Traditional farming, as a whole, relies on; managing entire fields, making decisions related to planting, harvesting, irrigating and applying pesticides and fertilizer-based on regional conditions and historical data. However, Traditional farming can be cumbersome and result in farming, not reaping the full benefits of your hard work. Precision Agriculture hopes to rectify this farming disadvantages.
What is Precision Agriculture?
Precision agriculture (PA), site-specific crop management (SSCM) is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field varying in crops. In simple terms, it is the integration of plants and technology.
It involves the use of data and analytics to improve efficiency on the farm, ultimately leading to a higher yield. PA also gives the farmer a useful and precise guide that helps better define decisions.
The United States Department of Agriculture calls this kind of agriculture as ‘ as needed’ farming and define it as a ‘management system that is information and technology based, is site-specific.
With precision agriculture, farmers work smarter, not harder. They use research about weather patterns, soil temperature and humidity, growth and other factors; they rotate crops to improve diversity, efficiency and production.
Origin of Precision agriculture
This farming technique can be traced back to the 1990s with the deployment of GPS in tractors. John Deer as early as 2001 put GPS in tractors which reduced covering the same ground twice or missing some patches as they moved up and down the field.
Over the past few years, precision agriculture and remote sensing have led to significant breakthroughs in more accurate contour mapping to help farmers understand how water flows through their land and how this water flow affects their yields `.This tech has also shown farmers understand high-density soil sampling to predict the soil fertility of the field and deployment of in-ground sensors to monitor moisture content and nutrient makeup.
Popular tech under Precision farming
Technologies that are currently popular in precision agriculture
- VRT (variable rate technology)
- UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles)
- GPS (global positioning systems)
VRT is a form of the seeder, spreader sprayer and planter technology that has been developed over the last ten years. This technology helps reduce overseeding, spraying and spreading on farms by tracking the equipment with GPS location, thus preventing the excessive use of the product. The most significant benefit you derive from this technology is that it reduces production cost and material by only using what is necessary to exact proportions thus helping you save money you saved money
GPS derived products allow farmers to create maps with precise acreage for field areas, road locations and distances between points of interest. Crop advisors use, rugged data collection devices with GPS for accurate positioning to map pest, insect and weed infestations in the field. Pest problem areas in crops can be pinpointed and mapped for future management and input decisions. The same data can be used by aircraft sprayers enabling accurate swathing of fields without the use of human flaggers to guide them.
UAVs have been implemented in many sectors, but agriculture is arguably the biggest beneficiary. This agricultural technology can be used to map a farm helping the farmer collect data rapidly quickly. Due to precision accuracy, the drone can then be calibrated to pass over the exact area over and over measuring changes in the soil and other agricultural factors. In the end, the farmer will not just collect more data but more accurate information.
UAV has ensured that farming technology has gone beyond the use of satellites and ground-based sensors. It has instead provided the incorporated the use of drone/remote sensing technology to increase accuracy. Deploying a drone is easy, fast and cost-effective in the collection of new reams of data.
Precision agriculture is not a single technology, but rather a set of many components from which growers can select to a form a system that meets their unique needs and operation size according to Professor Reza Ehsani, an expert in agricultural and biological engineering.
Who is backing precision technology?
Many startups have noticed how important and lucrative Farming tech is and have set to developing new software and sensors. Such stat ups have also ventured into aerial-based data collection equipment and other tools for precision farming.
Apart from the startups, some well-established companies such as Monsanto, John Deere, Bayer, Dow and DuPont have also invested in Farming tech. They understand the need for better food production with the ever-growing population.
Government departments have also joined this wagon with U.S. Department of Agriculture, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration all support precision farming. Due to the need for a well trained and skilled workforce, many colleges now offer coursework on the topic at an advanced level signifying its importance now and in the future.
What Precision Agriculture Can Do
First and foremost, it provides detailed statistical information collected regarding the data
To achieve this, stationary or robot-mounted sensors and camera-equipped drones wirelessly send images and data on individual plants. Information about stem size, leaf shape and the moisture of the soil around a plant is received by a computer, which looks for signs of health and stress.
Farmers receive the feedback in real time and then deliver water, pesticide or fertilizer in calibrated doses to only the areas that need it. The technology can also help farmers decide when to plant and harvest crops.
You will be able to determine peak conditions for plant growth and what nutrients your crops need to achieve your yield goals on a field to field basis. These digital agricultural tools will assist you in creating a variety of seeding prescriptions (scripts), including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other essential nutrients.
Over time this data begins to forms patterns that can be statistically analyzed and through computer models you can be able to derive possible future outcomes should one variable be altered in either direction.
The factual base of precision agriculture is the spatial and temporal variability of soil and crop factors between and within the fields. Traditionally, crops have been treated Under the assumptions of ‘uniform` soil nutrient, moisture, weed, insect and growth conditions. This has led to over and under application of pesticides, herbicides; irrigation practices fertilizers and other farm treatments.
