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How did PepsiCo´s tech tropicalize potato crops in Brazil?

03-10-2023 | |
PepsiCo currently has around 25 partner farmers in Brazil for potato production some of them during almost 30 years.  - Photos: Johnnis Alves
PepsiCo currently has around 25 partner farmers in Brazil for potato production some of them during almost 30 years. - Photos: Johnnis Alves

The international company PepsiCo doubled the productivity of 25 partner potato farmers. Furthermore PepsiCo owns in Brazil three demonstration farms, called Demo Farms, which serve as a model for new cultivation technologies.

Chip potatoes are a favorite snack all around the globe, but making this tubercle highly productive is challenging under Brazilian climate and soil conditions. That´s why PepsiCo has been building strong partnerships with producers for the last 30 years through sharing technology.

Brazil has a huge internal market with around 203 million inhabitants and guaranteeing a potato supply is crucial to the international company in the country. “Therefore, this is a crop that we have worked on a lot to tropicalize its production”, says Ricardo Galvão, Agribusiness director at PepsiCo Brazil.

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Ricardo Galvão, agribusiness director at PepsiCo Brazil.
Ricardo Galvão, agribusiness director at PepsiCo Brazil.

Currently, the international company buys up to 35% of Brazilian chip potato production (around 125,000 tons) from 25 farmers which increased, on average, their productivity by 100% in two decades. According to Galvão, PepsiCo´s technological pack covers several fronts: genetics, predictive production, drone monitoring, soil sensors, data analysis, and smart irrigation amongst others. “Together with our partner farmers, we have always sought to increase productivity and quality. Today, we have producers with very professionalized crop management and a very interesting degree of adherence to cutting-edge Technologies”, adds.

Patented potato genetics

Originally, potatoes came from the Andes, which are high altitudes and cold lands. Brazilian conditions, mostly, are exactly the opposite, with relatively low areas and warm temperatures. Thus, PepsiCo started developing its patented potato genetics for Brazilian farmers. Currently, the so-called Fritolays correspond to 75% of their producer’s crops.

“These are potatoes that we have developed to ensure better performance in different regions of the country. Our partner farmers have adopted them, however, there are 25% of the Atlantic variety, which has the public domain”, explains Galvão.

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Brazil´s weather and soil conditions require further measures for efficient potato production.
Brazil´s weather and soil conditions require further measures for efficient potato production.

Predictive farming

Brazil´s weather and soil conditions require further measures for efficient potato production. Among them, Mr. Galvão quotes advanced monitoring and management systems, in addition to specific tools such as drones or irrigation equipment. “These technologies are already being used by local potato producers in Brazil from the partnership with PepsiCo. It makes productivity increase, costs reduce and sustainability grows”, he said.

The executive listed some of these solutions already applied by their Brazilian potato suppliers:

  • The software Crop Talk allows 72% of PepsiCo suppliers to consult a real-time data bank to make better decisions on climate, plagues, and water.
  • The AgroScout is a monitoring technology carried by drones, already taken by 53% of partners, which is capable of monitoring 5,000 plants in 20 minutes.
  • CropX soil sensors make mapping of regions and micro-regions in the country with details of their environmental and climatic conditions.
  • Power BI for management in 100% of PepsiCo partners
  • Smart irrigation systems in 50% of their partners, which provide more efficient irrigation technologies and reduce water use in crops.

Long-term partners

PepsiCo currently has around 25 partner farmers in Brazil for potato production some of them during almost 30 years. Some families are already in the third generation of their relationship with the company. They cultivate approximately 300 potato production fields per year, which leads to the generation of 2,000 direct jobs and around 5,000 indirect Jobs, in six Brazilian states (Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Goiás, Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul).

We are expanding the areas of our demonstration farms to double the number of hectares by 2030

“Our partnership program with producers has a long-term vision and a much more solid relationship. It helps us face obstacles more assertively and with the exchange of experiences and contracts that aim to benefit both parties”, comments Mr. Galvão. According to him, PepsiCo´s main mission is to monitor and develop good and advanced agricultural practices with the producers to produce the best potatoes in the Brazilian market under its ESG strategy.

For example, the program establishes 150 requirements that those farmers need to meet to prove their potatoes as 100% sustainable. This goal has been accomplished since 2019.

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The partnership program establishes 150 requirements that farmers need to meet to prove their potatoes as 100% sustainable.
The partnership program establishes 150 requirements that farmers need to meet to prove their potatoes as 100% sustainable.

Next step: regenerative potatoes

PepsiCo owns also in Brazil three demonstration farms, called Demo Farms, which serve as a model for new cultivation technologies and the application of Regenerative Agriculture practices. “We are expanding the areas of our demonstration farms to double the number of hectares by 2030. On these “Demo farms”, we implement soil cover, preventing erosion and improving the health of soils, as well as application of low-carbon fertilizers, among other practices. After that, we share the approved technologies with our partner producers”, adds.

The initiative is included in the ´Positive Farm Outcomes Fund´, launched globally in August 2021, when PepsiCo offers tools and support to accelerate innovative projects within the Positive Agriculture pillar. The investments are designed to ‘jumpstart’ promising initiatives, accelerating the development of innovative technologies and approaches that can help expand the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices around the world.

Investments in projects

Throughout 2021 and 2022, the Positive Agricultural Results Fund invested in more than 20 different projects, to reach US$ 27 million by 2026. Worldly, PepsiCo aims to implement regenerative agricultural practices on 2.8 million hectares by 2030. This area is equivalent to almost 100% of the land used worldwide to grow crops and supply inputs to PepsiCo.

Partner farmers already maintain a set of practices that improve and restore ecosystems while creating resilience

“In Brazil, this program supports partnerships with public agricultural research institutions and universities to help potato producers improve soil health, with tests already being carried out on the company’s demonstration farms”, details. The project seeks to establish protocols that allow the identification of biological conditions of the soil in potato production areas, recovering problematic areas, to reduce CO2 emissions and disease incidence.

Improving soil health and biodiversity

Mr. Galvão says partner farmers already maintain a set of practices that improve and restore ecosystems while creating resilience. In short, its actions include improving soil health; sequestering carbon and reducing emissions; improving watershed health; protecting biodiversity, and strengthen farmers’ livelihoods.

“Brazilian producers use different techniques to restore and bring back life to different types of soil, such as maintaining the soil with a vegetable cover in the off-season, researching varieties of forage plants that bring better results in soil health and also preventing erosion”, counts.

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Azevedo
Daniel Azevedo Freelance correspondent in Brazil





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