Brazilian technology increases efficiency of palm oil production in Asia

The innovative system, responsible for controlling the application of inputs, is estimated to reduce approximately 7% of the operating costs of this crop.

18 March 2022
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Hexagon's Agriculture division has developed a technology specially to solve a challenge of Indonesia's palm oil production — a country which, together with Malaysia, represents 85% of the global supply of the product. Working as a control system capable of standardising the application of inputs, the innovative equipment acts to reduce failures and waste and increase productivity, which promotes savings of up to 7% in operating costs, according to estimates.

"Indonesia is a country in rapid population and economic development and represents an important market in the forest area. We took our technologies to support this segment, and, from this, we identified a strong demand from palm oil producers, which was reflected in an opportunity with great potential," explains the Executive of Strategic Accounts at Hexagon's Agriculture division, Fabio Neumann. The country's production, which is a leader in the sector, is expected to increase 2.95% in 2022, reaching 48 million tons, according to the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI).

Although the crop is similar to forest production in some points, there are particularities, such as very small fertilisation implements compared to those used in other crops. “In Brazil, fast-tracking machines are large, accumulate an average of 5 tons of inputs, while Indonesia's implementation takes a ton at most,” Neumann says. These implements are installed in the third point of the tractor and have an opening with manual adjustment, which is made at the beginning of the operation. Because of this, the application ends up not having a dosage control, considering that the released input varies according to the tractor speed. If the right dose is applied at 4 km/h and the tractor is slower, the application is greater, wasting inputs. Likewise, if the tractor moves faster, the release of inputs is lower, generating failures.

In view of this demand from the local market, Hexagon developed an innovative system to regulate the application in these implements. The feature consists of an automatic electric lever that is installed on the equipment and varies the existing opening according to the tractor speed, making adjustments every second so that the ideal amount of inputs is released, which was impossible manually.

The new solution was tested in local productions and has been showing positive results. The estimate is that, initially, a reduction of about 5% in the amount of fertilisers applied per hectare was generated, a saving of 6.7% of fuels, an increase of 10% in the hours of effective work of the machines and 3.8% in the productivity per hectare (based on the ton of fruit collected). With all the results, the technology is expected to cause a reduction of up to 7% in the operational cost of palm oil production. "The solution allows the management of more information related to the areas of application of inputs and use of machines, which guarantees greater control of the fleet in the field in general," reinforces Neumann.

This increase in productivity is also important for environmental reasons, considering that the expansion of areas focused on palm oil production generates deforestation and biodiversity degradation. At the same time, the product is important for global food security and economic development — according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), currently, about half of the world's population depends on this oil as part of their diets. "The demand for palm oil is expected to grow 1.7% per year by 2050 and trying to replace it with another oilseed is not a solution, considering that it can produce up to nine times more oil per unit area than other crops, such as soybeans and sunflowers. Therefore, it is important to seek these ways to increase production without needing to expand areas," says Fabio Neumann, who also highlights the importance of technology for companies to be able to audit data related to their production and the use of fertilisers.

The Account Executive explains that the idea is to now take the solution to Malaysia, the second largest producer of palm oil in the world. Furthermore, the company should expand its operations in Asia with other technologies already in its portfolio, aiming to contribute to the automation and monitoring of machines and further increase the efficiency of operations. In Brazil, the Agriculture division is in partnership with Agropalma, which operates with the production of palm oil in Pará (Brazil).

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