Digital and connected field: what is missing to get there?

By Bernardo de Castro, president of Hexagon's Agriculture division.

Digital and connected field

08 June 2021

More than 60% of agricultural growth in recent years has been due to the adoption of technology. With resources such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Business Intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT) - just to name a few examples — we have increasingly innovative tools available to managers and producers, allowing the achievement of productive results and reduction of expenses.

However, there is still a long way to go to reach an effectively digital field, at least in Brazil. This is because most agricultural technologies depend on a good connection and, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), only 41% of the rural population has access to the internet. Some of the main barriers to this digital transformation are the lack of availability, the difficulty of access in large and remote areas and the high cost of internet services.

One of the reasons for this gap in rural areas is the strong direction of telephone companies to urban centres. For many years, these were the areas that concentrated most of the technological needs, which only arrived in the field later.

It was in the last decade that we witnessed the true exponential growth of technology on farms — including the manufacture of agricultural machinery prepared for this connection. As a result, of course, the demand for connectivity also grew, which gradually caught the attention of telephone companies. Thus, only recently have we been able to follow a movement effectively concerned with taking the deployment of internet stations to the field.

Access to digital transformation

Another important point to highlight is the significant difference in access to existing resources. Today, although there are technologies with accessible functionalities and values for all types and sizes of operations, we realise that, while large companies can invest in alternatives for connection, small producers remain without internet in their rural areas and, therefore, without being able to count on all the innovation available.

This is a problem that needs to be overcome to massify the use of information technologies in the field. Currently, 84% of producers and providers of rural services make use of at least one digital technology for the benefit of agricultural production, according to research carried out by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Company (Embrapa), the Brazilian Support Service for Micro and Small Enterprises (Sebrae) and the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). That is, there is no lack of interest in technology, but lack of access — without connection, the adoption of several more advanced features becomes unfeasible.

Of course, there are some alternatives that try to get around the problem. Here in Hexagon's Agriculture division, for example, the products offer various connectivity options, such as between displays from one machine to another and between displays and mobile devices, as well as integration with more sophisticated transmission systems, such as satellites. The combination of these technologies helps data to be collected and reach decision makers and property managers, albeit with limitations.

However, higher levels of connectivity in the field are needed to promote digital transformation in an agile manner.

The field towards a more efficient future

Today, there are already numerous technological resources, such as hardware, software and sensors, which allow monitoring the processes in the field and the health of plantations, assessing climatic and environmental conditions and monitoring agricultural equipment. However, without internet coverage, one misses the opportunity to take advantage of these precision agriculture tools in their entirety, as there is no way to transmit data and correct problems in real time. This also loses the benefits resulting from it, such as increased productivity and cost reduction.

Therefore, it is urgently necessary to look at the connectivity of rural areas, studying the points that hinder the arrival of signal, thinking of ways to combat them and developing more effective solutions.

Furthermore, we must not forget that, in order for the connection to effectively materialise in the field, it is necessary to invest in access to information on digital agriculture for small producers who are not yet aware of its benefits. Integrating this population and reducing technological backwardness and inequalities is a challenge that we need to overcome. After all, if today we are already a power in agribusiness, with connection for all, we can become the world's largest reference in the sector.