Agriculture 4.0: everything you need to know
For decades, technology has contributed with disruptive solutions that have changed processes in various sectors of the economy. And agribusiness could not be left out. Farm work has undergone many developments, and now we are in the so-called Agriculture 4.0 era. Have you ever heard of it?
From biotechnology to high connectivity, new digital tools modify and optimise all stages of the production cycle. This brings increased productivity, cost reduction, agility, and food security to the field.
We have prepared this material that serves as a valid dossier on the main methods, techniques and equipment used by Agriculture 4.0. Understand how this revolution can make a difference in your business!
What is agriculture 4.0?
Agriculture 4.0 refers to a set of state-of-the-art digital technologies integrated and connected through software, systems, and equipment capable of optimising agricultural production in all of its stages. To understand how we got to this point, look back at some developments that rural work has gone through!
Developments in farming
We know that nature is the primary source of resources for human life. Therefore, from the moment man abandoned his nomadic life and settled, he began to produce his food through land cultivation. At first, the primitive techniques were manual, which limited the results.
Over time, the farmer added tools that facilitated and accelerated production. Until the 18th century, the use of oxen and horses as a traction force of wooden plows was predominant. Sowing was done by hand, cultivation with hoes etc. All of this still greatly limited productivity.
The significant evolution occurred because of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, which generated the prominent industries in the metropolises but also contributed to the creation of technologies applied to farming. At the time, they were huge steam-powered vehicles, which could weigh about 20 tons. They could significantly increase agility in performing tasks. This process of including machines in agriculture became known as Field Mechanization.
However, it was only at the turn of the 20th century that the most drastic changes occurred with the introduction of the combustion engine. Gasoline machines replaced animal traction. This was combined with advances in pesticide and fertiliser research.
The new tractors that replaced the huge steam-powered models were then responsible for towing and refuelling sowers, harvesters, sprayers, among other machines that increased production to a level never seen before. Thus, mechanisation began to accompany farmers at all stages of the production cycle, from soil preparation for cultivation to crop maintenance and harvesting.
The exploration, however, did not stop there. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) emerged.
Information technology welcomes a set of technological tools and resources applied in an integrated manner to meet a common goal. This involves software and hardware components that work to facilitate communication and processes in the virtual sphere.
With the advent of the Internet since the 1990s, ITCs expanded exponentially, as the potential for integration evolved in ways that have been unimaginable before. The result was creating a series of systems and platforms that increased productivity in various fields, including agriculture.
The emergence of digital technologies applied to the field
Agriculture 4.0, a term derived from Industry 4.0, then emerges, which refers to the digitisation of production processes. This phenomenon goes beyond the simple field mechanisation. Operations and decisions are oriented based on data taken from climate, land, crops, etc.
In addition, the various connected and integrated devices allow the automation of processes. This is closely related to the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT). With this, equipment and professionals work in a connected and optimised way.
Within this new vision and with the use of new digital technologies, Agriculture 4.0 brings together four main aspects:
- data-driven management;
- production from new tools and techniques;
Agriculture 4.0 adopts high-level technology computing resources, sensors, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, cloud, analytics techniques, and connectivity between mobile devices to generate and process a massive volume of data that will serve as the basis for decision-making.
If everything is still too abstract, understand the methods within Agriculture 4.0 that are already being adopted!
What are the methods already adopted?
The methods used today use equipment, research, and systems that guide the farm manager in their decisions and optimising operations in the crop. Meet some of them!
The farm results are closely linked to climatic factors. The climate affects all stages of crop development and the relationship between plants and fauna present in the field, which impacts the occurrence, or not, of diseases and pests in the plantation.
Thus, the organised and frequent collection of meteorological data is precious for agricultural activity. This practice favours several operations in the field, with soil preparation, fertilisation, sowing, irrigation, harvesting, etc.
Within this context, Embrapa developed an information system called Agritempo, available both in a web version and an application to be installed on mobile devices with the Android system.
One of the system’s resources is the provision of 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 the data, each city may identify the best period to plant the crops, according to the soil types and cultivar cycle.
Drones include a computer system, a GPS, and a camera. They can make very precise flyovers to map large properties without crew and remotely controlled from the ground.
These cameras take photos and shoot in high definition at a height of up to 60 meters. The flight time is about 40 minutes, allowing you to record images over 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 problems in planting, such as diseases, failures, voluntary plants, deficiency in irrigation, etc.
GPS is a device that combines information about the latitude and longitude of rural properties. When coupled to machines, it opens a vast range of automation and management analysis possibilities. Here are some examples!
Here, GPS works together with other technologies, such as sensors, electro-hydraulic valves, and accelerometers, to automate the targeting of agricultural machinery in the crop during its operation. These autonomous vehicles have significant positive impacts on agriculture.
This does not mean that the operator will be dismissed. The system serves as a tool that works under the supervision of the professional. Employing autopilot, the planting window becomes more extensive since the machine can operate for longer hours, including at night.
In addition, automation contributes to a higher accuracy when defensive scans are applied and gives greater agility to manoeuvres. This significantly reduces application failures, waste, and overlaps.
GPS data allows farmers, researchers, and agricultural consultants to delimit property spaces to analyse and treat pest, insect and weed infestations and assess soil conditions. In addition, these records can enter an information bank that will serve for further analysis for comparison purposes.
With the same data collected on places where pests have settled, it is possible to automatically guide pesticide application, 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, soil salinity, among others. There are devices with specific cameras that emit infra-red rays to analyse the plant’s health and get information about its stage of development, for example.
