The great challenge of the sector is closely related to the latest data released by the UN, which estimates that by 2050 the world population will increase between 2 and 3 billion (from 7 to 10 billion) and according to FAO, this demographic factor, coupled with the increased economic power of underdeveloped countries, will double the demand for food, which will require doubling agricultural productivity, since the available arable land is scarce. This need to produce more with fewer resources will inevitably lead to intensification of agricultural production systems, which can lead to greater risks of pests and diseases, decreased soil fertility, and environmental problems such as soil contamination, salinization, and erosion. These problems can only be mitigated through the use of innovative technologies focused on processes with high performance levels, in a perspective of precision agriculture, which will have a positive impact on the efficiency of resource use.
Therefore, the future will require more precision farming, imposing machines based on precise process automation technology that are able to apply products in the right amount, at the right place, and at the right time, and that at the same time can assess and report the condition of the crop and soil according to the principles of agriculture 4.0.
Factors affecting the adoption of precision farming can be listed:
- Agricultural entrepreneurs: education, age, investment capacity, computer literacy, human resources, risk aversion, size, acumen;
- Technology: perceptibility of gains, ease of operationalization, initial investment cost, difficulties in interpreting the data obtained.
- Other: existence of service providers, competent and effective support from manufacturers/vendors, strength of the "innovation system"/communication.
We therefore believe that a set of measures should be taken to demystify and encourage the use of these technologies, such as
- To change the paradigm of the farmers and help in the implementation of a more professionalized culture that looks at the return on investment. So, in all technology, the premise is the same, how much it will impact their costs and if it will have a return. It has to deliver a relevant service that brings a return on investment and that is tangible. For this, it is necessary to invest in comprative studies of the current and future situation and demonstration journeys.
- It is also paramount to train users/farmers, transmit knowledge and empower them for this new era of agriculture. But this has to be commanded by the Ministry of Agriculture in a structured way, adopting incentive policies and creating networks and ecosystems of knowledge and skill sharing among all stakeholders.
- Founding an association of manufacturers of national agricultural machinery, which truly defend the interests, needs and real difficulties of the sector with the political power. We have the example of Ansemat in Spain, which is a reference in representing the propensities of manufacturers with a strong mobilizing power with the political entities and with a large informative and training component for the Spanish agricultural sector.
- Creation of simple lines of direct financing to farmers for the acquisition of precision agriculture equipment, because if companies and technological institutes are investing in technology there must be national adherence. It costs us a lot to develop new products (agriculture 4.0) that are not sellable in Portugal because we are still generally in the era of mechanization, we have to overcome barriers. We have to start by renewing our machinery park.
- Focus on the safety issue (replacing potentially dangerous tasks with robotics). Portugal is the third country in the European Union with the most accidents with agricultural machinery. More than 350 fatalities in five years is the total resulting from accidents with tractors in Portugal. The data refer to the interval between 2013 and 2017.
At Herculano, about the digital revolution, it was a path we started 3 years ago and as a starting point we began with an analysis of our strategy and market (current and future). We soon realized that we were missing a piece to complete our puzzle in this journey and that's when INESCTEC appeared, in a first phase with an isolated DPA project, a proportional debit solution to advance to the Cisterns and Spreaders, it was a "dating" phase to get to know each other and we then decided to move forward to marriage with the celebration of a partnership protocol between Herculano and the institute signed in Agroglobal 2018 with the presence of the Minister of Agriculture.
Having said this, we decided to go ahead with a new project "Smart Fertilizers", which consists in the Research and Development of a cost competitive, efficient and versatile smart tank and spreader for use in agriculture 4.0 and with a clear contribution to increase the efficiency of the fertilization operation in environmental, agronomic and economic components.
Fertilization and organic correction of soils today, using manure spreaders and slurry tanks, are agronomic operations performed with very low efficiency in environmental and economic terms. There are even European norms, tending to be stricter, which require greater control in fertilization processes in order to reduce the amount of nitrogen applied.
This time of raw material scarcity has a strong impact on artificial fertilizers that are more expensive than ever. Due to high costs, mainly caused by rising energy costs, fertilizer manufacturers are limiting their production. This threatens the availability of chemical fertilizers for the coming season. There is a great need for a sustainable alternative, organic fertilizer, to ensure optimal growth.