Argentina’s agricultural sector exports an average of $40 B a year. This makes it an ideal laboratory for the development of new technologies focused on increasing productivity and facilitating the decisions of agricultural workers.
Argentina has had success stories in the modernization of the countryside. After adopting biotechnology, agricultural production went from 40Mt in 1990, to 120Mt at present. Now, the country hopes to achieve similar results with the IoT.
“Satellite and remote sensing technologies have been used in Argentina for some time. Producers are eager for technology, “said Gervasio Pineiro, professor of the faculty of agronomy at the University of Buenos Aires and a researcher at Conicet, an organization dedicated to the promotion of science and technology.
The large local agricultural producers, which constitute about 10% of the total, use cutting-edge technologies; another 40% make partial use of innovations, while the remaining 50% do not use them, Pineiro estimates.
The software uses a range of satellite images and applications from smartphones to nanosensors, for example, that measure soil conditions and connect remotely to artificial intelligence systems that, thanks to the information collected, can generate parameters according to Past and recorded events, which allows us to anticipate problems.
Currently, there are some Argentine companies that promote the use of this technology. “But agricultural producers consider what technology to incorporate based on the profits they receive. They are willing to try, but if it is very complicated and the profits do not increase, they will return to their traditional system, “Pineiro warns.
AgTech startups in Argentina
In Argentina, a variety of companies already offer products and services developed in IoT for different tasks. In agriculture, there are developments for monitoring soil, temperature, irrigation, harvesting, and fertilization, among other areas; while in livestock there are solutions for monitoring, feeding, sanitation and reproduction.
One of the most successful emerging companies is SmartCultiva, which exports equipment to 18 countries, among which the United Arab Emirates represents 80% of its market. By using nanosensors, it allows producers, both in the field and in greenhouses, to obtain real-time data on temperature, humidity levels, light levels, CO2 levels, pH, total dissolved solids, oxygen in the water and other parameters.
It works by deploying 26 nanosensors in the field (powered by solar panels), which collect data and then send it, via GPRS, 4G, radiofrequency or WiFi, to a cloud platform that processes them and presents them to decision-makers.
Martín Bueno, the co-founder of SmartCultiva, who also participates with his sensors in the NASA project to bring humans to Mars in 2030, points out that, for example, those who grow wheat are interested in knowing the soil moisture at three levels different. ; and those who have vineyards need to know the altitude, soil moisture, and relative humidity. For this reason, there are sensors with specific characteristics that collect the information required for different types of agriculture.
Good stresses that technicians or agronomists in the field are key to defining what type of sensor should be used and what information should be collected. “They are the ones who are going to decide that an alarm should sound when the temperature is exceeded or when the pH level is higher. We provide the system and it is the agronomist who molds it according to needs. We do not advise you on how to proceed, decide what should be done. “
In March Expoagro 2019 was held, the largest agribusiness show in the region. There, the main innovations in machinery and technology received awards, among which there were also IoT developments. MuSensor for precision livestock, from the company Campo Preciso. This system includes smart collars to monitor animal health and detect heat, disease, behavior, and activity.
Another company, Kilimo, received an award for an IoT device that produces a water balance for each lot, in addition to the soil analysis that, through the application of Big Data, recommends strategies according to the needs at each specific point on the earth.
There are still few AgTech companies in Argentina
The number of local technology companies linked to the field is low compared to what is happening in other sectors, such as fintech, commerce or logistics, according to the study ‘The Agrotech Revolution in Argentina’, published by the IDB and the CREA group in 2018 .
The slow development in Argentina corresponds to three factors:
- High prices on technological products at the regional level, which limits the adoption of sensors and wireless connectivity.
- Low speed on 4G connections, according to OpenSignal. Even the 5G network will not be a priority for companies, which will seek to improve and expand 4G before adopting 5G.
- The scalability of enterprises, as they are limited to physical conditions such as soil characteristics, climate, as well as the particularities of agricultural workers.
Pedro Vigneau, deputy secretary of agribusiness markets of the Ministry of Production, said that a law on the “knowledge economy” is necessary to allow the development of the agricultural industry in the country. The government will present to the congress a bill on tax exemptions for companies in the “knowledge industry”, that is, in the areas of software, biotechnology, robotics, audiovisual, export consulting services, artificial intelligence, and video games, among other segments.
Despite the economic crisis that Argentina is going through, the agricultural industry is expected to produce a record harvest this year and continue to lead exports. With the changes mentioned above, the interest of entrepreneurs in developing new and better tools to take full advantage of this key area of the economy.