Agriculture today is at an important crossroad. Farmers are needing to produce more food on the same land area, with limited resources. In aiming to fulfill the global food demand and scarcity challenge, a significant boom has occurred; farm technology has significantly improved. It has become digitalized, smart, GPS-navigated, and increasingly precise.
The use of precise farm technology has created a new approach to farming practices, precision farming. Based on real-time field information and decision making, precision farming can optimize both farm productivity and profitability, which is the key goal of every successful farmer.
Precise farm management allows the farmer to reduce the use of inputs (machinery, labor, fertilizers, pesticides, seeds, water, etc.) while protecting the natural resources.
Precision farming is a complete farm management approach which relies on technology. Over the last few decades, many new technologies have been developed for precision farming. Some of these are satellite positioning (GPS) system, automated steering system, remote sensing, geo-mapping, and variable rate technology (VRT). Used in combination, these new technologies provide a large amount of high-resolution information related to farm management practices such as tillage, seeding, fertilization, pesticide application, and harvesting.
Achieve High Field Accuracy with Satellite Positioning System
As the most utilized type of satellite system, the global positioning system (GPS) serves as the basis of precision farming development. It’s mainly used for auto-steer systems and the production of geo-reference information (e.g. yield mapping). Driving in the field, GPS enables machinery to drive along repeatable tracks with accuracy, reducing possible errors made by the driver and allowing for on-time performance of farm operations.
GPS navigation is an excellent way to improve accuracy, speed, and uniformity of application. This technology helps farmers keep machinery in the same traffic pattern. It also ‘’remembers’’ the last position in the field, thus reducing skips and overlaps.
Machine movement across the field can be seen on a display screen, which is an important part of the GPS system. In this manner, a farmer has a clear insight into the treated and not treated field surfaces.
Automated Steering System for Perfect Precision
Navigation systems have an additional option to automatically steer the vehicle. This auto-steering system reduces human error and allows the farmer better control of the equipment, thus providing effective field management. The automated steering system allows the piece of machinery driving control, overhead turning by following the field edges, and minimizes overlapping of rows.
There are various types of automated steering systems which provide different accuracy levels of field operations. The most accurate one is the centimeter system, based on a local station with real-time kinematic (RTK) differential correction. To provide ±25 mm accuracy of the machinery pass, the RTK system requires a base station and a data communication system. It can be either mounted to the machinery or operated through the electro-hydraulic steering system.
There are also systems which operate without a data communication system, called precise point positioning.
GPS navigation systems also have the ability to operate variable rate controllers as well as collect spatial data such as application and yield maps.
Save Farm Inputs with Variable Rate Technology (VRT)
Variable rate technology allows the farmer to control the amount of input such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and water. It provides optimization on planting density and improved application rate efficiency of pest protection products and nutrients, resulting in farm cost reduction and, most importantly, the reduction of negative environmental impact.
Combining a variable-rate (VR) control system with application equipment, this technology applies inputs at a precise time and field location in order to achieve site-specific application rates of inputs.
Accurate Geo-Mapping with Sensors and Remote Sensing
Geo-mapping is a technology used to create maps of various soil and crop conditions, such as soil nutrient levels, soil type, soil pH, pest occurrence, and others. Soil maps are created by sensors attached to a vehicle or from a distance, by remote sensing drones, airplanes, and satellites. In conjunction with a GPS, these sensors collect data from the field to evaluate soil and crop health and assign that information to the particular field location.
Using the geo-maps, the farmer is able to precisely detect events or changes in soil properties and provide a corresponding output.
The Bright Future of Data Farming
Over the last few decades, many new technologies have been developed for farming use, from the global navigation system to various sensors for measurement of soil and crop conditions. Although some of these technologies can work independently, additional value is in their integration, or sharing of information.
By using precision technology, a farmer can improve accuracy, reduce input costs, improve soil conditions, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, completely based on data, precision farming can increase the yields and improve the crop’s quality while protecting the environment. This new approach has a bright future, especially because it contributes to the most important goal of every farmer – the sustainability of farm production.