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Gustavo Torres Galvão da Silva

Specialist in Operational Development at Gerdau


Technology is the bridge to consolidate forestry modernization

Forest modernization is a reality in the countryside and has been specializing in Brazil since the arrival of the first agricultural equipment. As a result, technological advances have brought greater conditions to rural areas for planning, security, development of operations, increased productivity, greater connectivity and reduced costs.

In the past, equipment intended for agriculture was rudimentary. Over the last few years, some technological advances have been historic milestones, such as the development of the first blade plow produced with wood and the harvesting ax. At the beginning of the 20th century, mechanization and scientific knowledge began to change the scenario in rural areas. The animals that pulled the plow and the wooden carts gave way to machines powered by combustion engines.

Over the years, mechanized equipment intended for agriculture has been used in large forest productions, in order to bring optimizations to plantations. However, they were still not adequate enough and there were also no great logistical resources for replacements of imported parts. However, with technological advances, mechanization has also reached small and medium-sized producers, who have benefited from technology to increase their production.

According to a survey carried out by the Forestry Research and Studies Institute, in 2021, agricultural tractors represent 77% of the fleet in large companies, forestry tractors 20% and track tractors, just over 2%. It is considered that, in most cases, agricultural tractors need adaptations to, mainly, comply with safety standards and present greater mechanical availability in the field.

Although mechanization in some activities, such as wood harvesting and transport, has evolved significantly, others, such as forestry, still face major challenges. Today, the agricultural equipment industry has identified a market niche in forestry and harvesting, presenting solutions and equipment for the forestry sector, such as harvesting machines being remotely operated; planters with artificial intelligence; automated irrigation in a localized way, which identifies the seedlings in real time; use of drones for spraying, ant baits, releasing natural enemies, monitoring, quality assessments, among others.

Although the positive impacts on forestry production and agriculture were notable, a contingent of people was created who lost their workforce in the countryside, thus seeking new opportunities in the largest urban centers, which jointly impacted forestry production. People who migrate do not tend to return to the field work offered by forestry, and this is due to the working conditions encountered, such as exposure to the sun and rain. Companies have already felt this impact through absenteeism.

As a result, organizations are investing in operational development in order to migrate manual activities to mechanized or, even more, automated operations. In a survey carried out with 17 forestry companies, the Forest Research and Studies Institute identified that 48.5% of forestry activities are mechanized, 45% of forestry activities are manual, 6% are semi-mechanized and only 0.14% are automated. Thus, the availability of skilled labor in the field is still necessary to operate forest machines and perform maintenance. To supply this, forestry companies have sought to train more and more professionals.

Looking to the future, the rapid process of technological development, permeated by the use of artificial intelligence and accompanied by disruptive advances in science at the frontier of knowledge, will transform forest systems more efficiently. In the new context, we will use autonomous vehicles, drones and robots with sensors in forestry production. This will give input to a large volume of data and will be driven by the power of computer systems and connectivity, leading to significant transformations in the way forest crops are managed.

However, rural connectivity in Brazil is a major challenge. According to data from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, the greatest difficulty in the field is obtaining a quality internet signal, in areas where it does not exist. Connectivity can bring significant gains to operational development, such as assistance in the autopilot system, interpretation of climate analyses, which, consequently, will avoid losses and enable work in a more optimized way.

This connection between devices together with real-time collection and storage generate a large volume of relevant information for accurate data analysis, capable of predicting scenarios in relation to production. In addition, the use of sensors and telemetry is becoming increasingly common. They provide a series of information about temperature, humidity, air, soil, in addition to obtaining data, through GPS and on-board monitors. In this way, collaborating with the feeding of a more robust database, they can increasingly help advance forest production, through retroactive comparisons and prediction based on environmental information.

With the advancement of technologies, programs for remote monitoring have also been improved, such as Geographic Information Systems, which allow the mapping of large areas, the identification of operational failures, in addition to providing correlated information for forest planning that allow for improvement in operations.

With the internet of things, the interconnection of devices and forest machines bring options to the market, such as a tractor connected to the planter, which will be connected to the sprayer, to the fertilizer and so on. All modernizations linked to Big Data allow the transformation of isolated data into useful information for production in the field. This brings about a synergy and optimizes forest processes more and more.