Agriculture 4.0: all you need to know about it
For decades, technology has contributed with disruptive solutions that have changed processes in different sectors of the economy. And agribusiness was not left out. Rural work has undergone many evolutions, and now we are in the so-called Agriculture 4.0. Ever heard of it?
From biotechnology to high connectivity, new digital tools modify and optimize all stages of the production cycle. This brings greater productivity, cost reduction, agility, and food safety to the field.
To help you understand this concept, we have prepared this guide on the main methods, techniques, and equipment used by Agriculture 4.0. Learn how this revolution can make a difference in your business!
What is Agriculture 4.0?
Agriculture 4.0 is a set of cutting-edge digital technologies integrated and connected through equipment and software that optimize agricultural production in all its stages. To understand how we got to this point, let’s remember some of the evolutionary stages that rural work has gone through!
Stages of rural production evolution
We know that nature is the main source of resources for human life. Therefore, from the moment that the human being abandoned their nomadic life to settle down in fixed places, they began to produce their own food through land cultivation. At first, the primitive techniques were manual, which limited results.
Over time, rural workers began to use tools that facilitated and accelerated production. Until the 18th century, the use of oxen and horses as a pulling force for wooden plows was predominant. Sowing was done by hand, cultivation with hoes, etc. All that still greatly limited productivity.
A great evolution took place as a result of the Industrial Revolution, in the 18th century, which contributed to the creation of large industries in metropolises, but also contributed to the creation of technologies applied to rural work. At the time, they were huge steam-powered vehicles, which could weigh up to 20 tons. They could significantly increase agility in performing tasks. This process of adding machines to agriculture became known as Field Mechanization.
However, it was not until the turn of the 20th century, with the introduction of the combustion engine, that the most drastic changes occurred. Animal traction was replaced by gasoline engines. And all of that was combined with advances in pesticide and fertilizer research.
New tractors that replaced the huge steam-powered models were then responsible for towing and refueling seeders, harvesters, and sprayers, among other machines that increased production to a level never seen before. Thus, mechanization started to accompany the farmer in all stages of the production cycle, from the preparation of the soil for cultivation to the maintenance of the crop and the harvest.
Research, however, did not stop there. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) emerged.
Information technology comprises a set of tools and technological resources that are applied in an integrated way to achieve a common goal. This involves software and hardware components that work to facilitate communication and processes in the virtual realm.
With the advent of the internet in the 1990s, ICTs expanded exponentially, as the potential for integration evolved in ways that were previously unimaginable. The result was the creation of a series of systems and platforms that raised productivity in several fields, including agriculture.
Emergence of digital technologies applied to the field
Then comes Agriculture 4.0, a term derived from Industry 4.0, which refers to the digitization of production processes. This phenomenon goes beyond the simple field mechanization. Operations and decisions are now guided based on data taken from the climate, land, crops, etc.
In addition, the various connected and integrated devices promote process automation. This is closely related to the concept of IoT (Internet of Things). With that, equipment and professionals work in a connected and optimized way.
Within this new vision and the use of new digital technologies, Agriculture 4.0 brings together 4 main points:
- data-based management;
- production using new tools and techniques;
Agriculture 4.0 adopts high-tech computing resources, sensors, machine-to-machine communication (M2M), cloud, analysis techniques, and connectivity between mobile devices to generate and process a huge volume of data that will serve as a basis for decision making.
If this is still too abstract, learn further about the methods within Agriculture 4.0 that are already being adopted!
What are the methods already adopted?
The methods used today make use of equipment, research, and systems that guide the rural manager in decisions, in addition to optimizing farming operations. Get to know some of them below!
Field results are closely linked to climatic factors. Weather affects all stages of crop development, as well as the relationship of plants with the fauna present in the plot, which impacts the occurrence or not of diseases and pests on the plantation.
Therefore, the organized and frequent collection of meteorological data is highly valuable for agricultural activity. This practice favors several operations in the field, with soil preparation, fertilization, sowing, irrigation, harvesting, etc.
Within this context, Embrapa developed an information system called Agritempo, available in both a web version and an app for Android mobile devices.
One of the system’s features is the data for the Agricultural Zoning of Climate Risk (Zarc) — a risk management tool in agriculture. The goal is to reduce threats related to production losses due to climatic phenomena. In addition, with this data, it is possible for each city to identify the best period to plant crops, according to soil types and cultivar cycle.
Drones comprise a computer system, a GPS, and a camera. They are capable of making very accurate overflights to map large properties, unmanned and remotely controlled from the ground.
These cameras take pictures and shoot footage in high definition at a height of up to 60 meters. Flight autonomy is around 40 minutes, which allows you to record images in an area of 40 hectares. At a height of 300 meters, a drone can capture images of 6 hectares in a single photo.
