What is Precision Agriculture?

What is “precision agriculture” and why is it important?  Precision agriculture is a collective term for advancements in technology that enhance farm production by utilizing smart data usage and better decision-making. In short, it helps farms work better, not harder.

As the global population rises, so too does the strain on the world’s food production systems. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the global population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050.1 To meet that demand, global food production would have to increase by 70%. Precision agriculture is a key part in achieving this demand.

When did precision agriculture begin?

The term originates in the 1990s, entering the agricultural mindset along with the emergence of GPS guidance for tractors – a huge innovation at the time that is now practiced as the norm across the globe. A tractor using GPS automatically steers the machine according to the coordinates in the field. At a basic level, this frees up the driver and helps prevent human error. More importantly, it cuts down on wasted time, fuel, and fertilizer or seed. This use of technology to eliminate unnecessary wastage and boost productivity was the birth of precision agriculture.

How does precision agriculture fit in today?

Precision agriculture is now the norm, not the exception. Between 70-80% of new farm equipment sold in Europe now incorporates at least some form of precision agriculture technology. The European market for machinery that uses precision agriculture tech now turns over approximately €26bn every year.2

What functionality is available to farmers today?

Precision technology has completely revolutionized farm machinery – it’s now possible to incorporate functionality such as geo-mapping, sensors, integrated electronic comms, variable rate technology, and more.

Most tractors now offer automated steering systems, making operation easier and reducing human error. These systems can help ensure a guidance pattern is followed and free up the driver to focus on other aspects of work.

Geo-mapping is also now commonplace. By using sensors and cloud-based technology, it’s possible to have complete insight into a farm’s soil, including nutrition, topography, pH, moisture content, and more. Farm strategies can then be adjusted accordingly to optimize outputs.

Nevertheless, precision agriculture has changed. The term has often been used in tandem or in place of “smart farming” in the past, and it’s true that the two share many similarities. Where they differ – and what is now referred to as “precision agriculture” is the use of these smart farming technologies at a much more granular level. By dividing large fields into “management zones”, it’s then possible to manage these zones individually in a far more precise and impactful way than is possible when practicing the less specific and focused “smart farming”.

What are the benefits of precision agriculture?

Precision agriculture is a key asset in more precisely measuring and utilizing resources and inputs, boosting overall productivity. By effectively using the vast amounts of data generated every day on farm, it’s possible to drive huge gains to a farm’s productivity. Key benefits of practicing precision agriculture include:

  • Weather report monitoring in real-time – always understand the temperature, humidity and other conditions, in order to guide best practice at all times
  • Soil monitoring – use connected sensors to monitor moisture, nutrition, radiation, temperature, and other aspects on farm, to help deliver optimal conditions for strong plant growth.
  • Disease and pest alerts – never get caught out again, with constant awareness of what parts of the field are at risk and what needs protection, preventing severe financial impact due to pests
  • Cut costs and time – less time spent checking and recording farm conditions, and a reduction in fertilizer and chemical application costs by using variable rate technology
  • Better data capture – all data is captured and stored electronically, making internal processes simpler while also smoothing transactions with business partners
  • Standardized data use – by collecting this data, it’s possible to unlock even further functionality and value by using complementary data connectivity platforms and software, such as Proagrica’s Sirrus and Summit.

Ultimately, precision agriculture, backed by smart data usage, can be vital in identifying the most investable parts of a farm, and that would deliver the best outcomes in terms of profitability, sustainability and conservation. When implemented effectively, precision agriculture has the potential for farmers to derive far more value out of their everyday practices. Precision agriculture is about understanding the profitability of production, and what changes can generate the greatest value.

Why isn’t everyone doing this?

Although adoption rates for tech solutions in agriculture have risen in the last two decades, the uptake has remained generally slow. This is likely due to a number of reasons. Agriculture is a very traditional industry in practice, with many not willing to risk adopting what they see as unproven methods.

Often these solutions just aren’t accessible. Different functionality and pieces of software are presented to the farmer which might solve certain aspects on farm, but don’t link up and end up generating additional work and frustration. This, combined with the financial investment, has turned off many a potential user. However, smart use of data and tech to improve farming is on the rise, and solutions now exist that fight back against these barriers to entry.

Is precision agriculture worth it?

In short: Absolutely. Precision agriculture is on the rise, with the market value expected to grow from approximately 5.09 billion U.S. dollars in 2018 to 9.53 billion U.S. dollars by 2023.3 More and more in the industry are beginning to recognize the huge opportunities available to them – more so now than ever before – by adopting precision agriculture.

The future of agriculture is bright, if not without challenges. Precision agriculture is about identifying and eliminating the barriers towards the best results possible on farm. Daily operations already generate vast amounts of data – why shouldn’t this be put to good use for the farmer?

By adopting smarter use of their data and precision agriculture, farmers are able to produce more food at a fraction of the cost. This doesn’t just financially benefit themselves but serves as a stronger model for a more sustainable and productive future of the industry as a whole.

Click on the link to find out about Proagrica’s Precision agriculture technology www.proagrica.com/our-technology/precision-agriculture/

 

1“The future of food and agriculture: Trends and challenges”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2017

2Farming 4.0: the Future of Agriculture? | CEMA – European Agricultural Machinery. 2017. Farming 4.0: the Future of Agriculture? | CEMA – European Agricultural Machinery. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.cema-agri.org/page/farming-40-future-agriculture.

3https://www.statista.com/statistics/721921/forecasted-market-value-of-precision-farming-worldwide/

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