Precision Farming: The future of Agriculture
Back in 2016 a precision farming congress was presented by the North-West University. Hans Stiekema, Regional manager of Ag Leader for Europe, Middle East and Africa, noted that all over Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, there is a high level of precision farming. “South African producers will have to begin to produce more with less impact… Reduce the cost, increase the benefits and take care of the environment. You cannot manage what you don't measure,” he said.
With mounting pressure on farmers in South Africa to produce crops profitably at export parity prices, precision farming is no longer a “nice-to-have”, it’s become the means of maintaining a competitive advantage in a competitive global agricultural market.
The term “precision farming” refers to a management system or series of strategies and tools that allow farmers to optimise and improve soil quality and productivity, putting in place targeted key interventions. A favourable result can be achieved thanks to the introduction of increasingly advanced technologies. As with everything in the world, agriculture is constantly changing with the introduction of new, modern day technology. The key for farmers is to identify which technologies add value to their operations.
The goal of precision farming technologies is higher food production or increased yields with fewer resources and maintain or improve quality. Farmers can benefit from precision farming in the following ways:
This is one of the biggest advantages of precision farming as input costs are reduced when it is targeted to when and where needed.
Improve sustainable farming practices
Sustainability will be improved when applied inputs get to the plants or targets in a site specific manner without affecting the environment elsewhere.
Better understanding of your farm
Farmers will get to know their farms better and this will help increase profit margins long term by better decision making in modern commercial agriculture. This can be an asset if passed on by generations and will add value towards sustainability of the farm.
Reduced input costs and correct decision making, with the help of advanced equipment, means improved quality and quantity (higher crop yields) and better profit margins.
In the past 20 years we have seen an evolution in the development and introduction of highly sophisticated equipment in the agriculture sector. This includes satellite images, data capturing drones, data analytics, remote sensing, IoT technologies, artificial intelligence, the use of precision equipment and GPS systems to help manage variations in fields. All this technology helps gather valuable information and analyse the data collected to elevate crop yields to a whole new level and help feed a fast growing world population.
Yields considered to be impossible to achieve some years ago are now a reality and precision farming contributes in a big way. The continuous improvement in technology is helping this change along at an astonishing rate. A modern-day farmer needs to make smart and correct decisions to survive all the challenges farming has to offer, of which the changing climate must surely be the most challenging. Decisions are more and more based on accurate and reliable data, not on estimates or assumptions.
In traditional agriculture practices farmers would apply resources to the crop at a universal rate and frequency over the whole field or orchard. General recommendations were followed for a crop, a cultivar, or a region, but not so anymore. Precision farming has changed these practices. There are many variables in each field or orchard and the whole unit can’t be treated the same anymore. For example: Fertiliser and water usage differ in the same field and so does weed pressure, soil depth, soil type, difference in slopes, effect of the wind, insect and disease pressure etc. The idea that differentiates traditional farming from precision methods is variable rate application (VRA). By providing the correct amount of resources at the needed time and place to the crop. By doing this a lot of unnecessary input costs could be saved.
Drones are used to fly over fields and collect photos and essential data that can be processed in real time by adequate software to make everyday management decisions for the crop at stake. This contribution to the management system helps the farmer to make decisions faster and more accurately than ever before. It provides an instant bird’s-eye view of where problems in the field occur and can be addressed immediately and with precision. Drones are also being introduced to help with crop spraying solutions. This is still at a very early development stage though. All these processes help save the farmer time, man hours and eventually money to help make farming operations more profitable.
Whether you are recording soil temperatures, measuring water usage on a specific crop to determine usage throughout the year or yield monitoring and mapping in precision farming the collection of accurate data is imperative. Cloud storage can now be used to save data with the added benefit that farmers have access to all the information they need, anywhere on the farm and at any time they need it. There is no need for long cables and lots of software to store data anymore.
Precision farming is a long-term investment. The process needs a lot of dedication and, importantly, requires that the correct decisions be made at the right time. Mistakes can be very costly and will lead to heavy financial losses if the process is not accurately planned and executed. Attention to detail is paramount.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ignacio Dominguez, President and CEO of ADAMA, wrote that “in parts of the world where the availability of food is too often taken for granted, and farming is a distant, abstract thing, the sight of empty supermarket shelves caused many to stop and think about where our food comes from, how agricultural supply chains work, and how important it is to ensure an available and affordable food supply. When ties are created between consumers and farmers, everyone has a stake in creating a sustainable future, and we all win.” Find out more, and read about ADAMA’s commitment to sustainable farming.