Jan. 16, 2020
Jan. 10, 2020
Producing food sustainably for an increasing population is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Conventional industrial farming is disastrous for the environment, and production and profits from this farming have plateaued. Precision farming is a model that can improve yield and profits, consume fewer resources, and reduce pollution. Any farmer can adopt this technology-based approach. Find out how it works -
Precision farming is a way of farm management that optimizes output by using spatially targeted information and technology so different parts of a farm can get treatments best suited for their environmental conditions in terms of soil, slope, or sunlight. Precision farming regulates inputs like seeds, water, and fertilizers, and also treats pests and diseases when needed.
All stages of agriculture—like sowing, fertilizing, pest-control, and harvesting—can be controlled through precision farming to increase yield while keeping costs low at the same time.
The technology that differentiates precision farming from traditional methods is Variable-Rate Technology (VRT). It uses specialized instruments and software.
Precise information collected in real time shows within-farm differences and helps in making farm management decisions. Technology helps in making not only current decisions but also future ones, such as
Precision farming is suitable not only for big farms or people with multiple farms, but also for small family farms. There can be soil variability even in areas less than an acre!
Since small-farmers produce more than 80% of the world’s food, it is important to use this new modern way of farming everywhere.
However, the tools that farmers use could be different depending on the size of the farm.
Compact handheld devices, smart sensors, mobile apps, and small drones can bring the benefits of precision farming even to small farmers. Often the benefits to small farmers can mean using just 20% of the fertilizers or pesticides, decreasing costs and improving profits significantly. In some cases, very little technology is needed.
Precision Farm Management
There are some important steps in precision farming to ensure all plants have good growing conditions to increase profits and yield:
The following new technologies are useful at different scales and mostly provide data about spatial differences:
Small and big instruments have accompanying software that is immediately capable of predictive analysis and can be calibrated for specific crops or varieties and regions. In other cases, the data from sensors, which are GPS enabled, are combined by agricultural centers with images from satellites to make decisions over a region to provide timely advice to farmers.
Precision farming involves using technology and data at one or more of the many stages of farming to benefit from levelling the variability in farms.
Fertilizer application - Some of the crucial steps in precision farming are determining the right amounts and timing for fertilizer application. This can improve crop yield and nutritional quality, reduce fertilizer use and cost, and result in less nutrient pollution.
Irrigation regimes can be adjusted to supply required amounts of water when necessary by using a wide range of tools, such as IoT soil probes, and minirhizotrons like CI-600 In-Situ Root Imager and CI-602 Narrow Gauge Root Imager.
Weed detection and chemical application is regulated by devices attached to tractors. This step can reduce weedicides’ use by 80% by avoiding spraying on bare ground or neighbouring vegetation. This not only reduces the costs of weedicides but also maintains biodiversity by not killing non-target plants.
Pest and disease control is possible by using spectrometry on a large scale through remote sensing and satellite imagery to detect diseased vegetation.
For micro-scale analysis,
Overall plant performance - You can monitor the overall crop health with NIR based technology, like the CI-710 Miniature Leaf Spectrometer and the CI-340 Handheld Photosynthesis System.
Harvesting - Unlike grains, deciding when to harvest fruits and vegetables can be challenging. Grains are harvested when dry and can be stored for months and years without being spoiled; however, fresh produce sometimes last only a few weeks, so fruits and vegetables must be plucked when they are ripe or mature enough to be tasty but early enough to extend transport and storage time.
Affordable handheld devices, such as Felix’s F-750 Produce Quality Meter, use dry matter content, brix, titratable acidity, internal color, and external color to decide harvesting time for a wide range of fruits and vegetables. The F-751 Avocado Meter is similar but is designed specifically for avocados.
Post-harvest - During transport and storage, fresh produce needs to be monitored so that the rooms holding them have the optimum levels of ethylene, oxygen (O2), carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature, and humidity. Decision making requires precise data, which can be provided by the following cost-effective handheld tools produced by Felix Instruments:
Many of the tools are simple and easy to use, but some require a little expertise. They are essentials for crop consultants or agricultural centers; however, individual farmers can also learn to use the field tools and are usually provided support by retailers or suppliers. It is worth investing the money and time in VRT tools. Even if precision farming does not always improve yield, it always improves profits and the environment by reducing inputs and optimizing farming.
Science Writer, CID Bio-Science
Ph.D. Ecology and Environmental Science, B.Sc Agriculture
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