February 22, 2019

Precision Agriculture: From Concept To Practice

What Is Precision Agriculture And How Smart Is It?

Precision agriculture is the peak of today’s stage of the agricultural revolution, which started in the early 20th century with increasing mechanization. It proceeded in 1990 when new methods of genetic modification were introduced.

To understand the advantages, let’s first define what precision agriculture is and why it is beneficial for agrarians. The term is often abbreviated to PA, also known as satellite farming, site-specific crop management (SSCM), or precision farming. This is a concept that implies observation, measurement and response to inter and intra-field variability in crops employing information technology (IT).

The main goal of PA outlines its benefits. The approach defines the crops and soil requirements for optimum productivity on the one hand and to preserve resources, ensure environmental sustainability and protection on the other. This process into regular farming helps to solve the most vital problems in agriculture: resource wasting, high costs, and destructive environmental impact.

Nowadays, the latest scientific and technological discoveries make the life of farmers obviously easier, enabling them to cope with their tasks faster.

With lots of available methods, agrarians naturally want to have the best and the most efficient product for their money. So, what is the best method to begin with? Estimating the pros and contras of every particular technology, monitoring with satellites can be regarded as the most economical and available option.

Spatial images and tools for their interpretation enable farmers to distinguish the problem areas precisely, to decide what method to apply in the target zone and to calculate the best time for that.

basic technologies used in precision farming

Basic Technologies Used In Precision Farming:

  • Variable rate technology (VRT) – any technology or method allowing farmers to control the amount of inputs applicable within defined farming areas. This technology uses specialized software, controllers and differential global positioning system (DGPS). Basically there are three approaches to VRT – manual, based on maps or data from sensors.
  • GPS soil sampling – this method is based on taking samples of soil to check nutrients, pH level, and other data to make profitable decisions in agriculture. Big data collected by sampling, is applied to calculate the variable rate for optimized seeding and fertilizing.
  • Computer-based applications – this refers to applications used to create precise farm plans, field maps, crop scouting, yield maps and to define the exact amount of inputs to be applied to fields. Among the advantages of this method is the possibility to create an environmentally-friendly farming plan, which in its turn helps to reduce the cost and increase yields. On the other side, these applications provide narrow value data that cannot be applied for big precision agriculture solutions due to the inability to integrate the obtained data into other supporting systems.
  • Remote sensing technology – the method determines factors that can stress a crop at a specific time to estimate the amount of moisture in the soil. The dataset is obtained from drones and satellites. Compared to drone data, satellite imagery is more accessible and multi-purpose.

precision farming with vegetation map

What Are The Concept Applications?

Precise agriculture enables remote field control and management employing sensors in fields proper as well as drones and satellites for surveillance from the sky. They are all good for their specific purposes, so it is not easy to opt.

Satellite images seem to be the most lucrative option of remote sensing to begin with. Here are some basic reasons why. Just like the word combination suggests, online software (and Crop Monitoring in particular) allows acquiring, processing and analyzing data online.

Using such IT products, you can store the complete information in one place, receive historical data and their comparative analysis, make reports and share any needed information with all participants involved in the field management process (farmers, agronomists, agrarians in the field, insurance companies, traders, etc.).

Offering high-resolution satellite images for fields analytics to monitor crops health remotely!

That explains the other benefits:

1. High costs. Prices for all devices (drones, sensors, weather stations) are sky-high while it is irrational to use them all the time. They are needed in a certain place at a definite time only. Satellite monitoring is enough to detect the problem area, then it is the turn of drones or scouting apps to enter the scene to see the matter in detail. After that, you decide how to resolve the matter manually.

2. Focused human resources. Expensive costs for such gadgets are not the only entry on the list. You have to hire specialists or provide training for your workers to operate the trendy device. Licenses are also required.

3. Restricted operation. Drones are prohibited close to restricted strategic sites like military bases or airports and highly sensitive to strong winds – that limits their usage.

precision agriculture in large scale

Spatial Images Derived – What’s Next?

To collect a dataset is not all – you still have to interpret them. The good thing about online services is that they incorporate tools for data processing as well.

Basic software analytical tools include:

  1. Vegetation indices:

(a) NDVI Normalized Difference Vegetation Index – estimates plant health with reflected NIR light

(b) ReCl –  Red-edge Chlorophyll Index – detects chlorophyll and thus photosynthesis capability

(c) NDRE Normalized Difference RedEdge Index – targets at chlorophyll as well but is intended to monitor crops in the middle and late seasons

(d) MSAVI Modified Soil-Adjusted Vegetation Index – monitors early stages of plant development to monitor crop conditions

(e) NDMI – Normalized Difference Moisture Index – describes the crop’s water stress level.

farmer using vegetation indices for precision farming

  1. Growth stages

Relevant information on the plant growth cycle enables agronomists to competently choose the most appropriate time for field activities. This includes applications of fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides; distribution of irrigation or drainage systems. Thus, you can tackle the problem on your farm right on time.

beginning growth stage of crop

  1. Field zoning based on the productivity level

Since the fields on your farm differ in soil composition, nutrients required, the ability to retain water and many other attributes, the best way is to apply the field zoning technique. It suggests a differential approach to determine the purpose of the land and the way to handle it.

This is done via almost-real time satellite images and comparative analysis of historical data in a certain retrospective. When you spot a certain similarity – it is likely to be regularity you can make work for you.

combine on the field

  1. Internet of Things

IoT and robotics replace humans in many spheres of life and farming is no exception. As of now, multiple apps can calculate the amount of planting material or required nutrients per acre even more accurately than men would! You get crop conditions and weather forecasts via your phone.

Autopilot machinery is smart enough to distinguish weeds from plants and ripe fruit from unripe ones.

farmer checks crop state after scouting

  1. Geographic Information Systems

You need to identify the location of machinery not just to know where it is. GIS improves agricultural operations and overall productivity. Computer-equipped seeders and sprinklers don’t pass the same line twice meaning they avoid overlaps and missed areas.

This innovation reduces the consumption of materials and protects nature in the case of chemical applications, not to mention that excessive fertilizing and watering destroy the crops.

yield harvesting in precision agriculture

Crop Monitoring – Your First Step To Precision Agriculture

Making a precision agriculture definition simpler, we can also put it as acquiring and operating accurate almost real-time information for crop farming with the latest computer techniques.
The ultimate goal of precise agriculture is to work out the most efficient solutions.

Crop Monitoring for precision farming

With Crop Monitoring, you can store the whole dataset in one place and get detailed and comprehensive analyses of weather conditions, plant development stages, the best amount and time for seeding or fertilizer applications, GIS field zoning and much more.

The smart software notifies you about weather forecasts, crop conditions and anomalies in their development enough in advance to prevent losses.

Equipped with relevant information and competent recommendations, you will be able to make the best of your farm reducing the inputs of seeds and fertilizers and contributing to nature protection.

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