How Big Data is revolutionising Agribusiness

Technology provides predictability and allows decision making for greater productivity and savings. The next step should be fully autonomous agricultural machines.

07 December 2020
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Professionals in the field have always made their decisions based on data. First, it was the data collected through experience and observation; then, with the introduction of basic tools, such as rain gauges. Today, with the digital transformation, cutting edge technologies are now in complete control of the most diverse metrics, consolidating the era of Big Data with optimisation of field operations and automation.

“Big Data comes as a successor to Business Intelligence, BI, which would use a company's internal data to generate insights. Only this was in a limited volume, such as in an Excel spreadsheet. In the past six years or so, we have been able to integrate many more metrics, including variables from outside the company”, Alexandre de Alencar comments, Director of Research and Development of Hexagon's Agriculture division, which develops digital solutions for the field.

Three factors are essential to strengthen this trend: very high speed, ensured by big cloud providers; the variety of information, which is increasingly accessible; and the giant volume of data, ensured by the increase in sensors and technologies. “Big data basically consists of collecting, organising and analysing this large number of metrics so that standards and relationships are achieved that help to develop strategic actions”, Alencar summarises.

In agribusiness, technology has accompanied the increase in the mechanisation of activities, which allowed onboard controllers to be installed in agricultural machinery. “These computers have sensors that record hundreds of pieces information every second, from the simplest, about the machine's speed or its fuel level, to the most complex, such as hydraulic flows, control activation and sensor reading", the director of R&D explains. All of this goes straight to remote cloud bases, where the data can even be crosschecked with other variables in the agricultural environment.

From predictability to automation: the advantages of Big Data

One of the main benefits of Big Data today is predictability, which allows more assertive decisions to be made and, indirectly, brings an increase in the productivity and efficiency of crops.

“Imagine that, in the middle of an agricultural process, one of the harvesters breaks down. The tractor and trailer that accompany it will also have to stop, as will its operators, who won´t be able to work until the mechanic arrives - which can take a while, if the machine is in the middle of the field. All this time and resources are wasted and it ends up generating a ripple effect in the following days”, Alencar comments.

With Big Data, the status of the machines is constantly monitored, which results in a forecast about the need for maintenance. Therefore, just schedule the activity in advance, stopping for less time or even allocating reserve machines on the scheduled date.

The technology also allows the condition of the soil, variations in temperature, humidity indexes, wind speed and other aspects to be monitored, helping in very specific choices, such as the ideal furrow and planting depth or application of a certain herbicide dosage in part of the plantation. The techniques result in reducing input waste, more quality in production and, consequently, an increase in profits.

Currently, Hexagon's Agriculture division already offers a portfolio of products with Big Data. “We have different solutions applying this type of technology, ranging from predictive maintenance of equipment to steering direction of the machines, so that the operator can perform activities more efficiently, both in terms of the quality of the work performed and also with savings in fuel costs”, the R&D director comments.

The company also already offers an auto steering solution, which is the basis for the next technological advance in agriculture: fully autonomous machines. “Certainly, the future of Big Data is in the line of automation. For an autonomous machine not to make mistakes or cause accidents, it needs this immense volume of information coming from sensors, which are transformed into decisions supported by another technology, Machine Learning”.

For Alexandre, what remains to accelerate Big Data in the country even more is communication in the field. “The percentage of coverage in the Brazilian field today is still low, very different from the reality in the United States and Europe, for example. This is one of the great challenges to make this technology feasible in the coming years, and thus we will be able to reap the results expected from it”, he comments.

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