These images can be used to detect crop problems such as diseases, failures, volunteer plants, irrigation deficiencies, etc.
GPS is a device that combines information about the latitude and longitude of rural properties. When coupled with machines, it opens up a huge range of possibilities for automation and management analysis. See some examples below!
Here, GPS works together with other technologies, such as sensors, electro-hydraulic valves, and accelerometers, to automate the direction of agricultural machinery in the field during their operation. These autonomous vehicles bring major positive impacts to agriculture.
This does not mean that the operator is not needed. In fact, the system serves as a tool that works under the professional’s supervision. By means of the autopilot, the planting window becomes longer, as the machine can operate for more hours, including at night.
In addition, automation contributes to greater precision when defensives are applied, in addition to giving greater agility to maneuvers. This significantly reduces application failures, waste, and overlaps.
GPS data allows farmers, researchers, and agricultural consultants to be able to delimit spaces on the property to analyze and treat infestations of pests, insects, and weeds, as well as assess soil conditions. In addition, these records can go into an information database that will be used for later analysis for comparison purposes.
With the same data collected on places where the pests have settled, it is possible to automatically guide the application of pesticides, either by land vehicles or by agricultural aircraft.
A series of sensors detect the environment in which they are installed to collect data on temperature, relative humidity, irrigation conditions, and soil salinity, among others. There are devices with specific cameras that emit ultra-red rays to analyze the plant’s health and obtain information about its development stage, for example.
There are also height sensors that can assess the property’s topography and adjust the spray booms throughout the application. In this way, the operation becomes even more autonomous, with minimal human intervention.
GIS (Geographic Information System)
We now move on to the area of software — or computer programs — that collect geographic information to integrate the data collected in the field. They have a very intuitive interface and display the records in the form of maps and graphs to facilitate analysis and decision-making.
For example, they can help the farmer visualize in which areas of the crop certain pests and weeds concentrate, or inform which parts are more productive.
With new technologies, it is feasible to better understand the development of plants and how they are affected by pests. From there, it is possible to implement genetic modifications or produce more effective resources and pesticides to make resistant cultivars, or even provide growth with higher quality and productivity.
What is the impact that all this technology can bring to the farmer? That’s what we’re going to see below!
What is its importance for the farmer?
The range of technologies that comprise Agriculture 4.0 becomes a game-changer in the sector. The most basic benefit of these new tools is increased productivity, but there are many others.
Precision agriculture technologies provide the basis for management in all stages of agricultural production processes, regardless of the scale at which this is done. In addition to the performance of automated machines that increase the results of operations, there are also managerial data that make strategic decisions more efficient.
Monitoring of agricultural operations
Technologies available on the market allow farmers to monitor the entire production process in real-time, even far away from the property. Sensors, cameras, drones, and georeferencing devices guarantee the manager full control over operations, facilitating decision-making, even at a distance.
The software attached to the machines and connected via satellite provides valuable information about where the machines have already been, avoiding the overlapping of resources and pesticides and the replanting of seeds, for example. In addition, it avoids that products are released outside the crop. Thus, when the machine passes through an area that has already been worked, it switches off automatically.
Consequent cost reduction
Waste reduction results in lower production costs. After all, the precision in the application of inputs and pesticides and in the sowing prevents products and seeds from being thrown out of the planting line, increasing the operation’s efficiency.
How are these advantages reflected in the daily life of the farmer? Let’s see them below!
How can Agriculture 4.0 help in the daily life of the farmer?
The trump card of Agriculture 4.0 is to provide farmers with data and tools in their day-to-day operations. This makes production steps easier to plan, carry out and monitor. Observing what has already been done in Brazil reinforces how practical these new tools can be.
Use of drones in pest detection
Cotton growers in Mato Grosso do Sul, together with technicians from the Instituto Mato-Grossense do Algodão (IMAmt), study sustainable ways to manage cotton. One such technology is the drone. It captures high-resolution hyperspectral and multispectral aerial images, combined with infrared sensors, to analyze the crop.
These images can be processed to more accurately identify the existence of pests and soil problems — such as erosion and silting of rivers — among others.
These researches aim at understanding why some properties produce unevenly. By understanding these variabilities, it will be possible to adopt measures that extract maximum productivity from the region, in a sustainable way.
Production of more tolerant genetically modified plants
Biotechnology has also brought greater practicality to the daily lives of farmers. A great example is genetically modified cotton plants, which contribute to weed control. The idea was to create cultivars tolerant to herbicides such as glyphosate and glufosinate-ammonium. Therefore, the products can be applied to eliminate weeds without affecting the cotton plant.
