What is understood by Automation?
Automation, according to the concept adopted by Embrapa, is a system in which the operating processes of agricultural production, livestock and/or forestry are monitored, controlled, and run by means of machines and mechanical, electronic or computer-based devices, to enlarge the capacity of human work. In this way, automation exerts its function on agricultural, livestock and forestry processes to increase the productivity and labor system; optimize the use of time, of inputs and of capital; reduce losses in production; increase the quality of products; and improve the quality of life of farming and chains workers. The use of term has been borrowed both from the industrial and commercial automation segments, as agribusiness is integrated within a broad management view, in parallel, chained links.
What are the fundaments of Automation?
Automation is based on the convergence and integration of agricultural sciences with engineering, biologic sciences, and mathematical and earth sciences (mathematics, statistics, computer science, physics, chemistry and geoscience) to increase production efficiency, quality and traceability of the product, minimize environmental impact, increase security, and reduce labor costs. The processes should be enhanced and better understood to implement an efficient automation.
How is the automation process in Brazil?
Automation has worked with very intense focus on industrial production systems and services. At a time when industries are feeling a slowdown, and agriculture the inverse, automation is waking up to the opportunities of this market. However it is important to note that it is not an importation process, a copy or a simple adaptation of technologies. It is a process of creating solutions to meet the unique process that is tropical agriculture.
Is there a milestone of automation in Brazil? In what decade began this process?
There have been some initiatives, both public and private. Embrapa Instrumentation, the unit that began the first works in automation in an institution that was predominantly agricultural, completed 30 years. This period saw the rise of information and communication technology. Robotics in industrial automation can already be considered common. The agricultural sector was considered to be airtight to this type of technology, because there were plenty of low-cost working force. Today the situation is very different. Both the society and the legislation have changed. Globalization has brought profound changes in the industry, and there is a lot more computer systems available to be adapted. If there was a milestone, then it is within a period of two decades. For being, most likely, one of the best examples of successful automation in agriculture, the installation of precision agriculture can be considered a milestone in this sense in Brazil.
How can the use of automation help to optimize the service of the workforce?
Optimizing labor is an intrinsic part of agricultural automation. It is possible to say that even comfort intends to improve productivity. In a breeding system, for instance, when the person responsible could identify the stage of lactation and the health state of animals just by dealing with the animals daily, decision-making was a consequent reaction. But once the the number of animals is increased and employees are hired with work arrangements designed to suit urban activities, the form of traditional management is compromised, because it eliminates the conviviality and damages the decision-making process. There is already a robotic milking machine on the market, but behind this automation, systems are being enhanced to notify the operator about variables that point, in a screen, at the state and the needs of the animal. It is, thus, possible to contribute not only for the liberation of painful works, but also for the quality of the product and of the production, and for economic, social and environmental sustainability.
How is research preparing to meet the demand for technologies and techniques that increase productivity?
There is concern and efforts to have research work towards the future. It is a consensus that increased productivity must be accompanied by sustainability. New processes and knowledge are committed to increase productivity, such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. The challenges brought by future scenarios such as reduction of the rural population, increased demand for safe food, the potential for more severe climates for agriculture, reducing water availability, as a result of climate change, among many other causes increase the urgency of demands and also by number of solutions. Automation should help speed up these knowledge production processes.
The fundamental aspect is to monitor the investment in the growth and expansion of the agenda.
What is Precision Agriculture?
Precision agriculture is an example of successful automation. It is a form of crop management that takes into account the spatial variability. The field has variations. Sectors that produce more, others that are wetter, more fertile, more susceptible to diseases and so on. Conventional agriculture, despite the differences, treats everything equally. Precision agriculture respect those differences and makes use of field data and information. Tools such as GPS, sensors, and information systems are very useful for this form of management.
From what moment precision agriculture began to gain strength in Brazil?
At first, there was a significant impact when the agricultural machinery with embedded electronics arrived. In particular, the harvesters with ability to measure and store data along with geographic coordinates. It happened in the late 1990s. GPS receivers and the Geographic Information System applied to agriculture were still news in the country. In a second moment, after two decades, the understanding of the PA as a management process begun. Some consider it a "demystification" of PA, as it was known as a technology too sophisticated for the Brazilian reality.
Can any producer use it, including smallholders?
Precision agriculture only depends on the manager. One can say it is the management attitude that takes variability into account. This depends on the farmer's eye and the sensitivity. If a producer realizes that setting one crop sector apart can improve quality, then they are practicing precision agriculture.
What should farmers do to apply precision agriculture in their properties?
The first step is to observe if there is spatial variability within the property. For example, taking a sample of an area and choosing another that the farmer considers to be very different. If the two samples present very different recommendations for application of inputs, then there is potential economic return and, therefore, potential for use of precision agriculture..
Are there crops or soil types that adapt better to precision agriculture?
It just cannot be used in crops and regions that are uniform. The more variations, the greater economic return and benefit to the environment.
What are the main benefits of Precision Agriculture?
The main benefits are the economic return and, at the same time, a smaller impact on the environment, i.e., a contribution to the sustainability of our agriculture.
Is Precision agriculture still used less in Brazil in comparison with developed countries?
Many have already adopted precision agriculture and do not realize it. On the other hand, some think they are using PA just because they have a machine with GPS but are not effectively performing the management of spatial and temporal variability.
What effectively can be said is that,comparing with developed countries, although many people have heard of the concept of PA, it is still not well disseminated in Brazil.
Why has Embrapa decided to create the Precision Agriculture Network?
The network is a means to organize research. Since precision agriculture is a comprehensive theme that is not limited to a crop or region, the network is an appropriate form of organizing research and researchers.
What is the balance of the PA Network so far?
The balance is extremely positive. The synergy between Embrapa Units and its partners was expanded, and Embrapa reached the desired maturity on the theme.
How does the National Reference Laboratory in Precision Agriculture (Lanapre) work?
The Lanapre is an unprecedented place in Brazil, where it is possible to research and develop equipment, sensors, mechanical and electronics components, tested and validated in the field in a single location.
The facility counts with a computer system to handle the massive data generated in the field and to produce information for management in precision agriculture. Compatibility assessments of machinery and implements from different manufacturers to the ISOBUS international standard can also be performed in this space. Research should meet the demands for new knowledge, methodologies and technologies, scientifically basing the empirical understanding generated in the field.
The experimental agricultural automation field, with five hectares, of which Lanapre is part, is endowed with a greenhouse and small planting areas to support the development of evaluation methodologies, functions prototypes of machines, equipment, sensors, actuators and systems such as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).