The duo designing the future of farming
How Case IH’s Christian Gonzalez and TIM Brasil’s Paulo Humberto Gouvea are building the connected farms of the future.
Case IH is already a technological leader in Brazilian agriculture with its Advanced Farming Systems (AFS). The company is committed to aiding the development of digital agriculture by working collaboratively to help farmers adopt new technologies. With no single reliable source where farmers could seek help to transform their farms digitally, the team at CASE IH realized that they should be the ones driving it. But how, and more importantly, where? That’s when they came up with the idea of the connected farm.
Harvesting the benefits of digital
Case IH is fully aware of the benefits of digital agriculture. Technologies such as digital connectivity, the Internet of Things (IoT), drones, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics can help make agriculture more sustainable by minimizing the use of pesticides, fertilizer and water. These technologies can further enable precision farming, and Bell Labs Consulting predicts that if 25% of all farms adopted it by 2030, it could lead to yearly yield increases of up to 300 million tons and a reduction in farming costs of up to US$100 billion – critical to helping feed our growing global population.
For Case IH, to get the connected farm – a lab to test, learn and gain first-hand feedback from the farming community – up and running, it would need more than just its digital expertise. A connectivity partner was required with the knowledge and expertise to deal with Brazil’s vast agricultural landscape. And that’s when TIM Brasil stepped up. TIM Brasil was already a Case IH partner on an existing agricultural project, and when told about the connected farm project, the company immediately jumped on board. “Our focus on agriculture is important for the country. Agriculture makes up 25% of Brazil’s GDP,” says TIM’s Paulo Gouvea.
Connecting a continent
TIM Brasil provides the largest mobile network coverage in the country – it’s present in over 5,400 cities, with a commitment to reaching 100% 4G (or 5,570 cities) by 2023. However, these are just urban areas. The next major challenge is connecting the country’s vast rural areas. “I would say Brazil is a continent,” remarks Gouvea. “Brazil has over 300 million hectares of agricultural areas, so we have a big challenge ahead.
“For the connected farm, our main challenge was regarding the business model because the normal service providers’ model is based on the number of subscribers per square kilometer, and it doesn’t work when we talk about rural farming communities. In this case, we had to develop a new viable business version to make it feasible,” Gouvea adds. With all the connected machinery and sensors providing large amounts of data, TIM Brasil brought its agricultural connectivity expertise to the project to deploy reliable 4G LTE 700-megahertz connectivity that would not only have an impact on the farming practice but ultimately also the wider community.
Location. Location. Location.
With the ideal connectivity partner secured, Case IH focussed on looking for a suitable location where the project could be set up. “We wanted to find a location that represents real Brazilian agriculture,” says Case IH’s Christian Gonzalez. The company wanted the aim of the connected farm to demonstrate how rural connectivity increases in-field productivity, even in an already highly productive region.
“We didn’t want to create a farm from scratch,” adds Gonzalez. “We wanted to find a partner who understands what we were trying to achieve.” After looking at different regions, the perfect partner was found – one of their dealers in Água Boa, in Mato Grosso state. A small city with around 80,000 inhabitants in the heart of the main soybean production, Água Boa is a fast-developing agricultural area. “Água Boa means ‘good water’ in English,” Gouvea comments. “We chose the area because it’s a place to prove that technology could increase production without any other artificial means. Everything was going for us to test there. We thought, if we can make it work here, then it would work everywhere else in the country.”
As well as getting network connectivity and equipment to a rural place, the biggest challenge for the Case IH and TIM Brasil teams was to disrupt the farming culture – changing how local farming and the farmer work. “We had to completely reshape the way that everyone on the farm did their job. From the owner to operators, everyone had to suddenly work with data,” says Gonzalez. “We are talking about a lot of information to take in, and sometimes data was showing that the farm was doing things inefficiently – because the data was showing in real-time. It was a major challenge to get employees to trust the technology and convince them that the change was for the better.”
Sowing the seeds for success
While data is immediate, the outcome and conclusions of analyzing the data from the project would require working in sync with nature’s cycles. The team focused on measuring three central pillars to convince the farm community of the project’s benefits. The first was productivity – in terms of fuel savings, machinery logistics, labor, and reducing chemical usage. The second was financial with return on equity, assets and investments – how will it pay farmers back? And the third, which is vitally important, is sustainability. How will the project help farmers produce with less carbon impact, less water, fewer chemicals and less fertilizer?
