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Rudolf Woch

Director of Apoiotec


It wasn't Galileo who invented the telescope

When I was invited to address the topic of modernizing the forest system, I immediately thought of innovation in weed management, for two reasons: the first is the fact that around 30% of the costs of implementing or renovating forests are related to it; the second (and more obvious) is that it's been my area of expertise for over 30 years.

Recalling the technological evolution in this period, and I believe that some of the readers will join me, I would like to refer to the second half of the 1980s, when manual weeding with hoes was still used to free the transplanted seedlings from competition with weeds. More recently, however, we see the adoption of geoprocessing techniques to map the presence of weeds using satellites and even applications with spray drones.

Well, since then, what has changed? What is the state of the art of technological development in weed management? And, more than that, what are the expected paths for the future? It is common to see innovation as a big step, a revolutionary technology change that will open new paths and solutions never seen before. And this is not wrong, but it represents just one of the possible models, of an innovation seen in the market as radical, in which a new technology is adopted in a new market or for a new use. But while important in the process, it is a rarer model.

There is also the application of new technologies to perform actions or uses already known, in what is commonly recognized as a disruptive innovation . As an example, we can indicate the spraying of herbicides (already well-known use) with spray drones (new technology). But well-known technologies do not fail to play a role in the modernization process, sometimes decisively.

Let's take an example: with increasing pressure from forest pests and diseases, defoliation has increased in recent years in several regions in Brazil. Whenever this occurs, there is intense mobilization in pest management, which is natural. On the other hand, defoliation allows an increase in solar radiation in previously closed areas of the forest, which favors the appearance of weeds. As a result, the forest, which has already suffered from the attack of pests, starts to suffer competition with weeds.

The recombination of knowledge of plant physiology, plant dynamics in the environment, physicochemical characteristics of the herbicides available on the market and application technology with short bars provide new solutions for pre-emergence weed control in tall forests. That is, a new use for known technologies. Law 13,243 (2016), of the new legal framework for science, technology and innovation, proposes a definition for technological extension that, in broader terms, validates the incremental use of already known technologies in already known uses.

The use of electronic spray controllers, which allow real-time pressure adjustments, to maintain application rates despite speed variations, is a good example of incremental innovation. It's been a technology available for a long time, however you still see a lot in the field the activation of spraying with the turning on and off of pumps, which increase the variations, worsening the quality. Even simpler points, such as well-sized agitation systems, are also examples of mastered technologies, with room for incremental innovation.

Please allow me to quote a comment by Luis Gabatelli, sub-editor of HSM Management, in an article from September 2021. He talks about the need to articulate innovation with the proposal of creating a value chain, according to its deliverables. I agree: it is necessary to think about innovation considering the value chain and also sustainability.

Innovation is always made by people for people, that is, the entire product or process is used to meet a human need. So I'm comfortable with the concept that in order to advance in all the ways I've discussed, innovation must be treated as a cultural and social transformation, which brings a paradox: technology in general is the means of advancement, however innovation is less about technology and more about relationships, experience and model change.

In some works of construction of Operational Procedures and Technical Instruction, in the last years, I could witness that, in fact, people embrace what they create and nobody creates anything alone. When projects have the participation of all those involved, and, why not say so?, committed to procedures and instructions, their adoption is faster and easier.

We are making strides with new disruptive innovation models, such as digital transformation, Agro 4.0, the internet of things, use of drones, remote monitoring, geotechnologies and data manipulation in cloud environments, which popularized the use of artificial intelligence. in several areas. In addition to technologies with biological products, microorganisms or their exudates, significantly improving the rhizosphere region.

In this scenario, it is necessary to implement a cultural transformation, creating a journey not with an end, but with several, identifying people's needs. What activities do you perform? What are the day to day problems? What gains do you expect from innovation? I have been working at some points in the production chain with encouraging results. Here are two examples to punctuate the new paths.

The first is the use of biological products, through which microorganisms are inoculated into the soil or eucalyptus roots, creating symbiotic relationships and bringing results, such as the availability of non-labile phosphorus or an increase in the survival rate under water deficit conditions. The second is to revisit the sequences of activities in the implementation of forests, with the aim of increasing the water storage capacity in production systems. This strategy is linked to climate change, given that the distribution of rainfall can be modified, also impacting the dynamics of weeds and herbicides.

Artificial intelligence associated with geotechnologies and remote sensors will soon make it possible to define better treatments for weed control and reduce the use of herbicides and costs for their control. Integrated weed management takes on an even broader meaning, and the innovation process must be viewed with an accurate eye, thinking about the value chain and sustainability.

And, for those who ask “what does all this have to do with Galileo?”, I now answer: in fact, he did not invent the telescope. But he was the one who pointed it to the sky, and, with great patience, observed the movement of the planets around a star. And, from then on, this field of science would be completely transformed, with impacts even today, centuries later. I close, therefore, with this thought: the most strategic innovation may lie in the ability to keep a curious eye open to discovery, capturing new angles and opportunities in each situation that presents itself.