Despite advances in forestry technology, the potential of precision forestry is still little explored

Only 39% of forestry companies use precision systems in their implements, according to a national study

29 June 2022

Currently, Brazil is the largest exporter of cellulose in the world, with about nine million hectares of forests planted according to estimates by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). The advances in the area in recent years are clear, with the country always innovating, especially in the crops of the genera Eucalyptus and Pinus. However, in order not to lose this competitiveness, it is necessary to invest in more technology, especially in the field of forestry.

According to the study “Survey of the Level of Mechanisation in Forestry 2020/2021”, carried out by the Forestry Research and Study Institute (IPEF) with 20 large companies in the sector, only 39% of the implements used in forestry operations have a precision system. The report reinforces that, although the harvesting and transport of timber has evolved significantly in previous decades, forestry is still far from fulfilling its full potential. 

One of the challenges that contributes to this scenario is the duration of forest cultivation — which, unlike agricultural cultivation, shows return only after years or decades. Furthermore, the forestry market is much smaller: in Brazil, there are 65 million hectares in agricultural plantations, compared to only 9 million in forest farms. This also contributes to the lack of a strong culture of technology in the market, considering that several companies do not see this investment as a priority.

But despite the challenges surrounding the sector, Brazil remains an international highlight. “We started serving the forestry sector in 2006 and we see the changes it has undergone since then. Its potential gains from the use of digital innovations are enormous, such as increased efficiency and profitability," points out Bernardo de Castro, president of Hexagon's Agriculture division. The company, which develops digital solutions for agricultural and forestry operations, has already recorded the monitoring of more than 5 million hectares of forest planted worldwide with its technologies. 

Productivity in the planting and application of inputs
As in agriculture, precision forestry emerged to maximise productivity on the farm from actions and interventions carried out accurately. One of its instruments, for example, is the autopilot, which enables automated navigation of tractors, machines and forest implements. Thus, it is ensured that operations such as planting and application of input happen on the planned route, with alignment and minimisation of overpass in the soil.

Precision can also be obtained by tools such as planting controllers, which reduce failures, avoid risk situations and make better spacing between seedlings by controlling sections in the machines. "At Hexagon, for example, in addition to the standard planting controller, we developed a solution focused especially on working with excavators, even in uphill and downhill areas," points out Bernardo de Castro. 

With the aid of sensors that indicate the position and orientation of the machine and the inclination of its rods, the software points out the displacement and positioning necessary for the placement of seedlings or the opening of pits to be made inside the target. "Despite market advances in recent years, shovel planting still has a failure rate of about 30%. HxGN AgrOn Planting Assistant was specially developed to change this scenario, "adds the president of Hexagon's Agriculture division.

Another topic inherent in precision forestry is the concern with the specific characteristics of each plant and the region in which it is located. One way to act on this front is with the support of input controllers. Today, there are already technologies that regulate and automate the application of fertilisers, herbicides and formicidal baits intelligently, avoiding waste, overlaps and failures in the operation. Innovative systems even show the coverage of the application area in real time, allowing adjustments throughout operations. 

However, for these tools to be applied with maximum effectiveness, it is essential that the sector continues to advance in obtaining and analyzing geo-referenced data — which is a challenge, especially due to the lack of connection in forest areas.  Without internet coverage, the opportunity to take advantage of these precision equipment in its entirety is lost, since there is no way to transmit data and correct problems with agility. Therefore, it is necessary to look at the connectivity of these zones, studying the points that hinder the signal arrival, thinking about ways to combat them and developing more effective solutions.

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