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Little Uruguay has big plans for smart agriculture

By Reuters
Swarm of Quadcopters Drones.

Uruguay, a country of 3.3 million inhabitants and four times as many cows, hopes to feed 50 million people thanks to drones, “smart” combines and other high-tech farming techniques.

At a farm a two-hour drive outside the capital Montevideo, combines on auto pilot meticulously harvest every millimeter of field.

The farmer inside the machine, instead of driving, follows its progress on a screen as it collects data on crop yields per square meter that he will analyse to improve next year’s harvest. “For us, harvesting information is as important as harvesting grain,” said farmer Gabriel Carballal.

Carballal, 40, began working on his family farm in 1999, originally using traditional methods. But then came a “revolution” in planting technologies, machinery and crop management techniques, he told AFP.

That revolution has nearly doubled his yields in the course of a decade, thanks to genetically modified seeds, high-tech machines and “direct sowing” -- a technique that involves planting seeds directly into last year’s fields, with minimal tilling, to protect the soil. At the same time Uruguay, where the agriculture industry was traditionally geared toward cattle ranching, nearly tripled its crop land to 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres).

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