The SLC Agrícola Group is a pioneer when it comes to adopting digital agriculture solutions. Pamplona Farm, one of its 16 properties that cover a total of 460,000 hectares, shows those technologies in large scale production.
The SLC Agrícola Group is one of Future Farming’s ”Top 10 most innovative arable farmers worldwide”. Future Farming is travelling around the world to visit farmers, both large and small, who are farming ahead of their colleagues or consider themselves a pioneer. SLC is one of the Top 10 nominees. We visited Pamplona Farm in order to find out why SLC are among the most innovative farms worldwide.
After more than 15 minutes of travelling by car surrounded by SLC´s plantations on both sides, we arrive at the property entrance. Despite its size, Pamplona Farm’s most impressive feature is not its 17,000 hectares, but the fact it forms a benchmark for precision agriculture tools and innovation.
High level of efficiency
Located in Luziânia (GO), around 80 km from Brasília (FD), this farm is one of 16 SLC properties across 6 Brazilian states. In total, they cover more than 460,000 hectares of Cerrado biome for the production of soybean (240,000 ha), maize (80,000 ha) and cotton (140,000 ha). Employing 2,600 workers, Pamplona Farm’s annual revenue amounts to R$ 2,5 billion (around € 600 million) due to a high level of efficiency.
“Our vocation for innovation begun with our foundation in 1945, because the group was focused on machinery and agricultural implements. We adopted precision tools in the 1990s, because technology is pivotal for competitiveness and better results. Since then, we are very committed to be an early adopter in Agriculture 4.0”, explains Gustavo Lunardi, SLC´s operation director.
Sensors at the gate
Many of their processes bring some kind of innovation or precision tool. Just before the Pamplona Farm entrance, for example, we could see sensors at the gate as a first view. This system identifies, follows and measures the performance of each of the 60 trucks that enter there every day to deliver materials or to load harvested products on a cutting edge digital scale.
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Sensors at the gate identify, follow and measure the performance of each of the 60 trucks that enter there every day to deliver materials or to load harvested products on a cutting edge digital scale. - Photos: Daniel de Azevedo
While crossing the gates, 2 yellow planes flew over; they were performing plantation mapping. A little further ahead we could see the farm head office and an impressive structure of warehouses and a factory for processing cotton and grains.
Beneficiation and storage
All sorts of innovative tools are applied in every part of the operation, as is standard on all of SLC´s locations in Brazil. The group has 11 improvement plants that have a production capacity of 5,900 bales per day, an internal space for the storage of 170,540 bales of cotton and of 26,800 tons of cottonseed.
In those plants beneficiation of cotton is taking place, transforming flowers into lint, fibrils and seeds of cotton. The plume cotton bales weigh 200 to 230 kg and undergo a rigorous classification process in a special room and laboratories.
There, large amounts of this fibre are classified according to visual characteristics and HVI (High Volume Instrument), thus establishing a uniform standard for all production. The “Classification Room” of SLC is in Pamplona Farm, where clients from all over the world are received. During our visit, this place was being rebuilt to improve international customer attendance.
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"Technology is pivotal for competitiveness and better results," says Gustavo Lunardi, SLC´s operation director.
18 modern reception units for grains
Regarding grains, the group has 18 modern reception units, providing infrastructure with capacity for reception, segregation and storage of soy, corn, wheat, sorghum, sunflower and other grains. The grains produced are stored in warehouses with controlled temperature and aeration. SLC Agrícola has a receiving capacity of 2,200 tons per hour and a storage capacity of 613,700 tons of products.
“This is the final step of a complete precision farming infrastructure. Pamplona Farm, for example, has 5 certifications: Responsible Brazilian Cotton (ABR), Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Certified Soy RTRS, Integrated Management System and ISO 9001 for its products and processes”, says Mr Lunardi.
The 2nd place we visited was the machinery yard, where an impressive fleet of machinery can be found. In 1979, SLC and John Deere started a joint venture to promote mechanisation in Brazilian agriculture. Due to this, the group was the first to introduce many high-tech machinery in Brazil. Despite influencing on SLC´s development, the association with John Deere ended 20 years later, but planters, tractors, combine harvesters and mowers are still there.
