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Guilherme Oguri

IPEF's PCMAF Coordinator


A reflection on forest modernization

In 2016, in my first meeting as coordinator with the 12 companies affiliated to the Cooperative Program on Forest Mechanization and Automation, belonging to the Forestry Research and Studies Institute, the main agenda was to define the main lines of research in which the program would act from that day.

The decision was unanimous: to focus on the mechanization of silvicultural processes. Consequently, harvesting and transport would not be among the main lines of research. The justification for this decision was clear, since harvesting and transport were, and still are, at a much higher level of mechanization than silvicultural activities of planting and irrigation, for example. Since then, the program has been closely monitoring technological developments and market trends, mainly in these two activities and, more recently, in nursery automation.

In issue number 62 of Revista Opinões, in co-authorship with Professor Saulo Guerra (scientific leader of the Cooperative Program on Forest Mechanization and Automation of the Institute of Forestry Research and Studies and professor at the Universidade Estadual Paulista), we wrote about the evolution of irrigation systems after -planting existing in Brazil. This edition was published at the end of 2020, and, rereading the article, I noticed that there has not been much technological advance until today.

I would even venture to say that new equipment for the mechanization of post-planting irrigation did not appear. Obviously, I don't know all the developments taking place, however, between moments of meetings, coffee breaks of events and company visits, the comments of colleagues corroborate my perception. I question the reason, or reasons, for not seeing new actions in search of the mechanization of this important and recurring operation when compared to the mechanization of planting, which is more complex, and we have several new actions.

Are we focusing on planting and “leaving aside” irrigation? Is there a lack of investment for seedling recognition (computer vision) in order to automate irrigation? Finally, I leave the reflection. On the other hand, we witnessed the moment with the largest number of mechanized planter models being developed and some already commercialized. Again, making a comparison with an article written for Revista Opiniões, this time, a publication on research and development of forest plantation written by Professor Saulo and Mr. José Carlos de Almeida (Director of JFI), in issue number 57 (from September to November 2019), practically all the equipment mentioned belonged to the same manufacturer.

In addition to national manufacturers, today we see major players international companies investing in planters and even acquiring companies specialized in mechanized planting. Recalling that 10 years ago I had practically one or two companies, today I can count at least 9 manufacturers investing in planters. As we have always discussed in the Cooperative Program on Forest Mechanization and Automation, it will be very difficult to have a single planter model that can operate satisfactorily and at an operational pace, regardless of the condition of the area (soil type, relief, slope, type of management, etc.).

Some models manage to stand out in less “demanding” areas, such as flat and implantation areas, which allows planting up to 3 seedlings simultaneously. Other models are more efficient in sloping areas, especially the planting heads installed on hydraulic excavators. We have noticed that, regardless of the manufacturer and the model, there is a variable that has a high influence on the performance of mechanized planting and that cannot be ignored, which is the quality of the seedling. In fact, there is not just one variable, but several variables that influence its quality, such as height, tortuosity, substrate quality, among others.

Precisely due to this influence of the seedling in mechanized planting, we fostered a discussion around the standardization of seedling quality, that is, how to improve the production processes of seedlings that will be used in mechanized planting? Will the current seedling production model meet the quality demand of mechanized systems?

In that meeting that I mentioned at the beginning of the text, a line of research on nursery automation was stipulated, but few actions were taken, until the recent past. For this reason, the Institute of Forestry Research and Studies started a project aimed at promoting the development of new equipment that would allow its introduction into established nurseries, without a major disturbance in the current operational rhythm.

On the other hand, there are machines adapted from other cultures with a high level of automation that use artificial intelligence and computer vision for the seedling selection and staking processes, for example. We believe that these equipments need special attention throughout their development and that the participation of professionals from different areas of knowledge is necessary, given their technological complexity. These actions aim to give the necessary focus that forest nurseries deserve, as it is the source of our forest resource.

I believe that it will be useless to discuss mechanized planting, automatic irrigation, drones, computer vision and artificial intelligence applied to forest plantations if we do not look carefully at the evolution of our nurseries. To conclude, I have the perception that the modernization of the Brazilian forest system goes far beyond machines and automations. Do we have, in universities, disciplines that “modernize” future forest engineers? Are we upgrading professionals at the same pace as we upgrade our machines? In short, we need to reflect and act.