“Delivering precision farming can enable farmers to gather data more easily. The connected farm allows them to develop the application of that data and make their businesses – and the whole industry of farming and food production – more targeted and more efficient,” Gonzalez says. Gouvea adds, “Nowadays, TIM Brasil is not a telecommunications operator in the agricultural sector. We are part of the productivity process, helping the country to produce more food and helping Brazil to feed the world.”
Good for the land and the community
To help bring the project to fruition in Água Boa, the Case IH and TIM Brasil teams forged close links with the local community, who were set to benefit from the 4G connectivity. “4G LTE connectivity is already benefitting the lives of 900,000 people in rural areas with digital and social inclusion. Being brought up in a small countryside town, it’s important to me to leverage the agriculture to increase the health and wealth of people in small towns across Brazil,” Gouvea comments. “With the community now connected with 4G, the mayor of Água Boa is telling us about all the projects they are putting in place thanks to the connectivity,” Gonzalez adds. “They have launched projects in schools, and their hospitals and clinics are already benefitting from a strong 4G signal. So, we are already seeing immediate results in the community as a result of the project.”
Indeed, the positive effects for the wider Água Boa community are already clear. Over 25,000 people in the area now have connectivity, covering a huge 58,595 hectares and including 93 rural properties. And it’s not just homes that have been able to enjoy the fruits of the project – 21 schools teaching over 6,000 students have also benefitted, ensuring Água Boa's younger generations can look forward to a more connected future.
Gonzalez and Gouvea’s top tips for business transformation
"It’s important to be mindful of people and culture, whatever the project, especially technical projects. How all this technology and change is going to impact the way people work and live."
No one is good enough alone
"Ensure that you choose the right partners to provide a seamless end-to-end solution for your customers."
Have a start-up mentality
"Do it and do it fast. If you make a mistake, or hit a roadblock, make some changes and try again. Maintain that pioneering mindset."
Understand your value
“It’s important to realize what the contribution of your business is to any ecosystem. Why are you there? Play your part and make it count.”
Nature taking its course
With any project related to agriculture, it takes time. The connected farm project is set to run over three years, and with the project just over six months old, nature is not giving up too much information just yet. “We have to respect the timing of nature,” says Gonzalez. “We have our three main pillars to measure by, but we need to have three full agricultural cycles to analyze and compare data.” Initial findings are, however, positively impacting how the farm is run daily. “We are seeing a very important impact on the farming practice, in the way problems are addressed at the farm,” says Gonzalez.
If you build it, they will come
One of the more surprising results of the connected farm is the number of interested partners keen to be project sponsors because they believe in its vision. “When TIM Brasil took the decision to be part of the ecosystem, especially in agriculture, we realized that we should work with partners like Case IH and Nokia to provide important solutions,” Gouvea says. “But not only that, with projects like the connected farm, we are all being founders of smart agriculture in Brazil.”
Even with the project in its early stages, the growing team of sponsors is already planning the next phase. “We are already starting the same type of project in Argentina,” Gonzalez says. “The farm is set up, and we are starting the same connectivity process. Also, other dealers and partners are asking to do their own connected farms. Once the blueprint is there, and the connectivity blueprint is there, we can spread it to other regions, which can only be positive for agriculture everywhere, even outside Brazil.”
From the land to learning
As well as improving agribusiness through digitalization in the Água Boa region, the project’s 4G connectivity is opening doors to technological knowledge. Recently, Case IH opened the Digital Empowerment Center – helping young people and adults attain digital literacy skills for personal and professional development.
“It’s just one of our initiatives to leverage youth leadership in agribusiness, bringing technology closer to people,” Gonzalez says. “We see educational training as something extremely important and necessary for agriculture and society as a whole to continue evolving the rural areas of Latin America. What we’re doing here is much more than enablers of digital transformation in agriculture. We are transforming the lives of people in rural areas to give them the same opportunities as citizens in urban areas.”
Gonzalez concludes: “This project – not only for me but for my team and everyone involved – makes us proud. We are engaging farmers, dealers, technology companies and the wider community. Kids in the community are excited for this project because what we are doing, we are being pioneers.”