Smart farmers

Background

Agtech helps sugarcane grower face COVID-19 crisis

How precision farming technology compensates for plummeting ethanol and sugar cane prices.

Sugar cane is Brazil’s main agricultural product in terms of volume (600 million tons). It’s also pivotal for the production of biofuel – ethanol accounts for 47.5% of the fuel consumed by vehicles in Brazil. As a consequence, the sector has been strongly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused ethanol and petroleum prices to fall globally.

Where a lot of sugar cane growers are struggling, others manage to keep their business profitable with the help of basic precision farming technologies. One of these growers is Eduardo Luis Botaro, owner of Fazenda Diamante, which has been improving its business structure since 2017.

GPS and autopilot systems

His family owns 1,400 ha in the municipality of Descalvado, São Paulo state, and covers 800 ha using “systematised procedures”, as Eduardo calls it. This includes tractors, planters and harvesters equipped with GPS and autopilot systems.

According to Eduardo, when the planting is done in perfect parallel rows, efficiency increases in several aspects, such as harvesting, cleaning the field and use of herbicides.

Text continues underneath image

Eduardo Luis Botaro, owner of Fazenda Diamante, in front of his massive John Deere sugar cane harvester. - Photo: Eduardo Luis Botaro
Eduardo Luis Botaro, owner of Fazenda Diamante, in front of his massive John Deere sugar cane harvester. - Photo: Eduardo Luis Botaro

5 to 10% decrease in costs

Eduardo says that maintaining a perfect 1,5 meter of space between the rows with the help of GPS and autopilot, has led to a 5 to 10% decrease in costs for his entire operation. And he says there are more benefits. Machinery is being used more efficiently, straw can be removed with less risk of sprouting, and damaging the leaves while applying pesticides can be avoided.

It’s small improvements like these that improve your bottom line. They make all the difference

“The increase in efficiency meant I earned my investment – and then some – back in one season, just because we were able to save costs during planting and harvesting and because we don’t use more chemicals than is absolutely necessary. It’s small improvements like these that improve your bottom line. They make all the difference,” says Eduardo.

Rex monitoring system

The Fazenda Diamante (Diamond Farm) has adopted a monitoring system called “Rex” which collects data from the harvester regarding several indexes such as temperature, speed, rpm, route and others. This information is sent to Eduardo´s smartphone in real time in order for him to be able to monitor the operation. Internet connectivity is available on around 90% of the farm property.

“This is very important because it allows me to monitor and control ongoing processes. It has quite a big impact on the quality of our entire operation. It also allows us to prevent machinery breakdowns by doing preventive maintenance,” says Eduardo.

Text continues underneath image

Maintaining a perfect 1,5 meter of space between the rows with the help of GPS and autopilot, has led to a 5 to 10% decrease in costs for Eduardo's entire operation. - Photo: Eduardo Luis Botaro
Maintaining a perfect 1,5 meter of space between the rows with the help of GPS and autopilot, has led to a 5 to 10% decrease in costs for Eduardo's entire operation. - Photo: Eduardo Luis Botaro

Driving speed of the sugar cane harvester

He emphasises the importance of the driving speed of the sugar cane harvester. A sugar cane plant has sprouts. If the harvester drives too fast, it could damage the sprouts and shorten the longevity of the plants. Some areas can yield a good harvest for uptil five seasons, so it’s important not to damage the plants.

“In areas where new sugar canes are planted, you must maintain a driving speed of 2 kilometers per hour in order to get 150 ton per hectare. In areas where there are older plants, you can increase the speed to 3 kilometer per hour and harvest 80 ton. It alle depends on the area you‘re in and on how old the plants are.”

Text continues underneath image

The monitoring system called “Rex” collects data from the harvester regarding temperature, speed, rpm, route and others. This information is sent to Eduardos smartphone in real time. - Photo: Eduardo Luis Botaro
The monitoring system called “Rex” collects data from the harvester regarding temperature, speed, rpm, route and others. This information is sent to Eduardos smartphone in real time. - Photo: Eduardo Luis Botaro

Plummeting ethanol prices

Eduardo sells his harvest on the spot market. He has no signed contract for this season. In January, the prospects for sugarcane producers were great. But then the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, resulting in a global economic crisis. By April, most sugar cane producers in Brazil were desperate. The sugar cane harvest season runs from April to November. Currently, ethanol prices have plummeted, and sugar cane growers are getting a lot less money for their product than they need.

There are exceptions however, and one of them is Eduardo. “Our ATR levels (total recoverable sugars) have increased, and there is less straw in the harvest, which means we‘re getting a better price for our product. Obviously, they‘re not the prices we were hoping for earlier this year, but they are not that much lower than expected. In addition, we‘ve been able to recuce our production costs, which means our bottom line is good.”

Drones

Eduardo says precision farming technologies make his business more resilient to market fluctuations, and are helping him getting better prices for his product because the quality increases. Therefore he plans to keep investing in technology. Next on the list are drones, for crop scouting and crop spraying, which will help him rise above future storms.

Sugar cane harvest at Fazenda Diamante in Descalvado, Brazil. - Photo: Eduardo Luis Botaro
Sugar cane harvest at Fazenda Diamante in Descalvado, Brazil. - Photo: Eduardo Luis Botaro

Or register to be able to comment.