Technology as a Change Factor in Agriculture
As in many sectors of the economy, technology is changing the way rural producers control their operations and run their business. New developments in machinery, software and biotechnology are enabling farmers to have more control over how to plant and manage their production1
To understand the context of likely future changes and trends that can transform the way producers see their business, first, we need to understand what the driving megatrends of agriculture are today.
The 7 Megatrends that can change the world's agriculture
The points below summarize the 7 Megatrends that will impact world agriculture, and consequently, the technological package of inputs and equipment that farmers will adopt:
Increase on demands for food and fuels
Globalization and greater volatility of the markets
Farms consolidation and specialization of rural business
Environment sustainability and compliance of agricultural companies (before, inside and after the farm gate)
Shortage of skilled labor to the farm operation
Diffusion of the precision farming
Professionalization of the farm management
Technologies of the past, present and future
With this outline, we can try to understand what could happen. The scheme below is useful for a brief overview of recent and future developments in agriculture. The information below is from John Deere Farm Sight 2
o Navigation Systems
o Sub-Inch Accuracy
o Automated Guidance
o Parallel Tracking
o Precision Farming
o Precision Irrigation
o Section Control
o Variable Rate
o Simplifying Decisions
o Big Data
o Logistics Management
o Machine Productivity and Uptime
In the 2000s, various technologies were applied to agricultural machinery such as sub-inch GPS navigation systems, autopilot and parallel tracking. This happened because, once created, these technologies advanced the initial barriers of technology adoption and spread across the most diverse sectors of the economy. For example, RTK (Real Time Kinematic) GPS systems are used in construction, road works, mining, oil prospecting, and in Precision Agriculture (PA).
We expected that this transition of technologies between sectors will also happen due to the technological advances of wireless connectivity, mobile computing, cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data.
Soil, plant and climate monitoring with Wireless Sensors (wireless)
According to a study published in 2014 3
a sensor is a device that has the capacity to measure physical properties and convert them into information for the observer. Due to the advance of technologies and the size reduction, sensors are getting involved in almost every area of our lives. Agriculture is one of the industries in which sensors and wireless networks can be used with numerous benefits. Sensors that may be on farms in the future have several applications, including:
Sensors for the Soil
o Electrical Permittivity
o Water Flow
o Water Level
Sensors for Plants and Leaves
o Dew point
Sensors for the Climate
o Atmospheric Pressure
o Direction and Wind Speed
The main advantage of using this set of sensors can be the generation of meteorological information, crops and soil data, the monitoring of large areas of land and several crops per plot, identification of the need for fertilizer and water for different areas and the creation of proactive solutions to the field rather than reactive solutions. All of these aim for a better result for the farm business.
In addition to the information that will be generated in the field via sensors of soil, plants and climate, another set of information that will be collected and used in the best decision making of the rural producer is due to Internet of Farm Things.
Internet of Farms Things
The Internet of Farm Things is a term that refers to an emerging trend in which several devices are connected to users and other Internet devices. Its main concept is that various physical objects such as tractors, harvesters, sprayers, trucks, silos, irrigation systems, greenhouses and other "smart devices" on the farm are connected for collecting and exchanging data, allowing joint or independent operations, leveraging input application, fleet management and harvesters, animal nutrition and farmers' purchases. 4
What would this "Smart Farm" look like?
Field-specific weather stations and soil moisture sensors can alert the farmer when conditions require application of a fungicide. The water flow control valve can open or close automatically according to the conditions detected by the sensors.
Plant moisture sensors can connect with harvesters indicating the best time of day to start harvesting. Biological monitoring devices that control temperature, heart rate, respiration, and movement of animals in livestock will provide early warning of animal health problems or stressors.
In business management, farmers and employees can also benefit by detecting the fatigue of components in the machines and the stock level of farm inputs. The connected sensors will automatically monitor fuel, food and pesticide inventories and when levels fall below a prescribed level, a purchase order can be generated and automatically sent to the distributor, for example.
The generation and collection of information will be increasingly important for the farmer's decision-making. However, living in an increasingly complex and dynamic environment, it will have neither the time nor the ability to analyze the sensor information of each area of its farms.
According to SAS, a pioneering company in Business Intelligence: "Big Data is the term that describes the huge amount of data - structured and unstructured - that impact business day to day. But the important thing is not the amount of data but what companies do with the data is what really matters. Big Data can be analyzed for insights that lead to better decisions and strategic business directions.”
The possibilities will be diverse, such as the creation of predictive models of rainfall, temperature and infestations on the farm. The self-learning of the machines integrated in Internet of Farm Things will define best routes for beginning and ending agricultural operations with tractors, harvesters and trucks and will influence on the selection of seed variety per plot according to the specific characteristics of these areas.
One step at a time
While these advances are being developed by Silicon Valley startups and by large multinationals, there are still some issues related to the profitability, scalability and security of these innovations. Some challenges in using technologies like Wireless sensors, Internet of Farm Things and Big Data are:
To whom does the data generated by an equipment used on the farm belong? The farmer or the equipment manufacturer?
What is the cost of implantation and maintenance of a complex system like that? Is it profitable?
What is the ideal connection structure and the broadband transmission to support such a huge amount of data? When some devices will have their connectivity and pairing systems purposely blocked to promote loyalty to one brand, is it possible to connect every farm?
The intelligent farm will generate an enormous amount of data. Where will they be stored?
Safety: how to protect these systems from malicious hacker attacks?
1 So says Brian Thraen, consultant CHS, in his article New Trends In Agriculture Technology
2 Trends & Issues in Agricultural Technology 2013 Jerry Roell, director of the John Deere FarmSight ™
3 review of sensors and wireless networks' applications in agriculture. Aqeel-ur-Rehman, b, ⁎ Abu Zafar Abbasi b, b Noman Islam, Zubair Ahmed Shaikh. Computer Standards & Interfaces 36 (2014) 263-270
4: The Internet of Things: Implications for agriculture. Https://www.fcc-fac.ca/en/ag-knowledge/technology-and-innovation/the-internet-of-things-implications-for-agriculture.html
Key Account Manager of Kleffmann Brazil. He has experience in market research in Brazil and Latin America and in consulting in distribution channels and, market access, product lifecycle management, launch of new products, relationship programs, planning and strategic marketing management. He has a Master of Science degree from the University of São Paulo.
Consultant of Markestrat, working on strategic planning and management projects, market research and buying behavior of farmers. He has a Graduation degree from the University of São Paulo.