Aug. 8, 2018
Nowadays, digital technology has revolutionized our way of living and people cannot imagine life without it. Digitization is an important indicator of the degree of development of an industry. According to the digital index of the McKinsey Global Institute, agriculture is at the lowest level of digitization among all the industries. However, how digital technology can shape the future of agriculture can be foreseen. Latin America has always been at the forefront in the adoption of new agricultural technology and digital agriculture is already well underway in the region. The layout of many agricultural companies and technology companies is also gradually becoming clear. AgroPages interviewed some dynamic companies to discuss the current status and prospects of digital agriculture in the Latin American market and how they plan for future development.
Climate Product Lead, Monsanto South America
According to your understanding, what is the current situation of digital agriculture in Latin America?
Pedro Rocha (Climate Product Lead, Monsanto South America): The world of agriculture is being transformed by data science, and modern agriculture is becoming digitized. We have been following this movement globally, including several countries in Latin America that have been investing in data analysis in the field. Today's farms and ranches are using a sophisticated mix of data, analytics, hardware and software, and unique algorithms to go beyond what the eye can see. Of course, there´s a long path to walk by, but I think we are in the right direction.
Dan Burdett (Head of Global Digital Agriculture at Syngenta): Digital agriculture development in Latin America is in the early stages, but the momentum is positive. Particularly in Brazil and Argentina, large growers are leading the way through a very pragmatic approach to test and implement value-adding digital technologies. These can help them produce more and better crops more efficiently, which can improve their overall profitability.
CEO of Farmers Edge
Wade Barnes (CEO of Farmers Edge): Digital agriculture in Latin America is in its infancy. Latin American farmers are just starting to utilize digital technology. They recognize what a game-changer technology can be and are either using domestic technology or digital solutions brought in from abroad.
One of the obstacles growers are facing is the lack of connectivity of data and cellular technology.
For example, when we entered the market in Mato Grosso, one of the biggest agricultural regions in Brazil, we built our own proprietary network to overcome the barrier of unavailable cellular reception to allow for connectivity and data transfer.
Ana Attie (Marketing Manager at Strider): Digital agriculture is completely reshaping farming all over the world, considering the current population growth and the need for productivity to rise while crop areas remain the same. When it comes to Latin America, where some of the most important food producers and exporters are located, opportunities are endless and now is the time for companies to develop new solutions and technologies.
CEO of Agrosmart
Mariana Vasconcelos (CEO of Agrosmart): Adoption of Digital Agriculture is growing in Latin America. We are at a stage where the mainstream market is learning about technology and its benefits and the early adopters are trying new solutions. However, I believe that in one or two years, the digital agriculture solutions will consolidate in the mainstream market, reaching a stage wherein most farmers will be using it as some kind of solution.
Does your company have new or ongoing digital agriculture projects in Latin America? Could you please introduce (these) project(s) to us?
Pedro Rocha: In 2013, Monsanto acquired The Climate Corporation, today a subsidiary of Monsanto. It aims to help farmers to sustainably increase their productivity through the use of digital tools. The digital agriculture-integrated platform, Climate FieldView™, provides farmers with a comprehensive set of digital tools, which bring together field data collection, advanced agronomic modeling and climate monitoring in simple mobile software and web-based solutions. One of the main advantages of Climate FieldView™ is the real-time mapping of planting, harvest and sprayer operations, independent of the brand of the machinery. The Climate FieldView™ platform gives farmers a deeper understanding of their fields, so they can make more informed operational decisions to optimize yields, maximize efficiency and reduce risk. In the short time since its launch in Brazil, the platform has rapidly acquired more than 1 million paid acres and continues to revolutionize farming through its delivery of powerful, data-driven tools.
As innovation in the digital agriculture space continues to accelerate rapidly around the globe, Climate continues to explore opportunities to provide farmers with the insights they need to improve their productivity.
Head of Global Digital Agriculture at Syngenta
Dan Burdett: Yes, we recently acquired Strider in Brazil. Strider has a suite of products that helps growers manage important aspects of their farming operations such as understanding the pest pressure in their fields and actions they should take, operational logistics of farm equipment and better understanding of overall costs and revenues on their farms. This was a very important acquisition for Syngenta to accelerate our efforts in the Latin America region.
