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Precision Farming: the quantitative data revolution

16 May 2017

“I remember telling my wife that everything would be GPS-controlled in future. From the sky, I could see the different levels of soil degradation on my farms caused by previous farmers, and I was enthusiastic about using precision farming and GPS technology to correct the soil.” ~ Jozua du Plessis, South Africa’s grain producer of the year, 2016.

Precision Farming: the quantitative data revolution

There has been a quiet revolution in the farming industry. Extraordinary new technologies have been adapted and designed to assist farmers with a range of functions hitherto reliant on the more laborious processes of land surveys, soil analysis, weather predictions and educated guesswork. But today we have the help of satellites, high-precision positioning systems, smart sensors, and a range of IT applications combined with high-tech engineering.  

In a nutshell, precision agriculture uses information technology to create an optimum environment for crops and soil to receive exactly what they need and where they need it for the good health of the plants and productivity. Not only does the system offer higher profitability – but also better ways to utilise and sustain the land. It saves time, reduces costs, reduces wastage, utilizes water more efficiently, improves productivity, and creates greater environmental sustainability.

How it works

Initially, you will need accurate mapping of your property to show boundaries, internal field boundaries, waterways, contouring and any other natural features. More specific information can be obtained from individual field maps. After this, through the use of new precise technologies such as image and satellite positioning technology, a farmer is able to ascertain exact areas to work on or adjust, and to calculate exactly what inputs will be required with regard to soil, crops and nutrient levels.

  • Site-specific crop management means integrating key aspects into a single data management system. From one comfortable position, the farmer can see land conditions, soil types, crop requirements and where to plant what and when. It is a seamless, cost-effective system and easy for farmers to install and use.
  • Specialised equipment, software and IT services are designed to assist the farmer to access real-time data concerning the conditions of crops, soil and ambient air, along with accurate weather predictions.
  • Field sensors measure the moisture content and temperature of the soil and surrounding air.
  • Analytics provide guidance with regard to crop rotation, optimal planting times, harvesting and soil management.
  • Satellites and drones provide farmers with information about individual plants that can be integrated with sensor information to provide the farmer with precise knowledge regarding which fields need water, and when or where to plant a particular crop.
  • All this information – through agricultural control centres – allows the farmer to identify water requirements, optimum amounts of water required, as well as fertilizers and pesticides to be applied. This prevents wastage in all areas: water run off, correct amounts of additives, and alleviation of over-use and damage to the land.
  • Today, the use of mobile apps, smart sensors, drones and cloud computing makes precision agriculture available for small to medium farmers, as well as large co-operatives.

Benefits

Farmers are the first custodians of the land. Invaluable knowledge of soil types, humidity, crop preferences and rotational needs, water requirements and monitoring, best planting times, etc,  has built up over thousands of years. However, modern precision farming gives them all this information at a touch of a button and offers exact locations, times and provision of nutrient, water, seed and other inputs – thus effectively cultivating a wide range of soil environments with optimum efficiency.

  • Farmers are able to specifically target sites that may have been missed previously simply because not enough understanding was available to them.
  • Large agricultural equipment such as tractors and harvestors can be equipped with GPS systems that are able to accurately assist with the planting of crop rows, as well as the application of fertilizers.
  • Using global positioning to hone in on site-specific areas, provides valuable data such as: • aerial imagery • crop or soil color index maps • electromagnetic soil mapping • soil sample collection • soil types and characteristics • crop yield data • drainage level • potential yields.
  • Satellite geo-mapping data helps a farmer to divide larges areas into smaller management zones, which reduces waste and increases production across every  usable corner of the land, increasing the production potential.
  • Soil types, fertiliser levels, seed application, crop yields can all be shown on layered, customised maps that allow farmers access to far more precise analysis of inputs and production potential.   
  • If a farmer is able to quickly evaluate the soil variability of a field, ie: if the soil in one area holds water better, crops can be planted more densely and irrigation can be sparing. In this way, food can be produced at much reduced costs and the stability of supply is vastly improved.

The precision application of drip irrigation

Once a farmer has ascertained his water requirements, and when and how often application must be effected, the next option is drip irrigation. Discovered in 1938, drip irrigation is our earliest form of precision farming. With state-of-the-art nozzle designs, drip irrigation allows small amounts of water to be delivered directly to the root system without wastage. The system can be adapted to the type of crop, soil conditions, and equipped with the right amount of nutrients the plants may require. Hygienic, economical and utterly precise, drip irrigation is the perfect partner in the current technological revolution in farming.  

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