Precision agriculture

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Precision farming or precision agriculture is a farming management concept based on observing and responding to intra-field variations. It relies on new technologies like satellite imagery and information technology. It is also aided by farmers’ ability to locate their position in a field using satellite positioning system like GPS.


Precision agriculture issues

Precision agriculture aims to optimize field-level management with regard to:

  • crop science: by matching farming practices more closely to crop needs (e.g. nitrogen inputs);
  • environmental protection: by reducing the footprint of farming (e.g. limiting leaching of nitrogen);
  • economics: by boosting competitiveness through more efficient practices (e.g. better management of nitrogen fertilizer costs).

Precision agriculture also provides farmers with a wealth of information to:

  • build up a record of their farm;
  • aid decision-making;
  • foster greater traceability
  • improve the inherent quality of farm products (e.g. protein level in bread-flour wheat)

Stages and tools

Precision agriculture is a four-stage process using techniques to observe spatial variability:

Geolocation of data

Geolocating a field enables the farmer to overlay information gathered from analysis of soils and residual nitrogen, and information on previous crops and soil resistivity. Geolocation is done in two ways:

  • The field is delineated using an in-vehicle GPS receiver as the farmer drives a tractor around the field.
  • The field is delineated on a basemap derived from aerial or satellite imagery. The base images must have the right level of resolution and geometric quality to ensure that geolocation is sufficiently accurate.

Characterizing variability

Intra- and inter-field variability may result from a number of factors. These include climatic conditions (hail, drought, rain, etc. ), soils (texture, depth, nitrogen levels), cropping practices (no-till farming), weeds and disease. Permanent indicators—chiefly soil indicators—provide farmers with information about the main environmental constants. Point indicators allow them to track a crop’s status, i.e., to see whether diseases are developing, if the crop is suffering from water stress, nitrogen stress or lodging, whether it has been damaged by ice and so on. This information may come from weather stations and other sensors (soil electrical resistivity, detection with the naked eye, satellite imagery, etc.). Soil resistivity measurements combined with soil analysis make it possible to precisely map agro-pedological conditions.

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