How Farming Automation is Changing Agriculture

11 January 2021
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Talking about automation by itself can be a very broad concept, we could be talking about processes that have been automated to streamline the day-to-day life of companies, such as robotic arms working in an automotive industry, for example. Some people think immediately of computer-controlled cars and planes. An automated system is when the mechanism itself controls and verifies its operation, performing measurements and corrections, without the need for human interference.

All this is already a reality in the modern society we live in, but what is farming automation? In this article we will explore this concept a little, present what technologies are already a reality in the field, the impact of automation in agriculture, its benefits and you will understand how these technologies are changing global agribusiness.

What is farming automation?
According to Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation), farming automation can be understood as a system in which the operational processes of agricultural, livestock and/or forestry production are monitored, controlled and executed through mechanical, electronic or computational machines and/or devices, thus expanding human work capacity.

Thus, it is possible to understand how automation in agriculture can be efficient in generating positive results at the end of the production chain, generating higher quality of raw material, improving the productivity of machines and resources, and reducing losses etc. For farming automation to become a reality on farms in Brazil and the world, it was necessary to develop advanced technologies and automation in agriculture, improve existing techniques and deep knowledge in the processes of cultivation, harvesting and transportation.

As much as we are influenced to think of large robots harvesting crops, automatic agriculture has a lot of "technology invisible to the eyes" acting behind all processes. Here we are talking about innovations such as Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence, etc., which are the main trends in the agricultural market in the coming years.

Learn about some farming automation technologies.
The agricultural sector is one of the fastest growing in the world, even when other sectors are in crisis, agriculture continues to grow. Much of these positive results are due to investment in technology and innovation to produce more and more in the same space, with the same resources and spending less. We list below some technologies already available in the field for automation in agriculture.

Autonomous Tractors
With precision agriculture well established on farms, it is not difficult to find a tractor with auto steering that dispenses with the operator's hand on the steering wheel, improving the stability of the passes and generating great savings in operation. But what if the tractor of the future doesn't have to have a cabin? Many companies, such as Hexagon, already have sufficient technologies to provide agricultural machine manufacturers with tractors that will no longer need the operator in the cab.

In order for a tractor to be considered autonomous, in addition to moving without human intervention, it needs to adjust speed, avoid obstacles, and also provide all the operation data so that it is possible to control everything that happens while it is in the field, from inside the office.

Although autonomous tractors are an innovation, they use several other technologies that are not necessarily that new. The creation of these machines was only possible through GPS and communication systems, telemetry, sensors and cameras, the combination of all these apparatuses enabled agricultural administrations to monitor and control extremely precisely their entire operation, without being in the field.

Drones
By definition, a drone is an unmanned and remotely controlled aerial vehicle for carrying out various activities. The most common of these is for capturing photos and videos, but drones are used for high-complexity activities as well. In agriculture, it is possible to monitor every second of what is done in the rural area and monitor every centimetre of the plantation. An example that has grown in this sense is the use of images collected by drones for the detection of diseases or pests in huge plantations, which allows us to verify where it is really necessary to act in the application of inputs.

Automated processes
Agricultural processes can also benefit from automation in agriculture. We are talking about planting, crop treatments and harvesting. Of course, there are autonomous machines to carry out these activities, which in addition to becoming more agile and safe, generate data so that each cycle is even more efficient. Another determining factor to opt for an automated operation is that the availability of labour is decreasing every day, thus increasing the yield of production is decisive in maintaining the competitiveness of the operation.

Through optimised planning systems and predictive analysis, it is possible to monitor the entire production cycle, from seed planting and cultural treatments to harvesting and transportation of the raw material, to obtain intelligent information and to visualise the planning with what is being carried out and readjust the operations, if necessary. Having data available in real time enables managers of agricultural companies to reduce losses of damage at the time when unforeseen events are happening.

It is still possible to count on software and systems, which with Big Data and Artificial Intelligence not only indicate that something unplanned is happening, but also indicate possible scenarios depending on the decision to be made. With so much information available and organised in their favour, it is much easier to improve the costs of agricultural operations and generate quality in the harvest. And in this automation process, everyone wins! Below we list some of the benefits of investing in automation in agricultural operations, check it out.

What are the benefits of investing in automated agriculture?
As we have seen, the impact of farming automation can generate many benefits for operations, not only for large companies, but for small crops as well. What all sectors always seek is cost reduction, obviously to increase the profitability of production. But in practice, what does that mean? Continue reading and we will present the advantages of investing in agricultural automation.

  1. Work efficiency
    It is no use producing more and reducing costs if the precision of the work done is not ideal. Automating means reducing human intervention to make room for parameterised operations from data already known and letting the machine itself carry out the work, using its technologies. As such, it is necessary that your sensors are calibrated and your data updated, so it will be possible to perform a job so accurately that no operator would be able to do it manually. And it is at this moment, with the operation being carried out and controlled millimetre by millimetre, second by second, that it is possible to optimise the planted area and the inputs used, ensuring a high-quality harvest.

  2. Greater quality
    How to have better harvest quality through the automation of field operations? Applying agrochemicals in the ideal amount in each area, with fewer overruns and excess applications, preventing damaged seeds from being planted and monitoring every step of the machine so as not to damage seedlings. All this is possible with automated agriculture.

  3. Sustainability
    With the precision of automated work, we guarantee the use of agrochemicals only in the amount necessary to keep the final product in ideal conditions, in addition to less waste in the harvest, as there will be less damage and higher quality of the final product. All this guarantees a more sustainable agricultural operation for the producer and for the environment.

  4. Advantages for the final consumer
    With a more profitable operation, a higher quality final product and more sustainability in the production chain, the final consumer really wins, as they will have at their disposal a high-quality product and better use of the raw material.

Futuristic technologies that seemed very distant are already a reality in global agriculture: tractors without cabs, drones that indicate where pests are located, and mechanised planting and harvesting. Innovations can bring more productivity and profitability to operations, but it is necessary to know how to operate and maintain calibrated sensors so that the activity continues to be carried out accurately.

Now that you have understood how it is possible that technology applied to machines, data, inputs, and resources can work in favour of agriculture, how about using innovative solutions in your operation?

Contact us to understand how Hexagon is developing solutions for farming automation.

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