Luis H. Tobler Garcia
The popularity of the expression, in the past more restricted to the information technology area, has been increasing as more practical solutions become available. SNS Research think tank projects that the Big Data market in general may be worth $72 billion by 2020. By then, McKinsey consulting firm estimates the robotic agriculture market will be valued at around to $18 billion.
The use of Big Data in the farms opens up a world of possibilities for agribusiness. It is based on computing tools that turn terabytes of data into relevant information that will apprise farmer’s actions and help them achieve the crop’s full potential – which, in practice, results in better financial results.
Drone-captured images, for example, accumulate meticulous geographic data that allow to accurately identifying where there are weeds, making herbicide application more precise and reducing production costs. These are valuable for a greater efficiency in irrigation, since the farmer has more accurate information about the farm’s climate, the soil, rainfall levels during the year, as well as other relevant information to determine the ideal amount of water – neither too much nor too little – to irrigate the plants.
Another benefit is predictive maintenance for machines. Based on data captured by sensors installed in the equipment combined with agronomic data, it is possible to predict equipment failures and avoid operating losses. As the grower is increasingly faced with production limitations due to factors such as changes in climate, soil variations, and disease and pest resistance to pesticides, data that are transformed into knowledge capable of identifying cause and effect relationships becomes more critical to help develop the best solutions.
This new – and more complex – world of agriculture is changing the profile of the professionals. Until recently, agribusiness attracted Human Science professionals to run the farm and Biological Sciences experts to work directly with the crop. Now there is a need for professionals from the field of Exact Sciences. In Brazil this gap was identified early and is one of the leading countries in the development of these competencies.
The Paula Souza Center (CPS), a body of the Government of the State of São Paulo which manages the Technology Colleges (Fatecs) and the state Technical Schools (Etecs), offers the course Big Data in Agribusiness. The program was established in partnership with the Shunji Nishimura Technology Foundation. Launched earlier this year, it is the first training of its kind in Latin America and already counts with 20 students attending classes at Fatec Pompeia. The three-year curriculum was designed with the support from global companies such as Intel and SAP, in addition to the Brazilian outfit Totvs. The content was based on master degree programs offered in Finland and the United States. Computer science topics make up more than 60 percent of the curriculum, with the remainder of the syllabus focusing on agriculture, business administration, entrepreneurship, mathematics and statistics.
The transformation Big Data is exerting in agriculture requires innovative professionals. Data scientists, systems architects, software developers and specialists in frameworks (networks, servers) specific for the field will all play a key role in shaping the future of farming. The world is moving towards increasing efficiency in agricultural production, and the use of algorithms is the key to making the best decisions to bring nutritious food to every table in every corner of the world.