Tech fertilizes efficiency, resiliency in Puerto Rico’s agriculture
Puerto Rico’s agriculture sector has spent decades adopting, refining, and integrating technology to make harvests more efficient, diverse, and resilient, especially after weather events that often cripple crops.
Along the island’s northwestern coast, in Isabela, Finca Explora is not only integrating tech in different ways, but is also constantly looking to innovation for different purposes, but most importantly, to produce the largest amount of food with fewer resources.
Rolando Cruz, administrator of Finca Explora, told News is my Business that using controlled environments like greenhouses that integrate sensors and irrigation systems, lead to more efficient crop development.
Finca Explora is a nonprofit organization that in 2017 became the first agrotechnological incubator in Puerto Rico, as News is my Business reported. The project was born from a donation from the Puerto Rico Technoeconomic Corridor (PRTEC) and spans nearly 120 acres.
Keeping watch over that considerable stretch of farmland is done partly with drones, which can sweep over it in less time than a human would, and repeatedly, to keep an eye on conditions, “and we can also monitor water runoff and humidity accumulation, among other things.”
Cruz explained that the drones are not limited to just visual assessments, but may also identify plagues through infrared technology, and pinpoint peak harvest times for the different crops.
Finca Explora has 12 farmer tenants developing different crops, while integrating technology in their day-to-day operations. Some of the crops harvested are lettuce, pineapple, beans, and passionfruit, which is also used to make juice.
Using robotics, farmers identify weeds or harmful plants in the fields, and can use the machines to “shoot a radioelectric wave to pulverize them, or instead, pull them out at the roots,” Cruz said.
This is work that may have previously been done by people who can now be assigned to other tasks.
Finca Explora’s tenants also rely on mechanical seeders “that identify the exact location where we are sowing, and at what time and day it’s much easier in general terms,” he said.
“This helps keep track of production and work records and makes general processes more efficient,” Cruz said.
Part of Finca Explora and the PRTEC’s mission is to innovate in the areas of entrepreneurship by creating disruptive business models, changing, or creating new distribution chains and creating or adding tasks within the production chain.
“In other words, adding value to the harvest, not only sell the products as they are harvested, but also design specific packaging, which at times can add not only monetary value but also better use for people in general and add to the quality of life,” he said.
Finca Explora has the support of the Puerto Rico Farm Bureau, the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez and the US Department of Agriculture.
“We have a small agricultural business incubation and acceleration program that lets people who are interested in starting their business participate in education programs, in which eventually they prepare to go to the field and develop their project,” Cruz said.
The nonprofit is also participating in initiatives with the private sector, such as the “La Fuerza del Trabajo AgroTech” call, which Ram Trucks launched last month to offer more than $80,000 in prizes to an entrepreneur who is innovating in the area of agriculture, as News is my Business reported.
“We’re sponsors, and we’re going to provide part of the prize to the competition’s winner,” he said. The winner will get two acres of land at Finca Explora.