Deep statistical knowledge
Precision agriculture equips the farmer with the mathematical knowledge that will assist you with the right amounts to apply. A crop in the same field will have different requirements in terms of moisture and nutrients depending on the soil types, and the blanket application will not bring the desired application but precision agriculture will.
Armed with this data the farmer can plan and deploy more efficient operations, thus, save time, labor and inputs among other costs. Here the farmer has access to management information such as field efficiency, machine operator performance, and total downtime.
As a farmer, you can create profitability maps that show where grove profit was maximum or minimum, or which areas lost money. Scouting and yield maps can be created for use in each farming operation
In addition, you the farmer can accurately estimate your yields and better monitor your plants.
You will be able to employ better resourcing in the application of nutrients and fertilizers, chemicals, water and foliar. This will be achieved through the creation of application maps based on different management zones for the different patches or crop inputs.
This means th nutrients will be applied exactly where you need them in the precise amount you need. During harvest, these maps can be used during harvest and combined with harvest data to produce detailed yield results by field and by hybrid or variety.
When early detection of pests is critical, you can prevent them from destroying your crops through a collection of real-time data. Plants that are under stress will have a different color signature from healthy plants and this can be picked up at the very onset of an infestation. Having picked up signs of an attack, the farmer is in a better position to take effective remedial measures as well as monitoring in future.
Additionally, this technology helps you keep better records. This is, in turn, makes it simple to compare data over a period greatly assisting you in deducing and tabulating trends and the creation of different management. We have an array of data that we collect, especially about a crop in the field. As the plant grows, data is taken and stored electronically. This can be correlated with other data other sources like weather, costs of inputs etc
Some digital applications will allow agronomists track results and evaluate how crops performed across larger territories in varying growing conditions.
Precision Agriculture and Remote Sensing are shaping the Future of Agriculture beyond the field too.
The trickle-down effect
When you deploy precision farming, the cost-saving benefits trickle down to other farming areas.
To the consumers, they can enjoy a more abundant supply of food, resulting in lower prices that can be sustained over more extended periods. Over and above this there is increased productivity of the food using less amount of land leading to economies of scale.
Also, the food availed to them comes with less or fewer pesticides in them meaning much healthier diets. Using precision agriculture pesticides will only be applied only when they are necessary and where they are required. In traditional agriculture, pesticides are applied several to alleviate attacks, whereas, in precision agriculture, there is practically no need for those applications
For the environment this agricultural technology allows you to be more sustainable with your resources. During droughts, you can utilize water more efficiently realizing significant savings of this scarce resource. Automatic sensors will alert you of the need or the best time to irrigate your crops
The use of this technology assists you conform to the rules set by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency EPA) on the use of pesticides ensuring safe and healthy produce.
In the long-term, using our land resources to grow crops more efficiently will allow us to feed the world’s growing population better.
Future of precision agriculture
The future of precision agriculture is getting brighter as science advances, and we have now talked of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is extensively used in modern agriculture to make real the concept of precision agriculture.
Nanotechnology includes nanoparticles having one or more dimensions in the order of 100 nm or fewer. Nanomaterials find applications in plant protection, nutrition and management of farm practices due to small size, high surface to volume ratio and unique optical properties.
A wide range of materials is used to make nanoparticles like metal oxides, ceramics, magnetic materials, semiconductor, quantum dots, lipids, polymers (synthetic or natural), dendrimers and emulsions. Chitosan nanoparticles are being used in agriculture in seed treatment and as biopesticide which helps the plants to fight off fungal infections.
Nanoencapsulation play a vital role in the protection of the environment by reducing leaching and evaporation of harmful substances. The global consumption of pesticides is about two million tonnes per year; out of which 45% is used by Europe alone, 25% is consumed in the USA and 25% in the rest of the world.
Careless and haphazard pesticide usage increases pathogen and pest resistance, reduces soil biodiversity, kills beneficial soil microbes; causes biomagnification of pesticides, pollinator decline and destroys the natural habitat of farmer friends like birds. The potential uses and benefits of nanotechnology are enormous.
These include insect pest management via formulations of nanomaterial-based pesticides and insecticides, increase in agricultural productivity using nanoparticles encapsulated fertilisers for the slow and sustained release of nutrients and water.
Nanoparticles mediated gene or DNA transfer in plants for the development of insect pest-resistant varieties, and use of nanomaterial for preparation of different kinds of biosensors would be useful in remote sensing devices required for precision farming are some of the boons of this modern nanotechnology.
Traditional strategies such as integrated pest management used in agriculture are insufficient, and application of chemical pesticides has adverse effects on animals, using soil microbes and declines the fertility of the soil as well. To combat this problem, the development of more effective and non-persistent pesticides such as controlled release formulation is needed.
In conclusion, when you use precision agriculture properly, it can contribute to reduced waste, increased profits and protect the environment. Many believe that the benefits of precision agriculture can only be realized on large farms with substantial capital investments and experience in information technology. Such is not the case. Like any system, it is designed to provide improvement, trough effective monitoring.