Yield loss in agriculture is a major problem. Under conventional farming methods, over 0.25 of all farmed crops are lost before harvesting. This not only affects the farmer’s pocket, but it also leaves a large carbon footprint. Resources are also getting depleted faster while the world population is increasing rapidly. This pushes the demand for food higher and under the current farming systems; it is not possible to meet the world’s population food requirements. This complication has led to the invention and adoption of technologically advanced farming methods which are more effective and less strenuous on the environment. Among the most effective methods is precision farming.
Precision farming is a holistic approach that involves integrating precise farming techniques to achieve maximum output with minimum resources all while conserving the environment. It is fast gaining relevance due to its positive impact on the environment and the pockets of farmers. Under precision farming, all the activities conducted are heavily influenced by technology. There are over 20 technology essentials that are employed in precision farming. In this article we will address the most important technology essentials in precision farming.
Global Satellite Positioning System
This is the most important aspect of precise farming. Without GPS, there is no precise farming. GPS has been extensively used in farm machinery such as tractors, drones and remote sensors. As a satellite navigation system, it has pinpoint accuracy on the time and position of each element on the farm. It can be used to map the farm and all its resources within. This is particularly helpful when making a plan for your farm. You know where the water bodies are located, where the richest soils are found and the distance between each resource. GPS can also be used in guiding farm machinery. It is installed in a tractor and commands such as the distance to move, its speed, and the task it will handle are input. It is very accurate and rarely causes any errors. It can also be used in times of strong winds, rain or fog.
Advanced Farm Machinery
Precise farming will only work if the equipment being used is of high standard. This includes farm machinery, farm production equipment, wireless sensors and mobile devices. Machinery such as precision hoes is required in order to effectively perform weeding. The hoes are manufactured specifically for use with GPS guided tractors. Irrigation equipment also needs to adhere to equal spacing between the emitters in order for all crops to receive an equal share of moisture. Devices such as laptops and phones are used to record, display and process the data sent from the GPS or remote sensing equipment. Since the information is being relayed raw, the electronic device needs to have a high processing power. Such items do not come cheap, but their importance cannot be understated.
Remote sensing is collection of data from the farm without there being any physical contact. It has multiple uses around the farm, hence its importance as a technology essential in precision farming. Crop identification and crop analysis are some of the applications of remote sensing equipment such as imaging spectrometers. These are devices that can sense the light energy (spectral signature) reflected by plants, soils and animals. They use that spectral signature to distinguish elements in the farm. The same spectral signature is also used in identifying infestation of pests and diseases in the farm. Crops which are infested with pests emit a different spectral signature from healthy crops.
The applications of remote sensing in agriculture are numerous and varied. Other applications include: estimating the soil moisture, monitoring weather patterns, mapping farm resources and estimating yield production.
Variable Rate Technology (VRT)
Variable rate technology involves application of farm inputs at a precise rate, time and position. It is intended to reduce wastage and get increased yields from the same size of land. It is commonly used when sowing, irrigating, weeding and fertilizer application. In order for VRT to work, it requires GPS, advanced farm machinery, VR software and an electronic processor. When seeding, the planter is input with seeds and set to the number of revolutions per hour and quantity of seeds per hole. This ensures the seeds are only sowed where necessary. When applying fertilizer, the system follows a pre-set format where fertilizer is applied at optimum. This reduces the chances of fertilizer loss through leaking which has adverse effects on the environment.
Automated Steering System
Auto steering has been practiced before in farming, but it was not very successful. The introduction of advanced real-time kinematic global positioning system (RTK-GPS) made the process more efficient. RTK-GPS was integrated with auto-steering software and the results were much better. In precision farming, the tractor needs to move uniformly throughout the farm. Achieving such a task with human-driven tractors is not possible. Farmers often skip patches of land and overlap on rows, but with auto-steering it will be uniform from point A to Z. The auto-steering software reduces human error since it has an accuracy of + or –30mm.
Data management system
To record, process, store and disseminate all the data collected in precision farming, you require an efficient data management system. Data collected by remote sensors and GPS is raw which makes it very complicated. It needs to be processed by an expert before it can be consumed by famers. With a proper data management system, you can monitor your farm, take high resolution images and process them using advanced software. Ensure the system has a high accuracy to avoid distorting the data. A proper data management system also prevents loss of data.
Technology is changing rapidly as is the world and its population. New methods of farming which have better results need to be adopted rapidly across the world to ensure food security. With precision farming and advanced technology, major world problems like food shortage and environmental degradation can be solved. Some technology essentials are complicated and expensive to implement, but their effects are long lasting and affordable in the long run.