Thursday, 20 January, 2022

App, connected sensors, robots … these tools that change the lives of farmers

As on horseback, we climb into a tractor from the left. And it is a chance. Because the right side of the cabin is covered with screens, a joystick further adding to this profusion of new technologies. On his seat, Cédric Lambert activates a pre-recorded track: thanks to the GPS, here is the tractor moving in a straight line without the farmer even having to put his hands on the steering wheel. Enough to be sure not to inadvertently damage the plants.

Always at the cutting edge of technology, agriculture never ceases to reinvent itself and these last years have seen the flourishing of a good number of AgTech start-ups, – the amounts invested in this sector in the world are moreover increased from 185 million dollars in 2008 to 10 billion in 2017– to offer drones, connected objects and specialized software to farmers. The key promise is to revolutionize the way they work. However, these technologies must really bring progress to the farmer. And that economic profitability is there. Son of a farmer and himself at the head of a farm for three years, Cédric Lambert uses several of these new tools. If fortunes are diverse for the time being, the prospects are exciting the farmer.

On his 62 hectare farm located in Maine-et-Loire, Cédric Lambert produces seeds of corn, beans, carrots … in all of about fifteen species, rootstocks of fruit trees and plants. medicinal. In addition to tractors and other more traditional tools – some of which have not changed in any way since the days when they were pulled by a horse -, Cédric Lambert also uses several connected objects: connected weather station, connected tensiometric and rain gauge probes or even Raindancer sensors. to monitor irrigation.

Progress in terms of comfort

So many tools which provide a mass of information to the farmer, and could for example ultimately help him to reduce his water consumption, but which “are not made to do the work for me” reminds Cédric Lambert. “The sensors are indicators. It can give us the hydrometry of the ground but it does not give the interpretation of the number. And it does not replace the feeling.” And the farmer to confide to have been able to make errors of judgment at the beginning of his installation in 2016 for having “trusted too much in technology”.

Another tool to trace its route in the fields: robots. Cédric Lambert also uses one, from the Naïo brand, for hoeing in particular. A robot that can be guided either by laser or by camera. If the robot does not yet function optimally in all contexts – not easy to guide it by camera when the sun is opposite, for example – Cédric Lambert is already talking about the future possibilities of a robot of this type, like the spreading for example, which would be a big step forward in terms of hardship, safety and health for farmers.

If the use of these tools does not yet rhyme with economic profitability, Cédric Lambert is convinced, “it changes the work enormously in terms of comfort”. A far from negligible advantage for this farmer who starts his day at 5am, ends it between 6pm and 7pm in the evening but may very well have to check that everything is working correctly at 11pm or 2am …

Administrative time divided by two or even three

Other AgTech start-ups have looked into simplifying the administrative part of the farmer’s work. Like Keyfield, which facilitates the monitoring and traceability of phytosanitary products. Or Ekylibre, a software that allows farmers to manage employees, customers, suppliers, accounting, sales and purchases, stocks, production, HR management with pay slips, in the same place …

“Ekylibre greatly simplifies traceability: we know that such and such a plant arrived on such and such a date, was planted in such a field, received such treatment” describes Cédric Lambert, who uses it, as well as Keyfield. “It’s the same with the equipment, I know the crusher has been running for so many hours over the period, I know when it’s used, what it’s doing.” Enough to optimize material management. “When I took over the operation, there were four tractors, the software allowed me to realize that one was not necessarily profitable on the farm and I sold it” adds Cédric Lambert .

Above all, the use of this “farm control center” as the farmer describes it saves him time in these administrative tasks, once the difficulties of setting up are over. “This allowed me to divide the administrative time by two, even by three: the first year, it took me 40 hours per month, about twenty hours the second year, and today, I devote between 12h and 2:00 p.m. “said Cédric Lambert. Time saved that he can devote to production. Result: it is no longer obliged to pay so many employees to produce so many. “And above all, I can see my productions”, the heart of his profession.

Interoperability issue

“From day to day, we know what is going on” adds Cédric Lambert. Which was a great help to him at the beginning of his installation. Following a succession of unforeseen events, 2016 turned out to be a complicated year for its operation. “The beginnings were extremely complex. Thanks to Ekylibre, I saw in October that there was a problem and I was able to warn the bank. I was even able to give access to Ekylibre to the banker who could follow the situation “says the farmer.

Advantages which have increased with the evolutions and new versions offered by Ekylibre, although Cédric Lambert cannot yet use the accounting component of the software, it not being accountable with any software other than he uses … And this is the main challenge for all these new tools according to him: interoperability. “The objects are connected but they are not connected to each other” regrets the farmer. “All of these features are great ideas, but you don’t always save time because you have to go to every website.” And Cédric Lambert, impatient, to already dream of the day when all these tools will be linked to each other …