Sugarcane to Corn: Brazil Company Tweaks Technology for U.S.
Brazil-based Solinftec may be new to Hoosier soil, but it’s already harvesting accolades in the U.S.; national agriculture media outlet Successful Farming recently named it one of “8 Ag Tech Startups Worth Watching in 2019.” With deep roots in the Brazilian sugarcane industry—eight of the 10 largest companies in the sugar and ethanol sector are Solinftec customers—the digital ag company recently announced it will open its U.S. headquarters near Purdue University to execute its vision for the future of farming in America.
“This is a company that’s scaling; it’s not a startup,” says Kip Tom, chairman of the board for northern Indiana-based Tom Farms LLC, one of the largest farms in the state and Solinftec’s first U.S. client. “It might be a startup here in the U.S. adapting to our large-acre crops, but clearly, they bring value to the marketplace.”
Founded in 2007 in Brazil—the top sugarcane producer in the world—and employing more than 400, Solinftec says it is a leader in digital agriculture. Chief Operating Officer Daniel Padrao says the company’s Internet of Things technology is being used on 6 million acres total, helping 100,000 users manage 20,000 pieces of agricultural equipment.
Solinftec’s portfolio is a series of technologies that merge machines, sensors and people. Padrao says hardware such as rain gauges, weather sensors and on-board computers capture and analyze information in real-time, while layers of software help farmers “use the data better” to make decisions.
Padrao says the company aims “to make digital ag as simple as it should be.” Solinftec’s virtual assistance technology Alice—think of it as ag tech’s version of Alexa—is one piece of the platform and the technology’s main interface with the farmer.
With 65 percent of the Brazilian sugarcane market using its technology, Solinftec has adapted its platform from the critical row crop in its native country to the corn, soy and cotton row crops that blanket U.S. fields.
Padrao points to weather as one example of how its technology streamlines data and decision-making. He says spraying relies heavily on weather conditions; using Solinftec weather station hardware, or integrating with a farm’s existing hardware, the farmer can make real-time decisions to drive down costs, improve efficiency and lessen environmental impact.
“If weather conditions change, so now it’s not as good as it should be to start the sprayer or keep spraying, we send a message to the sprayer: you should stop spraying this area and move to another field where the weather conditions are better,” says Padrao. “Or even looking ahead, we can see you have rain coming in two hours. [Our technology] will send a message to the equipment—the computer we installed on the sprayer—that says, because of the type of product you’re spraying, you should stop spraying in 30 minutes.”
Nested in the small town of Leesburg, Tom Farms is one of the world’s leading producers of seed corn. Tom is passionate about beta testing technologies developed by ag startup companies and says Solinftec “caught our eye early on.” The farm carved out a deal with Solinftec about 18 months ago at an ag tech conference in San Francisco “to make sure we’re one of the first people to use their technology in a big way.”
Tom Farms has helped Solinftec adjust the technology for U.S. row crops and is using it to optimize the farm’s equipment usage—a major expense; Tom notes a single combine and the tractor servicing it total a $1 million equipment investment. During harvest time, combines use carts to shuttle grain from the harvest unit to the road, so it can be loaded on a truck.
“The operators have sensors in their machines that will say, ‘The combine is about full. Cart 2, you need to go to Combine 5 to get product off that truck, so you can get up the road,” says Tom. “All of a sudden, you’re making sure none of your equipment is idle, waiting for someone else to react to take that load of corn off a combine or to get it to a truck.”
As Solinftec gains traction in the U.S., Padrao says its new headquarters near the Purdue campus will create 90 jobs this year and up to 300 by 2022. While the ag tech market grows increasingly crowded, Solinftec believes its deep roots in Brazil will show U.S. farmers that its technology has already established a strong track record with row crops.