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Agro-tech revolutionizing coffee production

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The world's largest coffee producer, Brazil, is investing in eco-sensitive technology to increase yields and reduce herbicide use

Coffee consumption is a daily routine for an estimated one billion people worldwide, but many coffee drinkers might not be aware that the beverage they are frequently sipping contains at least some Brazilian beans.

According to Christiano Borges, the head of Ipanema Coffees, the largest producer in the nation, Brazilian beans are well-known for their form and sweet taste. “As a result, our coffee serves as a base in many coffee blends around the globe,” he added.

The world’s largest producer of coffee beans is unquestionably Brazil. It provides more than one-third of the world’s beans, or 37% in 2020. Vietnam is in second place with 17% of the supplies.

Brazil has about 70% of the expensive arabica species of coffee plants used to produce fresh coffee. Robusta makes up the remaining 30% of the crop and is primarily used to make instant coffee.

Brazil’s annual crop dropped by almost a quarter in 2021 due to a drought in its primary coffee-growing region, concentrated in the south-eastern Minas Gerais, So Paulo, and Paraná. It is a problem for Brazil and the global supply of coffee in general.

Coffee bean supplies have decreased globally, which has led to an increase in wholesale prices since last year.

The biggest coffee producers in Brazil are increasingly relying on technology to assist them in growing and processing the best crop possible, both in terms of volume and quality, to mitigate any future production declines.

Okuyama, one of these companies, claims it is investing at least 1/10th of its revenue in technology. It is from Minas Gerais and has 1,100 hectares of coffee plantations (2,718 acres). The company’s employees use a computer program called Cropwise Protector, created by the Swiss-Chinese agricultural technology company Syngenta.

The tool provides farm workers with a visual evaluation of the plantation or field on a tablet computer or laptop, thanks to connections to ground sensors and satellite pictures.

Instead of treating an entire field or farm, they can rapidly apply drip irrigation or pest control techniques to a particular region that may require them. This much more focused approach is supposed to be quicker and more environmentally friendly.

Bruno Hiroiti, manager of coffee beans at Okuyama, said, “Every year there is a new challenge, and these technologies help us to overcome those barriers.”

They have also invested in technology that enables them to monitor the temperature during the drying of coffee. The type of coffee determines the process.

After harvest, Okuyama dries some of its coffee beans in drum heaters to prevent spoilage while being stored before being roasted. Getting the temperature and timing right is crucial to avoid wasting the beans and the electricity used to run the heaters.

Christiano Borges claims that Ipanema Coffees, which has 4,300 hectares of farmland spread across three sites in Minas Gerais, has also heavily embraced technology recently.

“We invested significantly in semi-automated agriculture, where the system assesses the water deficit and the weather to provide suggestions for each area,” he said.

He continues by saying that the improvements are aiding the business in lessening the effects of climate change. “Climate issues like droughts and rising global temperatures exist,” he added.

He said productivity had increased thanks to the company’s irrigation system, a form of climate insurance.

Ipanema claims to be another user of Cropwise Protector and to have trackers on all of its tractors to monitor productivity. Gustavo Michalski, the company’s agricultural coordinator, explains that it “helps us monitor agricultural pests using only a tablet.”

Ipanema affirmed that they can monitor the indicators that tell the location and intensity [of a specific problem] in each area, which enables the individual to handle the issue and make more assertive sustainable decisions.

Ipanema has been using automated selection devices that only select the ripe beans, which are yellow and red, after harvesting the beans for several years.

Rodrigo Ferreira, the company’s industrial director, says, “We set the machine by programming the colours we need.” The beans that are not the defined colour will be ejected by a compressed air jet once we place them on the conveyor belt.

According to Flora Viana, Syngenta’s global marketing manager for digital agriculture, Brazilian coffee farmers “no longer increase their efficiency just by buying more land.”

She continues, “Growers need to optimize their production processes instead because we are reaching the limit of the available areas.”

