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Efficiency in the field

Company develops equipment that controls the cutting of sugarcane better and makes it possible to spray and irrigate other crops with greater precision

eduardo cesarThe spraying system kit to be installed in the tractor makes possible a balanced application of agrochemicalseduardo cesar

By the end of this year, Brazilian sugar mill owners will be able to count on an innovative tool for improving the production of their sugarcane plantations. Researchers from Enalta Inovações Tecnológicas, of São Carlos, and from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) have created a productivity monitor that can be adapted to sugarcane harvesters. The system generates information that makes it possible to manage the planted area better and contributes towards raising productivity per hectare. With a GPS (Global Positioning System) installed in the machine, which gives the geographical positioning (latitude, longitude and altitude) by satellite, the data shows, for example, the production from the area harvested.

“The equipment offers the producer a precise X-ray of his property, identifying where productivity is higher or lower. Although there are monitors for harvesters of grains like soybeans, corn and wheat on the market, this is the first one intended exclusively for the sugarcane crop”, explains agronomist engineer Domingos Guilherme Cerri, a researcher from Unicamp’s School of Agricultural Engineering (Feagri), who coordinated the project.

The system is now at the final stage of development, and two prototypes are being tested on harvesters from the Catanduva and São Domingos sugar mills, both in the municipality of Catanduva, in the interior of São Paulo. It is made up of a kit and a series of sensors installed in the machines that identify, for example, the weight of the sugarcane cut, which passes on the machine’s carrying belt, to determine the quantity of raw material to be loaded onto the wagons. The sensors also reveal the speed of the harvester’s movement, the condition of the sugarcane basecutter and the functioning of the belt, amongst other data on the process, reducing errors arising from unwanted stoppages, changes of the wagons and maneuvers carried out in the course of the harvesting.

A software program installed in the onboard computer manages all the information and generates a map of the productivity of the sugarcane plantation. “I believe that this technology, unprecedented in the market, will make an important contribution to the system for managing the crop and make it possible for sugarcane production, traditionally more backward than cereal crops, to enjoy a significant advance”, says agricultural engineer Paulo Graziano Magalhães, a professor at Feagri, who also took part in the development of the system.

With the information generated, it will possible to compare productivity maps with specific information on the soil to identify problems of low productivity, allowing the producers to adopt different handling to correct the problem. The equipment has now been patented, and it will cost between R$ 20 thousand and R$ 25 thousand – a relatively small amount when compared with the cost of a harvester, around R$ 700 thousand. It can be installed directly in the harvester factories or purchased separately by the sugar mill owners to equip their fleets.

General contacts
We are getting the feeling that it is a product with good commercial prospects, because we do not have any competitors in the market. Every month, we get phone calls from producers wanting to know at what stage the project is, but we only want to launch it when it is totally reliable”, explains electrical engineer Cleber Rinaldo Manzoni, Enalta’s owner. “There are prospects for sales to other countries of South America, where growing sugarcane is strong, and we are now making contact with the harvester manufacturers, like Case New Holland and John Deere”, says Manzoni.

The productivity monitor for the sugarcane crop is just one of the systems created recently by Enalta, a technology-based company that focuses on the development of automation equipment for farm machinery and management systems for production in the field. The company’s forte is equipment for the sugarcane crop, but it also provides products and systems for the forestry and fruit-growing areas.

Since it was created, in 1999, Enalta has taken part in four projects (one of them at the initial stage) approved under FAPESP’s Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE). The projects relating to the development of an automatic spraying controller and of a system of geographical information for agriculture were finalized in October last year. “The support from FAPESP was very important for our growth, since in the beginning we did not have any sales and depended basically on scholarships from the Foundation”, Manzoni says. “We began with two people – me and my former partner – and today we have 20 registered employees, besides 14 scholarship holders. Our sales have grown at about 30% a year, and they reached R$ 1 million in 2005.”

The company’s growth was, in part, due to the establishment of partnerships with universities and research institutes, such as Unicamp, the University of São Paulo (USP), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), the São Paulo State University (Unesp) and the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Availing itself of the partnership with researchers from these institutions, Enalta has managed to develop a vast line of equipment aimed at the areas of agricultural harvesting, spraying and irrigation. “We are concluding products for the planting and soil correction sectors. With this, we will have equipment catering for all the stages of agricultural production. We want to offer a broad range of integrated products, compatible amongst themselves”, Manzoni explains.

