a system partner for sustainable crop protection containers, have put their faith in reusable Variotainers from SCHÄFER Container Systems. We supply these versatile Variotainers especially for plant protection agents with UN hazardous goods approval in accordance with UN 1A1/X 1.3”, says Christof Ermert, head of sales at SCHÄFER Container Systems’ IBC division.

A characteristic feature of high-quality crop protection is its packaging and traceability. The latter, consisting up to now of manually keeping a register on pesticide use (Regulation (EC) no. 1007/2009), can now be automated and mapped completely digitally with Easymatic. And there was no need to reinvent the wheel to do so. The actual innovation here was the result of integrating individual components and combining a smart reusable container with the appropriate software.

“Easymatic provides a convincing combination of safety and simplicity in handling liquid crop protection agents and reduces the potential risks of spillage and splashing when filling the agent into the induction hopper on agricultural tank sprayers. We’re stepping away from disposable and moving towards reusable – to protect our environment and in doing so, Sumi Agro is clearly setting itself apart from its competitors on the European crop projection market,” explains Reinhard Appel, General Manager at Sumi Agro Ltd., Branch Deutschland, in the upper Bavarian town of Allershausen near Freising.

Easymatic – technology carried by stainless steel containers 

Sumi Agro’s preferred Variotainer from SCHÄFER Container Systems consists of a 100% stainless steel liner with robust top and bottom rings made of polypropylene (PP). These are fixed to the liner by a safety clip system and can be replaced by SCHÄFER Container Systems if the need arises. This hazardous goods container is available in sizes of 10 to 200 litres. Larger containers for similar applications can also be supplied in volumes ranging from 500 to 1000 litres. Sumi Agro are currently using the 50 litre Variotainer with a tare weight of 10 kilos. 

When Sumi Agro purchases these stackable stainless steel drums from SCHÄFER Container Systems, they are already fully assembled and equipped with basket fitting, RFID tag and NFC module. The two transponders are fixed into the container’s top ring. “The average lifetime of our reusable container is around 20 years, as we’ve empirically determined over decades of use in the similarly harsh brewery environment,” says Christof Ermert.

The “enabler” for this innovative Easymatic system is therefore the container unit, consisting of the Variotainer, the two transponders and the stainless steel basket fitting. Everything else is done through the appropriate Agrotop closed transfer system and the Easymatic software - by the user via the Easymatic App on the usual commercial mobile devices with NFC functionality, and by Sumi Agro’s backend server network. All in all, the container’s complete history is mapped in a manner that’s completely modification proof. 

Thanks to the transponders, each hazardous goods container has its own unique electronic identification. After initial registration, the container can be traced, managed and controlled throughout its entire lifetime. Lot and batch identification, stock control, warehouse management, container tracking in the market, in-house logistics and users – all this is done digitally and with maximum efficiency, especially for traders and farmers. Error-prone manual logging is a thing of the past. 

Easymatic – reusability in agriculture creates logistical and ecological benefits

The data released for users to read, which includes product-specific information, such as correct usage, can be retrieved at the touch of a button on mobile phones or tablets. This facilitates the safe use of the product on site. In addition, the Easymatic App controls the logistics processes, such as initiating the retrieval of empty containers and ordering new ones, including the specification of preferred dates. And all without having to make a single phone call or send a fax. 

Traciafin (prothioconazole) from Sumi Agro is the first crop protection product available on the agricultural market in the new Easymatic reusable system. The systemic active ingredient belongs to the DMI group of fungicides (demethylation inhibitors) and inhibits the ergosterol biosynthesis of harmful fungi, especially in cereal crops. Depending on the crop, the application rate is between 0.7 and 0.8 litres per hectare, with a water requirement ranging from 100 to 300 litres. Consequently, a single 50-liter Variotainer of Traciafin is enough to treat over 62 hectares (about 85 football pitches) of cropland. 

The disposable HDPE or COEX containers currently still in use are commercially available in small 5 litre sizes. This means ten such containers have to be opened, emptied, cleaned of residues and pre-washed before being disposed of through the mandatory PAMIRA system (agricultural packaging recovery). In 2019, farmers returned a total of 2,955 tons of “residue-emptied” and pre-washed crop protection and liquid fertilizer packaging for disposal, a return rate of 80.4%. 

“One 50-litre filling with Traciafin fungicide has a market value of around 2,500 euros. This reason alone, but also the environmental protection aspect, shows how relevant the use of such a robust, safety-approved reusable system actually is. And especially with filling costs in the four-figure euro range, this economical and ecologically sustainable solution is an almost unavoidable choice”. This is how Reinhard Appel argues the case in favour, though this time not as branch general manager, but, as an active farmer himself, from a customer’s point of view.


Click here for the press release.

More about the Variotainer.