However, Christiano Borges continues to add that technology depends on having skilled personnel. If we don’t have a team that is motivated and ready for them, it is useless to have great tools.

He further stated that Ipanema employs 800 people, many of whom attend colleges for training.

However, not all Brazilian coffee growers utilize technology at this increased rate.

Even though significant corporations like Ipanema and Okuyama have adopted it, the numerous small farmers who grow 66% of the nation’s food are lagging.

However, the nation hopes that the rollout of 5G mobile phone networks will enhance web access in rural areas, increasing the use of technology like Cropwise Protector.

Brazilian Nanotech reduces herbicide consumption exponentially

“New initiatives must help farmers rapidly adopt sustainable practices and increase the productivity of existing agricultural land, so that they can improve their own well-being and ease pressure on forests. Efforts to alleviate poverty among farmers also need to address gaps in financing, agricultural training, and tools for advance planning. This is where technology can play a key role. Data, digital and remote-sensing technology, and the Internet of Things represent the future of agriculture, and are already in use on big farms in rich countries. But technology can also help small farms in poorer countries,” World Economic Forum commented in 2019.

Nanotechnology is matter manipulation at a near-atomic level. The operation of construction ranges in size from 1 to 100 nanometers. For example, a herbicide encapsulated in nanoparticles allows the concentration of the active ingredient to be reduced by 80 times, according to Elson Longo of the Federal University of So Carlos (UFSCar).

The amount of atrazine herbicide needed to control weeds has been reduced by 80 times, thanks to new technology in Brazil. The study was carried out by the Environmental Nanotechnology Group of the Institute of Science and Technology of Sorocaba at the Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp), under the direction of chemist Leonardo Fernandes Fraceto, professor at the Department of Environmental Engineering at Unesp and holder of a Ph.D. in Functional and Molecular Biology from Unicamp.

In 2021, researchers from the State University of Londrina worked with other scientists to patent the novel technology.

Manufacturers typically recommend two kilograms of atrazine for every hectare of cropland. However, in 2019, the research team could use ten times less atrazine—200 grams per hectare—thanks to the development of nanoparticles that encapsulate the herbicide and improve its use. In addition, the group claimed they’d taken things further by creating a new technology that has cut consumption by 80 times the advised two kilograms.

Professor Fraceto explained in a note that 25 grams of the herbicide contained in this new technology molecule must be diluted to produce the same results as the original formulation.

Attempts at decarbonization

Companies trying to reduce their emissions up until recently used some general methods to calculate those emissions, attributing them to a specific kind of commodity sourced from a particular region (for example, soybeans grown in Brazil). Scientists would have used a static set of parameters representing emissions from an average farm to generate an emission factor for soybeans in Brazil.

Scientists would calculate these emissions at a ton of CO2e/ton of ingredients. They would be non-location-specific (the differences in management between neighbouring farms, or even those in different parts of the country, wouldn’t be captured with this static emission factor accounting method). Experts would also fix them (unaffected by weather conditions or yields) and make them independent of location.

What then are these new tools that give top agricultural producers and food manufacturers access to information about the situation and effects of the world’s food production? Among these technologies are: Images from space, big data, and impact simulations.

We can map crop production areas, monitor plant growth stages, determine the use of climate-smart production practices (or their absence), and even forecast yields using satellite imagery. The use of satellite imagery in monitoring food production systems allows us to “see” the key components of agricultural production and manage both emissions and the risk of production disruptions brought on by supply-chain problems or climate change. The “symptoms” of the processes that shape the land, rather than causes or results, are best captured by satellite imagery. As a result, it is not the data for agriculture’s Holy Grail but rather a solution component.

The rapid adoption of advanced technology in agriculture is a trend that is likely to continue in the future. It is because advanced technology can help farmers increase yields, reduce costs, and improve the quality of their products. In addition, advanced technology can help farmers better manage their resources and protect the environment.

Technological advancements in agriculture are also helping to stop deforestation. Using less land to grow more food can help preserve forests and the environment.

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