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Guilherme Zaghi Borges Batistuzzo

Bracell Operational Development Manager


Development of mechanization in forestry: challenges and opportunities

Brazilian forestry operates in an area of 9.55 million hectares for production purposes, sustaining an industrial chain that generates gross revenue of 116.6 billion reais, which corresponds to 2.7% of the national Gross Domestic Product and generates close to 2 million direct and indirect jobs, representing an area similar to sugarcane plantations, of 8.3 million hectares.

In this way, it is to be expected that the technification between the areas will be equipped. However, this is not the case in many situations. As much as the variety of equipment is great in the agricultural culture, it is possible to identify a significant development, mainly in the last years, of equipment of high quality, specificity and productivity for several operations. Therefore, there is a development of the entire chain of operations in the manufacture of equipment for this area.

Over the years, the mechanization of forestry has developed through adaptations of this and other agricultural crops. Tractors for this purpose serve, in a way, some silvicultural activities, working in implantation areas, without woody residues. With the largest representation of renovation areas, the presence of stumps and residues from previous cycles generate unfavorable conditions for the good performance of these machines.

Thus, the common situation, after acquiring a tractor, is to take it to a workshop where it will be “armored” for work in the silvicultural environment. In addition to increasing the delivery time of the final product, the overload of protections causes operational difficulties for the field maintenance process. These are some of the factors that encourage the need for the dreamed forest tractors.

Machine adaptations are common in forestry. We still haven't reached the state of the art of having Purpose Built tractors, but many manufacturers plan and execute implement projects aimed at forestry. There are several subsoilers, for example, that are being planned and produced in series for actual silvicultural use. However, the low scale is another factor that makes it difficult to produce a specific project, reducing its availability in the market.

Specifications and customizations to meet each demand make it difficult to standardize and scale production. This contributes to the fact that the main source of forestry development comes from small or medium-sized manufacturers. Is there, in fact, a need for so many specifications for each demand? How can demand be structured more strategically for long-term projects that allow for production at scale?

At this point, partnerships between forestry companies and suppliers need to be intensified to create a common strategy. A facilitating action is the performance of programs that bring the supplier closer to a pool of companies. An example of this type of partnership can be seen in the Forestry Mechanization and Automation Cooperative Program of the Forestry Research and Studies Institute, which has 12 associated companies working in the search for solutions for mechanization and silvicultural development.

With good technology, suppliers from Europe, North America and other South American countries are entering the Brazilian market to support these developments. Many projects, however, have a certain bias due to their origin and do not precisely meet the demand of national forestry.

This generates the need for adaptations that end up being made by local companies, making it difficult to develop the project or continue the operation due to the unavailability of parts and specialized support. Once again, the importance of uniting the market and seeking solutions that provide scale for the development of demands and offers that facilitate the entry of new suppliers is vital for the technological modernization of the sector.

New disruptive technologies, such as the use of drones , have intensified in the forest environment. These equipments are proving to be efficient, acting in the application of herbicides and in the fight against pests, both from a qualitative and economic point of view, being a good alternative for mechanization in sloping areas or unfavorable to traditional activities, whether manual or tractorized.

With the low availability of rural labor and the new revisions of labor regulations in this area, the cost of manual activities has become very high. In this context, this technology appears as a good opportunity for mechanization and automation of forestry activities, in a safe, economic and sustainable way, optimizing energy expenditure for its applications.

There is also new equipment working in multitasking operations that have emerged to provide gains in productivity, costs and sustainability, by combining activities on the same machine. These configurations are only viable in projects whose premise is to maintain or improve the quality parameters of operations.

Soil preparation equipment that performs several linked activities (subsoiling, base fertilization, clearing the trail, clods, application of pre-emergent and marking of holes); alternative forms of soil cultivation, such as rotary hoe linked to subsoiling and fertilizer application; implements that perform hedge fertilization combined with weed competition control (row and interrow) are examples of results of successful partnerships between the development of the customer's need with the expertise and engineering resources of the supplier.

Modernization should not only be seen in the field of mechanization, but also in the human resources that will act in the operation, maintenance and management of activities. Professional training must accompany technological development. Mechanics and operators need to be increasingly engaged and trained to use electronic equipment, both for operation and for fault detection and accurate maintenance.

With the performance of embedded technology, there is a greater generation of data that need to be processed and interpreted (generate products) for assertive decision making. The information must be generated in the field, transmitted, processed automatically and analyzed in real time in an operations center. Are our data transmission, processing and management structures, in fact, ready to work in real time with what is generated in the field? Are our people prepared for this?

The forest formation chain of operations is being modernized, bringing the needs of technological, financial and training investment, which demand strategic actions to provide technological ruptures compatible with their importance. The scenario demands robust investments in order to obtain consistent and sustainable returns. The future of forestry operations is not simply mechanized, it must be inclusive, engaging, integrated, dynamic, autonomous and sustainable.