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In 1979, SLC and John Deere started a joint venture to promote mechanisation in Brazilian agriculture. The joint venture has ended, but many of the John Deere machines are still operational.
Currently, the group owns 219 tractors, 293 combine harvesters, 211 planters, 153 self-propelling sprayers and kilometres of central irrigation pivots all over its 16 farms.
The mechanisation area is responsible for maintaining machinery, implements and other vehicles, buying new equipment, user policies, and it’s always searching for new technologies that can improve efficiency and sustainability.
Variable rate fertilisation
SLC´s first step towards precision agriculture techniques was taken in the 90s, applying variable rate fertilisation. Mapping the fields, they started measuring nutrients distribution on each part of the field and applied fertiliser more precisely in order to save money and increase productivity.
“We have always seen technology as a tool to achieve a competitive advantage in agriculture. Precision agriculture techniques evolved into digital agriculture in the last decade. Since 2010, we have been working hard on the geo-referencing of plagues and diseases. Evolution is continuous”, says Mr Lunardi.
Gustavo Lunardi, SLC´s operation director:
When we have online connectivity on all parts of our fields, it will be possible to increase efficiency even further
Nowadays, their agronomical technicians use tablets, drones, sensors, satellite images and planes to gather highly detailed information on the fields. Using big data and machine learning software chemicals, fertilisers, seeds and water can be applied with great accuracy. The performance of the crops can also be monitored. In other words, using these digital agriculture techniques and devices the needs of the land and plants regarding all kinds of inputs or any other agronomical intervention can be identified much quicker than before.
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SLC's agronomical technician Leandro Silva holds one of the drones the company uses to gather highly detailed information on the fields.
Using big data and machine learning software chemicals, fertilisers, seeds and water can be applied with great accuracy. SLC's specialists are always looking for new and better tools and technology.
This year, Pamplona saw a production of 65 sacks of soybean per hectare, 320 arrobas of cotton and 120 sacks of maize. They already know how to do it even better. “When we have online connectivity on all parts of our fields, it will be possible to increase efficiency even further. Full potential of precision tools depends on connectivity”, says Mr Lunardi.
According to him, just having technological alternatives is not enough, but selecting the “right ones” is pivotal. Within SLC a department is fully dedicated to looking for new solutions and selecting the ones that are relevant to the company. In 2018, the group started a programme called “Agro Exponencial”. In this challenge start-ups and agtech companies can provide solutions for 9 agricultural, management and connectivity issues. The best “solution providers” for each category will receive support to develop their projects.
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Variations in temperature in the storage facility are being registered by digital thermometers.
Pamplona Farm has 5 certifications for cotton: Responsible Brazilian Cotton (ABR), Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Certified Soy RTRS, Integrated Management System and ISO 9001 for its products and processes.
Despite all the technology and innovation, as on any other farm, daily operations at Pamplona Farm are influenced by the weather, climate change, trade conflicts and/or political issues. Certainly, SLC has “an edge” thanks to its focus on precision farming technology, which helps the company achieve better yields, bigger profit and increased sustainability. But being successful in agriculture sometimes also depends on luck. In the beginning of May for example, they were praying for the rain to stop falling on their cotton fields; the heavy rainfall was about to cause a loss of 20% in crops. Some things just never change...
SLC Agrícola, 16 farms in 6 states, Brazil, 460,000 ha
SLC Agrícola belongs to SLC Group and is a company producing agricultural commodities, focused on the production of cotton, soybean and corn. It was one of the first companies in the sector with shares listed on stock exchanges in the world. There are 16 production sites in 6 Brazilian states, totalling 460,000 hectares during the 2018/19 crop – soybean (240,000), maize (80,000) and cotton (140,000) and 2,352 of other crops, such as wheat, corn seed and sugar cane. SLC employs 2,600 workers and achieves R$ 2,5 billion (€ 600 million) of annual revenue.