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Precision Farming: What it is & why it's changing everything in agriculture.

Posted by: Scott Trimble
Oct. 22, 2019

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 -

What is Precision Farming?

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

  • Knowing the soil properties of different parts of your farm can help you decide what crops to plant and when.
  • Pinpoint the places that need additional supplements/irrigation and which places need less. This saves time and money using only the precise amount of inputs necessary.

Farm Size Doesn’t Matter

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:

  • Observe and record the variability in field conditions, crop growth, and yields in different parts of the farms.
  • Evaluate the differences and find the underlying causes.
  • Make management decisions by subdividing a larger farm into smaller homogeneous zones to provide optimum levels of inputs, or use modern machinery to track and react to variability.
  • Application of decisions will take place with the help of machinery or drones with GPS in large fields. Small farms can handle the application of treatments manually.

VRT Technology

The following new technologies are useful at different scales and mostly provide data about spatial differences:

  • Geosaptial technologies—such as remote sensing, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), or satellite imagery—provide information on differences in soils or crop health and performance on regional scales and weather.
  • Robotic drones give information about a single plant or an entire field. They can observe and take pictures aerially and detect problems not visible on the ground, like inefficient irrigation or fertilizer application.
  • Agricultural machinery, like tractors, come equipped with satellite receivers. For older machines, there are small devices that can be added easily to access satellite signals to guide agricultural activities on the field, like ploughing or application of treatments.
  • Small instruments or sensors, can be used on the farm to give information about soil moisture and temperature, root response to supplements, ripeness/ maturity of fruits, etc. Many of them use geo-referencing and IoT.

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.

Applying the Tech

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.

  • There are small and large devices for this purpose. Many tractors are fitted with devices that scan crop conditions in real time to regulate the amount of fertilizers added.
  • Small devices such as the minirhizotrons, CI-600 In-Situ Root Imager, and CI-602 Narrow Gauge Root Imager can provide images of roots to see the response to fertilizers and other supplements provided so the application can be altered later.

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:

F-920 Checkit! Gas Analyzer

F-940 Store it! Gas Analyzer

F-950 Three Gas Analyzer

F-960 Ripen it! Gas Analyzer

Level of Expertise Needed

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.

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Vijayalaxmi Kinhal
Science Writer, CID Bio-Science
Ph.D. Ecology and Environmental Science, B.Sc Agriculture

Sources

DeJoia, A., and Duncan, M. (2015, February 27). What is “Precision Agriculture and why is it important”. Retrieved from https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/what-is-precision-agriculture-and-why-is-it-important/

European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency. (2017, October, 12). Precision farming becoming more and more important in modern agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.gsa.europa.eu/newsroom/news/precision-farming-becoming-more-and-more-important-modern-agriculture

Geospatial World. (2017, Nov 20). What is Precision Agriculture? What is the meaning of Precision Farming? Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhAfZhFxHTs

Shibusawa, S. (2002, August 01). Precision Farming Approaches to Small-Farm Agriculture.Food and Fertilizer Technology Center. Retrieved from http://www.fftc.agnet.org/library.php?func=view&id=20110726164350

Van Vark, C. (2014, June 4). From agribusiness to subsistence: high-tech tools now available to all. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/ global-development-professionals-network/2014/jun/04/subsistence-farming-precision-agriculture

Wigmore, I. Precision Agriculture. Retrieved from https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/precision-agriculture-precision-farming

Yara International. (2013, Jan 11). Precision farming for sustainable agriculture. Retrieved byhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrixH9tFxoA


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Scott Trimble

Marketing Director

strimble@cid-inc.com