In addition, this genetic intervention in the plant’s development also allows it to be more resistant to insects of the Lepidoptera species (caterpillars). This feature, known as Bt technology, reduces the number of pesticides applied to the crop.
The caterpillar feeds on Bt cotton by scraping the leaves, for example, and ingests the toxin from the genetically modified plant. This causes the insect to die. So that new generations of caterpillars resistant to the Bt protein do not emerge, nearby refuge areas (conventional cotton) are cultivated so that the insect mates with individuals that have not had contact with the toxin. This contributes to the greater longevity of this technology’s action.
Improved soil fertilization
Soil fertility mapping compares the analyses. By means of georeferenced soil samples, it is possible to identify in which regions there are nutritional deficiencies and, with that, make the necessary corrections, balancing levels of potassium, limestone, and phosphorus, for example. This optimizes fertilization and increases productivity.
ATVs outline the area, dividing the property into grids — which can be 1 hectare. For example, if a field is 50 hectares, then there will be 50 grids, with a soil sample for each quadrant. In this way, the ground balance will be done based on each grid’s reports.
The results will also indicate which is the best manure, fertilizer, or corrective on that specific grid. This variable rate application allows for greater efficiency in the application of products and gets the most of its productivity from the soil.
When there is already a history of soil fertility mapping in more advanced processes, it is possible to carry out farming environments zoning to work with management zones, varying the plant population in certain areas or the type of fertilization according to the cultivar.
What to expect from Agriculture 4.0 results?
A report entitled Agriculture 4.0 — The Future of Agricultural Technology, produced by Oliver Wyman, details 4 major concerns regarding the agricultural sector: demography, scarcity of natural resources, climate change, and food waste. The estimates indicate that by 2050 we will need to produce more than 70% of the volume of food produced today. In that future, Agriculture 4.0 will play a key role.
It is hoped that these technological advances will be able to make field operations more accurate and efficient, reducing water application and agricultural inputs. The idea is that, with the help of sensors, devices, software, and other information technology components, only the minimum amounts needed are applied in very specific areas.
How is Brazil in this scenario?
With the creation of several agritechs and the launch of several products and precision agriculture equipment in the country, Brazil is a highlight on the world stage when we talk about Agriculture 4.0.
According to Silvia Massruhá, a researcher at Embrapa Informática Agropecuária, around 45% of companies in the sector have already adopted some of the new technologies. According to data from Embrapa, annual crops and sugarcane already stand out in the adoption of some type of technology focused on precision agriculture. Among the most used resources is georeferencing for mapping soil fertility, which aims at applying correctives and fertilizers at a variable rate.
The availability of machines equipped with GPS and fertility sensors is not new. In the 1990s, it was already possible to see some initiatives of this kind. However, at the time, there was not much support from farmers, mainly due to the difficulty in processing data and the lack of knowledge on how to use the mapping information.
Despite the great growth and popularization of these tools in the years that followed, Brazil is still in the process of evolving the adoption of technologies when compared to other countries, such as the United States. There is still a long way to go, mainly due to the following challenges: the lack of services, such as internet coverage in rural areas, and manpower shortage.
The lack of connectivity in the field
The number of users accessing the internet in rural areas grew from 4% (in 2008) to 24% (in 2014), which is a still very limiting number. See the results of the latest TIC Domicílios 2017 survey, on internet access in rural areas:
- only 34% of households have internet access;
- 93% have a device that could access the internet, such as a smartphone or a computer;
- 44% do not access the internet because they do not have a computer.
This reveals that much investment in infrastructure is needed to provide a basic resource for the functioning of digital technologies: connectivity.
The shortage of skilled labor
The workforce qualification is yet another obstacle. According to the same survey:
- 44% of workers do not access the internet because they do not know how to use the devices;
- 45% see no need to have access to the web.
With Agriculture 4.0, the profile of the rural worker changes drastically. He is no longer just a machine operator and becomes responsible for monitoring a new technology. This requires new qualifications, and the workforce scenario in the field still has a lot to evolve.
The need for a higher level of professional qualification on the properties is not limited to the planting line. The technologies embedded in Agriculture 4.0 generate information for decision-making. Given this, it is necessary to find qualified workers capable of interpreting a large volume of data — after all, the collection and analysis of these records is the engine of digital agribusiness. However, agronomists with this expertise are still scarce in the market.
New technologies and research that further enhance the results of Agriculture 4.0 emerge every day. The adoption of IT tools in the field is already an irreversible reality. They become the answer to the increasing demand for food, and at the same time that climate change raises challenges for the farmer. Don’t leave your business behind. Be part of this revolution too!
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