The most critical revolutions in Latin America happened in the countryside. The Latin American fields have witnessed social inequalities, but also justice claims. Now, a new revolution is being developed from the Argentine pampas to the Rio Grande. The leader is the Internet of Things (IoT).
The fourth technological revolution is coming to the countryside with sensors to predict the rain, monitors that show the characteristics of the soil, moisture meters. All these devices would be linked to a big data platform that would analyze and interpret the results with Artificial Intelligence. The AgTech in Brazil and Argentine shows how they can be used.
Modernization of the field in Latin America would have a global impact
Innovations in the field would have an economic impact on the world, not only in Latin America. Since 2000, the region has surpassed North America as the main exporter of agricultural products in the world. In most products, Latin American countries have a surplus and, according to forecasts, the region’s export quota will grow 25% by 2028.
The IoT would drive this trend. These technologies bring new possibilities in the management of rural production. Satellites with more accessible services allow crop monitoring. Modern harvesters let you know productivity by field (unit by area). Smart irrigation solutions measure the level of water in the soil to avoid waste and reduce expenses. The main economic powers of the region have begun to take the first steps for this revolution.
The governments of Brazil and Argentina have promoted the use of this technology in recent years. Brazil has presented pilot projects to promote the technologies of the field in the country, while Argentina plans a reform in its legislation that allows reducing the costs of the technological devices. The revolution is just beginning.
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.
Although several of AgTech technologies are beginning to be adopted in Brazil, the country is still at an early stage in the use of IoT, according to the head of the agricultural informatics unit of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), Silvia Massruhá.
The head of Embrapa considers that Brazil’s challenge is the fact that they already have many types of devices. “But they are not connected because there is no connectivity in the field, or because the data is heterogeneous, or because there is no way to integrate into the application,” she explains. According to the IIC 2018 household survey conducted by the Internet Steering Committee, while the percentage of Brazilians connected in urban centers reaches 80%, in rural areas it is 59%.
Embrapa has started pilot projects for Brazil. One of them focuses on the monitoring of pests and diseases. By monitoring and forecasting the weather with the use of weather stations, the objective is to prevent the incidence of Asian rust in soybeans. “The system will be given the correct date to apply the pesticide depending on the weather, in an intersection with the disease data. We will measure whether this helped reduce costs and increase productivity,” explains Silvia Massruhá.
Another project, also coordinated by this public company, involves the optimization of known ways in the “crop, livestock and forest integration” sector. This methodology would allow a soybean producer, for example, to find other uses for the soil, such as planting pastures for cattle during the time the land remains dormant.
The IoT systems in the pilot project will measure various aspects of this integration. The oxen will have implanted chips and, through this equipment and others (such as scales), the data will be crossed with other aspects, such as food, to identify their development and the best moment of sacrifice. The test will be carried out with producers in five states: Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goias, Sao Paulo, and Piaui.
In Rio Grande do Sul and Minas Gerais, a third pilot project seeks to optimize milk production, with procedures such as livestock feed monitoring and milking automation. In the end, milk will be compared with others without the adoption of these technologies to assess whether these solutions have improved the quantity and quality of the product.
The CPQD technology development center carries out a project with an agricultural company that installs sensors on tractors and other equipment to monitor machine performance. The system will track the distance traveled, fuel consumption and any problems to identify maintenance demands.
“Imagine if you are in the middle of the field and the machine breaks down. The producer has to stop the harvest, remove the machine, and send another. If it is possible to take all their data and predict that they have a very high possibility of rupture, the person can request maintenance before something happens,” explains CPQD innovation director Paulo Curado.
Challenges in public policies in Brazil
Researchers, people in business, and authorities point out that agriculture is one of the sectors where IoT technologies are experiencing a faster evolution. “There is a lot of potential in Brazil for agriculture. It is one of the priority areas and is strengthening in the coming years,” says the president of the Brazilian Association of Internet of Things (Abinc), Flávio Maeda.
The area was chosen as a priority in the National Internet of Things Plan, launched in June. The document describes generic guidelines, without going into details about what measures state agencies will take to stimulate these technologies in the field.
The proposals and projects will be prepared by a group created for this purpose, called Câmara Agro 4.0. Directed by the Ministries of Agriculture (MAPA) and Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (MCTIC), it will also have the participation of other agencies, researchers and industry associations and companies in the country.
According to the secretary of innovation, rural development and irrigation of MAPA, Fernando Camargo, the members will evaluate actions on several fronts. The most important thing will be the expansion of connectivity in rural areas, given the territorial extension and the contingent of people still outside the Internet in these places. According to the ICT Households 2017 survey conducted by the Internet Steering Committee, while the rate of households with access to the web is 65% in urban regions, in rural areas it drops to 34%.
The Chamber should also focus on programs to encourage the acquisition and dissemination of innovative technologies. One of them is to stimulate the creation and growth of technological startups. The objective with the dissemination of these technical solutions is to increase productivity in the field. Currently, there are 338 AgTech startups in Brazil.
“We need to encourage startups to increase the production chain within the area of agribusiness.”