In recent years, agriculture has evolved in leaps and bounds. Technology has become an indispensable part of any business – even for the agricultural sector. Recent studies have forecasted the growth of precision agriculture PA which is set to grow to $43.4 billion by 2025.
This is a massive forecast for a concept that was born in the1990s. Farming is highly land-intensive and labour-intensive. Hence farmers today are driven to use technology to increase efficiency and manage costs.
PA is one of many modern farming practices prevalent today that make crop production more efficient. With PA, experts, researchers and farmers can make the soil work better, giving a higher yield.
PA is all about providing accurate farming techniques for planting and growing crops. Precision farming is everything that makes the practice of farming more productive and profitable. Precision agriculture is also known as precision agronomics and hence the name precision ag.
Here we discuss the various technologies used in the farming stage that lead to precision farming.
What is Precision Agriculture?
Precision farming is all about the optimized management of inputs in a field according to actual crop needs. It uses data-based technologies, includes satellite positioning systems like GPS, remote sensing and the Internet, to manage crops. It also reduces the use of pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation water.
Growers and farmers can take large fields and manage them as though they are a group of small farmlands. This drastically reduces the misapplication of products. It increases crop and farm efficiency. The whole concept of sustainable agriculture demands that – precision farming technology should be applied to make the most of the fertilizers that are applied to the crops.
PA is also known as satellite farming or site-specific crop management (SSCM).
The main focus of PA is to define a Decision Support System (DSS) for managing the whole farm. To optimize returns on inputs while preserving resources at the same time.
PA provides farmers with a wealth of information to:
- Get better insights on the plant needs
- Have a record of their farms
- Improve decision making
- Have a greater traceability
- Enhance the quality of farm products
PA is also referred to as precision farming. The easiest way to understand PA is to think of it as everything that makes farming more accurate and controlled for the growing of crops and raising livestock.
The most critical component of this farm management approach is the use of information technology. The technology uses GPS guidance, drones, sensors, control systems, robotics, autonomous vehicles, automated hardware, telematics, and related software.
Need for Precision Agriculture Today
The primary aim of PA is to ensure efficiency, profitability, and sustainability while protecting the environment. This can only be achieved using the big data gathered by this technology to guide future decisions on every aspect of farming. Everything from where in the field to plant a crop to when it’s best to apply fertilizer, chemical, or seed.
Interestingly PA principles have been around for more than 25 years. But it is only in the last decade that they have become part of the mainstream. Primarily due to the technological advancements and the adoption of other related technologies.
The use of mobile devices, access to high-speed Internet, low-cost satellites used for positioning and imagery – have all contributed to the adoption of PA by the farmers.
Some experts have shown that more than 50% of today’s farmers are using at least one precision farming practice.
There are several technologies used across the agricultural value chain that help in precision farming. Here we discuss some of the key technologies and their usage:
Precision Agriculture using Sensor-based Technology
PA uses wireless sensors to gather data on soil water availability, soil fertility, leaf temperature, local climate data, plant water status, insect disease weed infestation and much more using artificial intelligence.
Optical sensors use light to measure soil properties using various frequencies of light.
Electrochemical sensors are used to collect, process and map soil chemicals. Electrochemical sensors provide detailed information such as soil nutrient levels and pH.
Dielectric soil moisture sensors are another kind of sensor that measure moisture levels by utilizing the dielectric constant. Depending on the moisture content in the soil, this electrical property changes. Agricultural weather stations are located at the growing fields. These stations have a combination of sensors that are applicable to the local crop and climate.
They provide information such as soil temperature at various depths, air temperature, rainfall, leaf wetness, chlorophyll, dew point temperature, wind speed, wind direction, relative humidity, solar radiation, and atmospheric pressure are determined and recorded at regular intervals.
Precision Agriculture Using Drones
Satellite imaging and drones are used extensively in PA. Advanced technologies such as drones in agriculture today offer great potential in tackling all kinds of major or minor challenges in agriculture. Drones are significantly being used in agriculture for irrigation, crop monitoring, soil and field analysis and more.
