Digital Transformation Promotes Agriculture in Latin America
The technological revolution is already a reality in Latin America, the region that can be the world’s main food supplier. It is powered by smartphones that already account for 60% of the 690 million connections in mobile networks and by the increase in the number of drones in the field.
Technology is one of the main agents of change today. In 2015, the investment in technology in agriculture – also known as AgTech, reached $4.6 billion. Conversely, the population continues to grow, which has the potential to affect the availability of resources in the future. In addition, we know that by 2050, food production will have to increase by 60% to meet the nutritional demands of more than 9 billion people.
Latin America region is acknowledged for its agricultural vocation; it produces 12% of the global food production and exports represent 16% of the global exports of agricultural products. I believe that we have an incredible opportunity to consolidate Latin America as one of the main food suppliers in the world, as indicated by the estimates of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). For that reason, companies like Bayer and producers in this region have begun to incorporate digital tools in the field.
To give an idea of what is happening, a good example is the growing use of smartphones in the region. We have already reached 690 million connections through mobile devices by the end of 2017 according to information from the International Data Group. About 60% of them come from smartphones. In agriculture, these devices assist producers in the continual surveillance and maintenance of the crops. With these phones, which are in fact handheld computers, they can scout crops in real-time once they are connected to monitoring systems. In addition, with the rapidity of information exchange, they help to make strategic decisions in record time.
Another digital enabler that is already part of everyday life in the farms is the Internet of Things (IoT), which allows farmers to interconnect various computing devices, mechanical and digital to transfer and aggregate data to support the farms’ operations. Let’s take the example of irrigation controls in crops: Sensors installed in the plants are able to indicate the water need by each one based on data collected and analyzed without human interaction, they can define patterns for water distribution necessary according to the needs of the plant making it possible to increase production and reduce water consumption in real-time.
Latin America is also advancing in the use of drones. For farmers who work in fields with thousands of acres, the only way to get a bird’s eye view is from an airplane. Imagine the return on investment if producers could view their crops using an air source, without having to rent an airplane. Drones can do that! They produce 3D images that are used for analysis and decision making regarding fertilization, control of weeds, diseases and pests, etc. They also assist in the application of chemicals to crops, increasing spray speed fivefold compared to other types of machinery. A recent report indicates that the use of drones in agriculture was valued at approximately $434 million by 2016 and should grow by more than 38% in the period 2017-2025. We, at Bayer, are making tests in experimental fields in order to evolve our portfolio. The first results already show that we can achieve very significant advances in terms of productivity and efficiency, especially for fruit and vegetable crops.
The technological revolution in the field goes much further than knowing agronomy. Farms are receiving a completely new generation of professionals of applied sciences, who are able to read and interpret terabytes of data collected from the field. They are the data scientists in agriculture who, using Big Data and smart algorithms, can tell producers what, where, why and, how to solve a problem in the crop. In line with this new reality, the weather stations recommended by Bayer, for example, help farmers prepare for sudden changes in climate and protect crops with preventive action. In Fundo Santa Inés, Bayer ForwardFarm, in Chile weather stations are an invaluable tool.
Digital transformation is key to agriculture of the future, especially in a strategic region such as Latin America. These digital tools are already helping farmers make decisions for their crops as well as reducing the environmental impact . As our population continues to grow, agriculture must also evolve. At Bayer, we remain committed to the purpose of developing and encouraging the use of innovative solutions for sustainable agriculture that will benefit producers, consumers, and the planet.