The Brazilian Conference on Precision Agriculture (ConBAP 2014) was held in the city of Sao Pedro and was the largest attended to-date with over 340 attendees. I had the pleasure to attend this conference while meeting many new friends that had unique technology and management solutions for improving crop production in Brazil and worldwide. The conference itself provided an excellent overview of the state of precision agriculture across Brazil and had a good blend of academia, industry, consultants and other technology experts giving both presentations and networking.
The largely Brazil-based vendor area was full of energy during breaks. Many discussions mirrored topics common in the U.S., but also differed on the issue of how to move precision ag forward in different regions of Brazil. I was impressed with the soil sampling equipment and variable-rate solutions that I had not seen in other countries. You could tell grid or zone soil sampling followed by variable-rate fertilizer application had become a substantial practice in many crops. However, there were several U.S.-based companies represented either as an company or being offered under a Brazilian dealer, including Precision Planting, Raven, Ag Leader, John Deere and Trimble.
Presentations focused primarily on sugarcane, cotton, corn and soybeans. Most topics dealt with technology and site-specific practices in these crops, but citrus and other specialty crops were also discussed. Variable-rate application of fertilizer in corn and how to develop management zones was a theme for many talks. There was also concern about the consistent accuracy of RTK level solutions delivered through satellite, and that performance can vary depending upon the region. The sugarcane and grain industry are concerned about long-term accuracy due to their cropping conditions and need for repeatable accuracy in autoguidance technology.
Some of the more notable presentations and follow-up discussions centered on UAVs, RTK, wireless connectivity and crop sensor development. Big Data was not a hot topic at the conference, possibly due to cellular connectivity limitations with the Internet in agriculture areas. I learned that a majority of, if not all, RTK autoguidance systems use radio communication and that the cellular industry purchased the 400 MHz bands. That is a deep contrast to the U.S. situation where cellular plus 400 and 900 MHz radios are options. So farm connectivity is a hurdle at this point.
A notable need in Brazil was a sugarcane yield monitor. Sugarcane represents a significant crop in Brazil that is harvested once a year with the crop having an average five-year life cycle before replanting. It is harvested eight months out of the year with many mills using RTK guidance to plant and harvest. Several mills are using grid or zone soil sampling for their fertility program but the absence of yield monitoring technology has prohibited the ability to validate VR programs and develop new site-specific management strategies.
The Brazilian precision ag community is very interested in the application of UAVs. While their use is supposed to be prohibited, some research is ongoing. There were three venders showcasing UAVs with two presenting benefits for the sugarcane and grain crop production. I was amazed by interests in sensing technologies including commercially available crop sensors. Presentations on this subject were well attended and tended to have the most questions centered on cotton, corn and sugarcane. The ongoing sensor research I felt had high potential for application in the U.S. for enhancing nutrient management.
Fulton is associate professor in the Food, Agriculture and Biological Engineering Department at The Ohio State University.