Some insights about the Brazilian Conference on Precision Agriculture 2018 (ConBAP 2018) were provided in the recent article “ConBAP 2018 Highlights Precision Agriculture in Brazil.” I have attended the conference in previous editions, but unfortunately I could not attend this year. Therefore, I decided to offer some comments as an external observer.
I would like to start by quoting Ohio State University Associate Professor John Fulton, who said the following about ConBAP 2014: “Big Data was not a hot topic at the conference, possibly due to cellular connectivity limitations with the Internet in agriculture areas.”
We can see an important change in the focus of the discussion in this period. Back in 2014 most of the questions were about methods of data acquisition, such as soil sampling, yield mapping, crop sensors, and UAVs. After four years, the main question is how to extract and demonstrate the value of this Big Data for the stakeholders involved in different levels of crop production.
According to Professor José Paulo Molin, chair of the ConBAP 2018, “We are at the beginning of a disruptive period in which Brazilian agriculture must adopt a series of innovative technologies that will allow the farmers to make less mistakes in the crop production process, which is in fact the main reason for the existence of precision agriculture.” How this can be achieved was the central theme of this conference.
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The limitations of connectivity and interoperability of data in the fields are still a challenge. The density and quality of the data used to make decisions are far from optimal. Nevertheless, it is important to move on and do the best we can with what we have available. Defining precision agriculture as making less mistakes opens the possibility to include more general good agronomic practices under the same umbrella. Most of the digital agriculture platforms that are being adopted by farmers include tools related to monitoring the crops and the mechanized operations. Most of the value perceived by farmers using these platforms relates to better quality and performance of the operations rather than managing spatial variability.
The ConBAP attendance is a mixture of people interested in research, business, and practical applications. The focuses and points of view of each group in this heterogeneous public varies, nevertheless some common themes can be identified. One of the points of convergence is the importance of human resources to make this revolution happen. The lack of available well-trained people and the challenge to attract people with important skills from other economic sectors is a recurring concern. While automation may replace some work positions requiring less skills, the demand for more specialized positions is increasing. Disruptive innovations in other sectors, especially in education, should be integrated into the concepts of digital agriculture in order to enable its full potential.
Government plans are also of great importance to structure a more robust education system focused on the future demands of the agriculture sector. Brazil will be holding presidential elections next Sunday and, unfortunately, education does not seem to be the main concern for most Brazilian voters. However, the increased number of participants in this and other conferences does shed some hope into this. These events facilitate the exchange of experiences which is fundamental for understanding the whole picture of crop production, which is a key enabler factor for transforming the raw information and ideas into decisions and new practices.