Smart farmers

Background

Digital agronomists the link between data and crops

The agricultural sector is experiencing a learning process in order to adopt innovative tools in Brazil. Knowledge and skills are demanded of agronomists, beyond digital techniques. They include a new mind set, personal relations and empathy.

Digital technologies are opening up an entire ‘new world’ regarding crop management. Producers’ and agronomists’ jobs are changing due to large amounts of data and tools they have at their disposal. However, how to incorporate these properly at a farm level, is still a learning process for most of them.

Challenges

Innovations enable more precise and faster grower’s decisions on each step of crop production. In theory that seems easy, but there are many challenges to take advantage of these developments properly in Brazil, and indeed across the world.

“I have always considered agronomists to be spreaders of technology, not just digital technology, but in general. Currently, digital agriculture is the big deal”, says Murilo Bettarello, founder of IZ Agro and agronomist.

“First of all, agronomists must know each agronomical issue on each crop they work with. Secondly, they should be updated about digital farming solutions. Finally, they have to select which tools could be effective for their client’s results. It is not a simple matter.”

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Murilo Bettarello argues that agronomists are the ones to disperse new digital technologies. He himself supports farmers with his IZ Agro. - Photo: Murilo Bettarello
Murilo Bettarello argues that agronomists are the ones to disperse new digital technologies. He himself supports farmers with his IZ Agro. - Photo: Murilo Bettarello

400 ag start-ups in Brazil

Just in Brazil, there are about 400 ag start-ups, dozens of companies and multiple needs on the farms. Where big agricultural companies already dedicate whole departments to select innovative solutions, small and medium-sized producers usually depend on technical advisors or start-up’s support for that.

“Sometimes there are simpler solutions, like IoT and some apps. Nevertheless, other inventions are more complex. Much of the software requires study, and even a technical background. I think that if producers want to, they can learn with technical support. Anyway, there are few digital farming consultants”, Mr Bettarello points out.

Data inputs

Usually, digital solutions work with data inputs (manual, sensors or cameras) that are processed by software to deliver clear recommendations about planting, inputs purchase, plagues and disease management, and also optimising harvests. According to Raphael Ivan, CEO of EAgro, agronomists and start-ups might share information about how those solutions work and support farmers learning processes.

EAgro is a managing platform that helps growers in each phase of soy, maize, coffee, sugar cane and fruits production. Their model includes a learning process about how to use its functionalities. The introduction process covers 4 phases: diagnosis (specific for each farm), implementation (training, data registration regarding machinery, financial topics, staff, etc), using it, and monitoring (for skill development within the platform).

Raphael Ivan, CEO of EAgro:

The role of the agronomist is essential, because he is closer to the farmer’s reality. He is the link between technology and the producer

“EAgro was created by farmers for farmers. The role of the agronomist is essential, because he is closer to the farmer’s reality. He is the link between technology and the producer”, Ivan says.

For example, EAgro provides solutions for 4 activities inside farms. In the case of the purchase of agricultural inputs, farmer and agronomist have at their disposal the complete history regarding stock, prices and average application about seeds, fertiliser, agrochemicals and machinery maintenance.

Track the crop’s performance

“Our solutions also track the crop’s performance. Monitoring is done by field agents who input data regarding several indexes of plants’ development. Like plant mass in relation to crop age, plague infestations and others. Thus, they can check how everything is going according historical patterns in each field”, Ivan explains.

About trade aspects: farmers can better estimate opportunities to sell their products because the software gives data regarding international prices and, moreover, about logistics to manage their fleet, for example. “Growers begin to get a more advanced understanding of their business. Some clients decreased their costs by 30%”, Mr Ivan says.

Agronomists are not programmers

José Paulo Molin, president of the Brazilian Precision Agriculture Association and professor at Esalq, argues that agronomists are not programmers. Their role is to interface between innovation and improvement opportunities on farms.

“Digital farming is in a start-up phase. Agriculture involves many aspects like weather, soil, seeds, plagues and diseases, and every crop has its own features. Agronomists cannot solve everything, merely because their knowledge already covers a wide range”, Mr Molin says.

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Professor Molin, president of the Brazilian Precision Agriculture Association, describes how universities are struggling to educate fast enough on the digital farming revolution. - Photo: Flávia Romanelli
Professor Molin, president of the Brazilian Precision Agriculture Association, describes how universities are struggling to educate fast enough on the digital farming revolution. - Photo: Flávia Romanelli

According to him, Brazil does not yet have those new techniques on graduation programmes, despite its 330 agronomy courses. “Adding further courses means to remove others. So, universities face a kind of stand still, while digital solutions pop up rapidly”, Mr Molin explains.

“There is not one magic innovative tool for all agricultural issues. Anyway, being multidisciplinary and thinking independently are vital for those who want to work in this area”, he concludes.

Mind the human factor

HR director for Bayer Crop Science, Flavia Ramos, explains that simply knowing about and managing new techniques is not enough. Self-knowledge and interpersonal skills are increasingly crucial. “Digital transformation adds a lot of value to the producer and society. It is most essential that talents are willing to learn constantly, as techniques and tools will evolve continuously”, Ms Ramos says.
According to her, the professional needs a new mind set to be able to feel comfortable in uncomfortable contexts, and be innovative in an environment composed of many factors such as volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
“Lifelong learning professionals are key to keep up with technological advances. They are quick to adapt to new contexts, break paradigms, co-create and learn fast.
Emotional intelligence will be essential. So, invest in self-knowledge, empathy, and build emotionally healthy bonds”, she concludes.

Flavia Ramos underlines the human factor in technological adoption. - Photo: Bayer
Flavia Ramos underlines the human factor in technological adoption. - Photo: Bayer

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