The management system for precision spraying finalized in 2005, for example, makes possible a perfect control of the spraying and a balanced application of the agrochemicals used to control scourges like insects, weeds and funguses. “At the moment, when there is an infestation in the crop, the agronomist visits the place and calculates visually the quantity of agrochemical to be applied. Our system, on the contrary, makes possible an optimized application, according to the needs of each area of the plantation. Accordingly, areas more affected by pests are given more agrochemicals, while the less affected ones get lower quantities of the product”, points out electronic engineer Ivan Rogério Bizari, an employee with Enalta, who coordinated the spraying project. The system works jointly with a geographical information system (GIS), software also developed by Enalta, which supplies a map of the crop according to the degree of infestation.

To draw up the map, an agricultural technician covers the plantation, equipped with a GPS device and a palmtop, making a demarcation of the areas of infestation. This information is loaded into the GIS and analyzed by an agronomist. Next, the data is sent to the spraying controller, which does the application automatically, according to the needs of the area and without the interference of the driver of the spraying tractor. Meteorological sensors installed in the machine make it possible for it to instantly make corrections to the application, according to the intensity of evaporation and the speed of the wind. The equipment costs about R$ 22 thousand and has been available for sale since the beginning of this year, in which period three units were sold. Anyone who wants to buy it together with the GIS, also useful for mapping the harvest and other stages of production, will have to disburse another R$ 15 thousand. According to Cleber Manzoni, there are no similar products in the market. “The advantage of our spraying system, designed to control all the parameters of the operation, is that, by optimizing the application of the agrochemical, it reduces the quantity used of the product, which leads to a reduction in costs and brings important environmental benefits”, Bizari says.

ANDRÉ TORRES/EMBRAPAWireless sensors installed in the field for precision irrigationANDRÉ TORRES/EMBRAPA

Precision irrigation
Another of Enalta’s projects, this time in partnership with Embrapa Agricultural Instrumentation, also from São Carlos, is a precision irrigation system, baptized as Irrigap. Irrigated agriculture is responsible for over 40% of the world’s crops and occupies about 18% of the agricultural areas of the planet. In Brazil, only 4% of the planted area is irrigated, which shows that the potential to be exploited for growth in production and improvement in quality with the use of precision irrigation is high. The great advantage of Irrigap, when compared to the traditional processes, is the savings in water and electricity that bring about a reduction in costs.

“We want to take the concept of precision agriculture to irrigation, which is the varied spatial application of water in the crop. We are creating a system in accordance with the demands of each little piece of the crop”, explains electrical engineer and researcher from Embrapa André Torre Neto. For him, several factors contribute towards the differentiated need for irrigation in the same plantation, with variations in the contours, differences in the texture of the soil, exposure to the sun, stages of development of the plant and of the radicular (root) system. “In the conventional irrigation system, these factors are not taken into account”, Torre Neto explains.

The platform developed by the partnership between Enalta and Embrapa is made up of a series of wireless sensors that basically capture information about humidity and temperature. They are installed in the field and supply information about the spatial variability of the quantity of water needed. In the traditional irrigation automation system, the water requirement of a given field (one of the production units of a farm) is a result of the application of a few sensors, from which an average value of the flow of water is calculated. “In precision irrigation, our idea is to install sensors every 50 meters, laid out in the format of a grille, for us to get to know the real need for water at each point, and so creating a map of the water requirements of the field. From this, we can structure the hydraulic irrigation system to cater to each one of the handling zones in a differentiated manner”, says Torre Neto. For each 25 hectares of plantation, the researcher advises, a hundred sensors will be installed.

A pilot unit of the system is being implanted in an orange plantation at Fazenda Maringá, of Fischer Agropecuária, in the São Paulo town of Gavião Peixoto. By the end of the year, it will be fully installed and operational, with the hundred sensors foreseen in the project. “At the beginning of 2007, we will make the maps of water requirements and the analyses for creating the various handling zones. An evaluation of the system, with data on savings in water and electricity, is going to take place in 2008. By then, Enalta will put onto the market various byproducts for the monitoring and automation of irrigation, such as the humidity sensor that will now be made in Brazil, besides other components”, Torre Neto explains. The estimate is that the percentage of Brazilian made parts of the company’s irrigation system will reach the 50% mark.

The projects
1. Development of a sugarcane productivity monitor for obtaining productivity maps for self-propelled harvesters (nº 04/08777-5); Modality Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE); Coordinator Domingos Guilherme Pellegrino Cerri – Unicamp/Enalta; Investment R$ 313,248.00 (FAPESP)
2. System for managing the ‘spraying’ activity in agriculture with automatic acquisition of data technology in the field (nº 99/11662-5); Modality Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE); Coordinator Cleber Rinaldo Manzoni – Enalta; Investment R$ 148,454.12 (FAPESP)
3. Development of a technological platform for precision irrigation in perennial crops (nº 03/07998-5); Modality Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE); Coordinator André Torre Neto – Embrapa/Enalta; Investment R$ 352,639.10 and US$ 30,505.00 (FAPESP)