Connectivity not only is part of our society, it is also responsible for how we understand this society and the culture it generates. Its biggest highlight is the easy access to multiple technological platforms, simplifying information gathering. Nevertheless, this innovation bares some obstacles to penetrate in more traditional markets, such as agriculture. In a globalized and more competitive world, having the latest cutting-edge technology is what makes productivity growth while turning a company into a global leader.
One of the oldest jobs of humanity, the planting and cultivation of the land are practices that most went through revolution throughout history. In the field, the swapping of hoes by large and autonomous machines increased productivity, and in the cities, population growth, construction of railways and new roads, demanded the acceleration of processes and distribution of raw materials. Today is no different. The application of precision agriculture, telemetry, and the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies corroborate to business decision-making, boosting all field management.
According to the head of Embrapa Agricultural Computing, Silvia Maria Fonseca Silveira Massruhá, connectivity is already indispensable for rural life. “It is estimated that 95% of the growth of global food production from now on will have to come from productivity gain, and technologies that help farmers do more with less, more efficiently, faster and with fewer costs will be increasingly necessary,” explains Silvia. It will become more and more common for a farmer while in the field to take a smartphone or tablet out of his pocket and access the latest weather forecasts, see reports of hot spots on the plantation, making real-time decisions about harvesting a given crop.
However, one problem persists: the connection of productive processes requires access to the internet, which is still far from most of the world's crops
The use of IoT for precision farming extends to a number of needs, including the quality maintenance of crops and livestock. Sensor data, satellite imagery, and drones measure a variety of factors that affect production success, from soil pH and irrigation to fertilizers and pesticides. Meteorological data and historical yield data can be used to automate processes, such as irrigation of plantations.
However, one problem persists: the connection of productive processes requires access to the internet, which is still far from most of the world’s crops – with the exception of the United States and other more developed nations. The first major obstacle is infrastructure. As the technological solutions are new, they still generate reticence in their adoption, consequently delaying the development and implementation of the improvements. In addition, many telephone coverages have flaws even in urban centers – areas that are denser than the countryside and therefore a priority for telephone operators.
Technologies have been created to close the gap of 3G connection. Towers with telephone antennas have already been implanted in some rural properties. However, their lack of mobility, low reach and high maintenance costs when suffering from rain and storm damage make their diffusion more difficult. A new promise for network distribution are tethered balloons – flexible towers, adjustable both in height and location, fitting in pickup trucks and being moved.
Technology continually goes through improvements and optimization, the future of balloons for agriculture proves to be not only promising but a paradigm in how we develop land-related work. In the future, a single balloon will be able to monitor an area of 50 hectares. With its autonomy of flight ensured by helium gas, the balloon could remain in the air for months, collecting data on the operation of machines, identifying, counting and analyzing the growth of different crops, automatically applying agricultural defensives and irrigating crops, analyzing the heat fields with thermal sensors, and send rain alerts and low humidity to a simple smartphone.
Nonetheless, technology is of little use if it is not adopted. Listed as a priority for mankind’s progress, the continuous development and implementation of new measures are fundamental for the future of the planet. According to FAO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, it is estimated that today around 2 billion of the world’s population does not have enough to eat, a figure that will only increase over the next few years if nothing is done. Despite all the apparent obstacles, from production levels to climate change, in FAO’s commodity reports, corn production in the United States, one of the countries that most invests in technological development, increased by 43% in 10 years. If growth continues, it would not only be possible to feed the world population, but also to feed it well. Innovative solutions such as connectivity tethered balloons are a promising way to capture and disseminate knowledge to gain more productivity, increase harvest predictability, and ultimately secure the planet’s food for all.