Agriculture drones are used to capture real-time data and are analyzed to improve crop yields. It uses normal radio controls and can be piloted manually even in case of dangerous situations. Drones produce precise 3-D maps for early soil analysis.
This info assists in planning the patterns of seed planting during sowing. Besides, drone-driven soil analysis provides data for irrigation and nitrogen-level management. The primary aim of PA is to monitor challenges and find ways to overcome them.
Precision Agriculture using Smartphones and Mobiles
Smartphone and mobile applications are increasingly being used in PA. Smartphones have become an integral part of PA. Recent smartphones have practical applications installed, including the camera, microphone, GPS, and accelerometer.
These apps are dedicatedly used in various agriculture applications such as field mapping, livestock monitoring, obtaining climate information and crop information, and more. Mobile phones are readily available, and they are portable, affordable, cost-effective and have high computing power.
Precision Farming using Agricultural Robots
Robotics are allowing farmers to be more efficient and productive when managing crops.
Agricultural robots use their complex camera system to target and spray weeds. This results in 90 per cent less usage of herbicides, making it 30 per cent less expensive than traditional methods. These are also helpful in protecting the environment. The agricultural robots can weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting.
Agricultural robots are a perfect tool for farmers and their lettuce crops. With the help of its imaging system, the tractors are used to reduce weeds from the lettuce fields, thus preventing herbicide-resistant weeds.
Agricultural robots, which are semi and fully automatic, are used for greenhouse management and protecting horticulture. The fully automatic spraying robot helps in completely spraying the greenhouse with.
Precision Agriculture using GPS Soil Sampling
You can find the pH Level, available nutrients, and a range of other data by testing the field soil. IT is important to perform the soil testing of the field. It’s results allow you to make informed and profitable decisions.
Soil sampling allows planters to consider productivity differences within a field and formulate a plan which takes these differences into account. Collection and sampling services worth the effort will allow the data to be used for input for variable rate applications to optimize seeding and fertilizer.
Precision Agriculture using Computer-based Applications
Computer applications are used to create field maps, crop scouting, precise farm plans, as well as yield maps. This allows for more precise application of inputs such as herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. This will reduce expenses, produce higher yields and create a more environmentally-friendly operation.
Precision Agriculture using Remote sensing technology
Since the 1960s, remote sensing technology has been in use in agriculture. It has proved as an invaluable tool. It has been used for monitoring and managing land, water, and other resources. This data helps in decision-making on the farm and can come from several sources, including drones and satellites.
Precision Agriculture – Variable-rate Technology
Variable-rate technology allows chemicals, fertilizer, irrigation water, lime, gypsum, and other farm inputs to be applied at different rates across a field. This is done without manually changing rate settings on equipment or making passes multiple times over an area.
Variable-rate application (VRA) can be very basic, like simple control of flow rate. It can be advanced whereas complex management of rate, chemical mix and application pattern. VRA can match crop yield potential with specific input rates. This results in a more efficient system and minimizes potential environmental impacts.
There are two types of VRT, namely,
- Map-based control: In this system, a map of application rates is created for the field before the operation.
- Real-time control: In this system, the decisions about what rates to apply in different locations are made using information gathered during the operation. This requires sensors to detect necessary information in real-time and is usually designed for a specific job such as herbicide application.
The map-based control is more commonly used in the case of sugarcane.
Requirements of VRA systems
1 Prescription maps to provide site- or zone-specific input rates. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software is used to create these types of maps.
2 Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) such as GPS would help the applicator interpret the prescription map.
3 Variable-rate capable machinery. Most of the time, it is possible to adapt existing machinery and methods for doing it. It will vary from one piece of device to another.
4 A controller will use the application maps to vary the rate of input. You will find VRA map reading and control signaling ability incorporated in many tractor navigation systems. VRA requires a very high level of data management and interpretation.