Agribusiness technology trends for 2021: what to expect from the sector that grew the most during the pandemic?

AI, Edge Analytics, and automation are some of the top wagers for the agricultural market next year.

23 December 2020
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In 2020, agribusiness was one of the only sectors that managed to grow, even in the midst of the pandemic. From January to September, agriculture recorded an advance of 2.4% in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) compared to the same period in 2019, different from the areas of industry and services, which suffered declines.

Much of these positive results for agribusiness are due to investment in technology. The speed of implementation of innovations in the sector has grown more and more, bringing increases in productivity and process efficiency.

In 2021, it should be no different. New technologies and improved solutions should further contribute to the achievement of digital agriculture. Bernardo de Castro, president of Hexagon's Agriculture division, a digital solutions company for the field, points out five trends for the coming year:

1- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already gaining ground in Brazil and, in 2021, it should be consolidated alongside machine learning. Not by chance, the Brazilian government announced the creation of the Artificial Intelligence Innovation Network, which is expected to invest more than BRL 140 million in AI projects - with almost 30% of this total focused on agribusiness and the automotive sector.

One of the applications of AI in the field, for example, happens in relation to diagnostics and predictability. The technology works by processing data received from agricultural machinery, designing scenarios, anticipating undesirable situations, and making recommendations in real time for the machines, in order to avoid waste, promote savings and optimisation of productivity.

For the future, technology is expected to better understand the field and its needs, improving databases, and reading, and increasing accuracy.

2 - Autonomous equipment

Along with AI advancement comes process automation. In the industry, the vision of factories with assembly of robotic products is already common, but in the field, this technology is still moving towards a practical application.

However, there is no shortage of projects by large companies that want to bring autonomy to the agricultural market through fully automated machinery. Equipment without cabins, controlled through computers or smartphones, should be a reality soon, resulting in synchronised and more efficient activities.

3 - Internet of Things and Edge Analytics

The Internet of Things (IoT) is already a trend in agribusiness, especially with sensors and on-board computers used in agricultural machines and connected to the Internet. For 2021, the focus is on a specialisation of this technology, Edge Analytics.

The idea of this new area is to analyse the data collected in the equipment itself, without the need to send it to a processing centre. In an agricultural spraying activity, for example, the use of this technology would enable sensory devices to determine alone which area should be sprayed, using the collected data. The advantage is speed in actions.

4 - Drones and sensors

Equipment such as sensors and drones should become widespread in the field next year. With these, 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. The analysis of the behaviour of machines with sensors also favours the identification of more economical and efficient practices, supporting companies in improving their activities.

5 - Mobile applications

Another trend for 2021 that should strengthen the digital transformation in the field is the use of smartphones and tablets in integration with existing solutions in the agricultural market.

The idea is that information collected by on-board computers, for example, which was previously transmitted to control centres, can be monitored directly from these mobile devices. This will facilitate the management and monitoring of processes.