Precision Farming: A better understanding

When people hear ‘precision farming’ or ‘precision agriculture’, they immediately think about ‘computers’. A wise man once said: “If you don’t measure, you don’t know”.

This brings us to the next questions; “What is there to measure?”, and “What is there to know?” Precision agriculture does not only refer to technology, but to the bigger picture of farming; farming is not just farming anymore, it has become a science.

Precision agriculture focuses on the understanding of the total cycle – a farming concept that is based on observing, measuring, understanding and then responding to variables in crops in the field or even between fields.

This is also referred to as satellite farming (having that helicopter vision) or sitespecific crop management (SSCM). The primary goal is to improve output (produce), while minimising on inputs.

The focus is to define a decision support system (DSS) for the whole farm management process, with the goal of optimising returns on inputs while preserving resources.

Precision agriculture has been enabled by the advent of geographical positioning system (GPS) and a variation of the same. The farmer’s ability to locate the precise position in a field allows for the creation of maps of the spatial variability of as many variables as can be measured (eg crop yield, terrain features ortopography, organic matter content, moisture levels, nitrogen levels, pH, EC, Mg, K, and others).

Similar data is collected by sensor arrays mounted on GPS-equipped combine harvesters. These arrays consist of real-time sensors that measure everything from chlorophyll levels to plant water status, along with multispectral imagery.

This data is used in conjunction with satellite imagery by variable rate technology (VRT) including seeders, sprayers and fertiliser applicators etc. to optimally distribute resources. Through GPS guidance, a farmer can know exactly what is needed and where on the farm, in the exact amounts at the right time. This will contribute to maximising yield and minimisng input costs.

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