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You probably have heard the term precision farming or precision agriculture almost from everywhere. But how much do you understand it? Precision farming is a booming sector, involves various equipment and lengthy knowledge and resources to work.
What is Precision Farming?
It’s definitely more than just using a farm management system and do your daily work at your farm…
In a nutshell, precision farming is the activity of collecting various data on your farm—from the soil, crops, water, weather, and many more—to be measured, monitored, and analysed on a regular basis.
It can determine how to optimise the farm to the highest extent: maximising returns on inputs (profits), ensure efficiency and sustainability while preserving resources and protecting the environment.
The easiest way to understand precision farming is to think of it as everything that makes the practice of farming more accurate and controlled when it comes to growing crops and raising livestock and can still reach the ultimate goals. Given the complexities around precision farming, you need to do your homework and understand at which level you want to engage with the tools it has before throwing a huge investment in it.
Four Stage Process of Precision Farming
1. Simple Yield Maps for Data Collection
A technique in agriculture that combines geolocating using GPS data to analyse variables such as crop yields and moisture content in a particular field. This technique produces data in the form of a yield map that can be used to compare yield distribution within the field from year to year. It allows farmers to determine areas of the field that need to be optimised, for example, the irrigation or the fertiliser application. Geolocating can be done in two ways:
- Farmers drive or walk around the field with a GPS receiver and record coordinates of the field.
- Delineate the field using aerial or satellite imagery. The images should have the right level of resolution and geometric quality to ensure the accuracy of that geolocation.
A number of factors that produce intra and inter-field variability include:
- Climatic conditions (rain, flood, drought, hail, etc.)
- Soil (Nitrogen levels, texture, depth)
- Cropping practices (no-dig or no-till farming)
- Weeds, and
These indicators are permanent indicators that provide information to farmers about the main environmental constants. Point indicators allow them to see whether diseases are developing, if the crops are suffering from nitrogen or water stress, and so on. Those kinds of information come from the weather stations and other sensors (satellite imagery, soil electrical resistivity, etc.). Farmers can measure the moisture content of the crops by combining soil resistivity measurements with soil analysis.
Adjust Field Inputs with Strategies
To adjust field inputs, farmers can do these two strategies:
- Predictive approach: Based on an analysis of static indicators (soil texture, resistivity, field history, etc.) during the crop cycle.
- Control approach: Pieces of information that is regularly updated during the crop cycle, by:
- Sampling: biomass measurements, leaf chlorophyll content measurements, fruit weighing, etc.
- Remote Sensing: measuring temperatures (soil and air), humidity (soil, air, and leaves), wind or stem diameter using the Internet of Things (IoT) or Wireless Sensor Networks.
- Proxy-detection: sensors that attached to vehicles to measure leaf status—this requires farmers to drive around the entire field regularly.
- Aerial or Satellite remote sensing: acquiring and processing multispectral imagery to build maps of crop biophysical parameters, include indicators of disease. Airborne devices have the ability to measure the amount of plant cover—to distinguish the crops from the weeds.
New technologies and information enable farmers to achieve easier and more operational field-level crop management. The application of crop management technology allows agricultural equipment that supports variable-rate technology (VRT) to do its jobs, for example, varying seed density on the field along with the variable-rate application of nitrogen and other chemical products. Some of this agricultural equipment are:
- Positioning System: GPS receivers that use satellite signals to precisely determine a position on the globe.
- Geographic Information System (GIS): software that helps farmers to process all of the available data.
- Variable-rate farming equipment: seeders, spreader, sprayers that can work programmatically.
Economic and Environmental Impacts
Precision farming practices can significantly reduce the amount of nutrient and other agricultural inputs used while increasing yields. Farmers thus obtain a return on their investment by saving on water, fertiliser, and pesticide costs. The other large-scale benefit of targeting inputs concerns environmental impacts. Farmers can apply the right amount of inputs in the right place and at the right time. This benefits crops, soil, and groundwater, and thus the entire crop cycle. At the end of the day, sustainable agriculture is achievable, since precision farming respects crops, soils, and farmers. Sustainable agriculture seeks to ensure a continued supply of food within the boundaries of social, ecology, and economy required to sustain long-term food production.
Since climate change has become a very hot topic recently and must be the first priority to be solved, precision farming should be applied by farmers everywhere. This can help the countries most at risk from climate change, like almost all countries in Asia and Africa, and in turn, lowering the risk of migration to the less climate change risk countries.
And Then, What’s Next For Your Farm?
Do Your Research
Collecting a lot of data from various data points on your field is useful, but then if you don’t understand what to do with the data, you may not be able to make a return on your investment. Do your market research before investing in precision farming technology. Operators need a farmer’s knowledge to background truth the data. You have to look at the science and background truth behind it to ensure what you’re doing makes sense and it will benefits you.
I think it’s about what suits farmer best at the time, budget, and what can be gained from it. Or it might be worth doing small first before going all out.
Ask for Assistance and Help
If you’re still confused, it’s time to ask for help and assistance from a specialist. There are not so many people with that kind of knowledge to being able to navigate through the huge amount of collected data. I’m sure farmers can do it themselves for the easiest part, but employing a specialist that understands the technology and the science behind can ensure the effectiveness of what the farmer is doing.
Look in The “Cloud”
Cloud-based technologies are getting cheaper day by day. You need to do research on some of the available products or services for data storage and transfer. 3G connectivity is also available almost everywhere. It’s enough to download and upload your data on a regular basis. You also need to look at the terms of service for each provider. You have to own your data, not the service providers. And also, there are different levels of service in precision farming and it’s effectively about what level is of value to your situation.
Top Tips for Farmers Looking into Precision Farming
- Determine the cost/benefit and if precision farming is worth for your farm business
- Investigate the level of precision farming you want to engage in before investing heavily
- Do your homework and seek advice or even assistance from specialists and experts
- Ground truth your data
For What is Worth to You…
The return on investment in precision farming technology is the most common questions we get asked by farmers. All we can say is, the benefit will come in your hard years. You will be grateful for having this kind of technology at hand when you need it the most—the dry years where you have to be a lot more technologically savvy.
Photo by jcomp on Freepik.com.