We also have a number of global projects in our digital pipeline, many of which will be launched in Latin America to support growers and their trusted advisors. We have been careful to develop digital tools that have off-line capabilities, but which are intuitive and easy to use. Our goals are to simplify the user experience and maximize the insights generated for better use of inputs and farming practices that are sustainable. These projects use cutting-edge digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence.
We are also bringing AgriClime™, a weather risk mitigation tool, to the region. We developed AgriClime to help growers make informed decisions about their crops while we support them with their biggest risk – the weather – which is becoming more unpredictable. With this program, growers know they can count on Syngenta when the weather does not cooperate.
Wade Barnes: Farmers Edge is implementing our suite of precision digital solutions throughout Brazil and we’re looking to expand in other Latin American countries. Our product is unique because it allows for connectivity and data transfer, which is generally not available. We provide near daily imagery powered by PlanetScope.
Marketing Manager at Strider
Ana Attie: Here, at Strider, we are always innovating and paying attention to the market. Our plan is to take digital agriculture all over the world. We developed a platform that helps farmers with their decisions based on smart and real-time data, to increase productivity further and reduce costs. All of our new projects will have the same mission.
Mariana Vasconcelos: Agrosmart developed a unique approach based on seed genetics, soil type and microclimate data to generate market intelligence and create agronomic models. We apply artificial intelligence to translate nature and unleash the full potential of data science in different parts of the food value chain. For instance, we support agro industry companies on genetic development, seed placement strategies, hybrids and crop protection products evaluation. For food and beverage industries we bring transparency and sustainability to their supply chain.
Yes, we began our internationalization targeting the commercial expansion in the beginning of 2017 and with the countries of Latin America—Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Colombia. We have access to local distributors through a partnership with NaanDanJain, focusing both on irrigated and rainfed crop areas.
How do you view the development prospects of Latin America’s digital agriculture industry?
Dan Burdett: At Syngenta, we believe digital agriculture will continue to develop rapidly in Latin America. Farmers in the region do not rely on government support and, therefore, are entrepreneurial and dynamic. They are open to exploring technologies that can add value to their operations and are quick to adopt those that deliver results.
Latin America growers are entrepreneurs who are eager to produce more and better crops. They look for ways to become more efficient. Many farms in the region are run by entire families with older and younger generations working side-by-side. This helps them overcome generational gaps, especially in being open to using new technologies. We see this as accelerating the trend for rapid digital technology adoption.
This is the type of environment in which an innovator such as Syngenta can be most helpful to growers. We invest more than $1.3 billion each year in research and development, and further invest in acquiring technologies and companies that offer the latest in proven technologies for growers.
Wade Barnes: We believe agriculture is to Latin America what oil is to Saudi Arabia. It is the most important market for new technology. We believe digital agriculture will improve yields, and improved efficiency for Latin American farmers. Precision digital technology will move them on an equal playing field with North American and European farmers.
Ana Attie: Nowadays, at least 96% of farmers have smartphones and although most of them don’t use them to manage their businesses, it is only a matter of time. Meanwhile, the number of Brazilian agtechs has increased at least 150% in the past two years. That is, from now on, agtechs will continue to grow and digital agriculture will keep making the managing of farms easier due to the use of technology, more and more each day.
Mariana Vasconcelos: Latin American plays an important role in global food security, accounting for 16% of total global food and agriculture exports. The region has ⅓ of the world’s freshwater supply, represents 28% of the world’s arable land and is one of the few parts of the world with significant resources of unexploited agricultural areas.
For the region to achieve its potential as an increasingly important supplier of food to the world, a number of challenges need to be overcome. Digital Agriculture represents a huge opportunity to increase crop yield and reduce the gap within more developed regions. For decades, Brazil has been a pioneer in developing new technologies and bringing innovation for tropical agriculture. Now, with digital transformation, Brazil is starting to consolidate itself as one of the most important markets in the global digital agriculture industry, developing and exporting technology to other regions in the world.
Pedro Rocha: The potential of agriculture in Latin America is enormous and investments in digital agriculture are being made intensely, but we have different challenges if we compare it to North American countries. For example, in Brazil, tropical agriculture presents many variables, such as the weather, which changes from one region to another or specific pests of each region. Even so, Brazilian agriculture is one of the most technological, sustainable and productive in the world and can be even more efficient, bringing all this digital revolution present in society to the field.
Therefore, I believe that the development potential of digital agriculture in Latin America is enormous and is being explored to increase farm yields sustainably and ensure profitability to growers.
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