There are also height sensors that can evaluate the property topography and adjust the spray boom throughout the application. Thus, the operation becomes even more autonomous, with minimal human intervention.
GIS (Geographic Information System)
We now move into the software area—or computer programs—that collect geographic information to integrate the data collected in the field. They feature a very intuitive interface and display records on maps and graphs for easy analysis and decision making.
For example, they can help the producer visualise in which areas of the crop certain pests and weeds are concentrated, or inform which parts are most productive.
With new technologies, it is feasible to understand better plant development and how they are affected by pests. It is possible to implement genetic modifications or produce more effective insums and pesticides to make cultivars resistant or even provide higher quality and productivity growth.
What is the impact that all this technology can bring to the farmers? That’s what we’re going to see now!
What is its importance to the farmer?
The range of technologies comprising Agriculture 4.0 becomes a watershed in the industry. The most essential benefit of these new tools is increased productivity, but there are many others.
Precision agriculture technologies provide the basis for management at all stages of agricultural production processes, regardless of the scale at which this is done. In addition to the very performance of automated machines that increase the results of operations, there are also management data that make strategic decisions more efficient.
Monitoring of agricultural operations
The technologies available in the market allow the farmer to follow the entire production process in real-time, even if it is not close to the property. Sensors, cameras, drones and georeferencing devices ensure the manager has full control over operations, facilitating decision making, even at a distance.
The software coupled to the machines and connected via satellite gives valuable information about where the machines have already passed, avoiding the overlap of insums and pesticides and replanting seeds, for example. In addition, products are prevented from being released outside the crop. Thus, when the machine passes through an area already worked on, it shuts down automatically.
Consequent cost reduction
The reduction of waste results in a decrease in production costs. After all, the accuracy at the time of application of insum and pesticides, and in sowing prevents products and seeds from being released outside the planting line, increasing the operational efficiency.
How are these advantages reflected in the daily life of the farmer?
How can agriculture 4.0 assist in the day-to-day life of the farmer?
The asset of agriculture 4.0 is to endow the farmer with data and tools in their day-to-day operations. This makes it easier to plan, perform and monitor production steps. Looking at what has already been done in the country reinforces how practical new tools can be.
Use of drones in pest detection
It captures high-resolution hyperspectral and multispectral aerial images, combined with infrared sensors, to analyse the crop.
These images can be processed to identify pests more accurately, soil problems —such as river erosion and silting—among others.
This research aims to understand why some properties produce unevenly. By understanding this variability, it will be possible to adopt measures that allow maximum productivity from the region in a sustainable way.
Production of genetically modified, more tolerant plants
Biotechnology has also brought greater practicality to the day-to-day life of farmers. A great example is genetically modified cotton, which contributes to weed control. The idea was to create herbicide-tolerant cultivars such as glyphosate and ammonium glufosinate. Thus, the products can be applied for weeding without the cotton farm being affected.
In addition, this genetic intervention in plant development also allows it to be more resistant to insects of the Lepidoptera (caterpillars) species. This feature, known as Bt technology, reduces the amount of pesticides applied to the crop.
The caterpillar feeds on Bt cotton by scraping the leaves, for example, and ingests toxin from the genetically modified plant. This causes the insect to die. In order to avoid the emergance of new generations of caterpillar resistant to bt protein, nearby refuge areas (conventional cotton) are cultivated. The insect mates with other insects that have not had contact with the toxin. This contributes to greater longevity of this technology’s action.
Improvement in soil fertilisation
Soil fertility mapping compares the analyses. Through geo-referenced soil samples, it is possible to identify in which regions there are nutritional deficiencies and, therefore, make the necessary corrections, balancing potassium, limestone, and phosphorus levels. This optimises fertilisation and increases productivity.
Quadricycles contour the area, dividing the property into grids (which can be 1 hectare). For example, if a crop has 50 hectares, there will be 50 grids, with a soil sample for each quadrant. Thus, the soil balance will be done based on the report from each grid.
The results will also indicate which is the best manure, fertiliser, or concealer on that specific grid. This application at a variable rate allows greater efficiency in product application and extracts the maximum productivity from the soil.
When there is already a history in soil fertility mapping in more advanced processes, it is possible to zone crop environments to work with management zones, varying the plant population in certain areas or the type of fertilisation according to the cultivar.
What to expect from agriculture 4.0 results?
A report titled Agriculture 4.0 — The Future of Agricultural Technology produced by Oliver Wyman details four significant concerns regarding the agricultural sector: demographics, scarcity of natural resources, climate change and food waste. The estimate points out that by 2050 we will need to produce 70% more food than the volume produced today. In the future, Agriculture 4.0 will play a key role.
It is expected that these technological advances will be able to make field operations more accurate and efficient, reducing the application of water and agricultural insums. The idea is that, with the help of sensors, devices, software and other components of information technology, only minimum amounts needed are applied in particular areas.
The shortage of skilled labour
The qualification of the workforce 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% do not see the need to have access to the web.
With Agriculture 4.0, the farmer profile changes dramatically. They cease to be just a machine operator and become responsible for monitoring a new technology. This requires new qualifications, and the farm workforce scenario still has much room to evolve.
A higher level of professional qualification on the farm is not limited to the planting line. Technologies embedded in Agriculture 4.0 generate information for decision making. Therefore, it is necessary to find skilled 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, there are still few agronomists with this expertise in the market.
Every day new technologies and research emerge that further enhance the results of Agriculture 4.0. The adoption of IT tools in the field is already an irreversible reality. They become the answer to increasing demand for food, while climate change poses challenges for farmers. Don’t leave your business behind. You, too, are part of this revolution!
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