Precision Agriculture – The Future is Now

By Dr. Galit Sharabani

Decisions are a part of our daily life. Decision-making is central to farm management; decisions have critical impact on crops, and even deciding to do nothing is a decision with an impact. Crop farm management is based on dynamic processes and requires daily, careful and detailed organization and management of farm activities at the strategic, tactical and operational levels.

Dr. Galit Sharabani

Using a step-by-step, structured decision-making process can help the grower /agronomist /farm manager, make more deliberate, thoughtful decisions by organizing relevant information and defining alternatives.

The United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that by 2050, the world population will reach 9.6 billion, and by that time we must increase global food production by 60%. Nevertheless, it is estimated that new techniques of precision agriculture have the potential to increase agricultural productivity by 70% by 2050.

Precision agriculture (PA), is a crop farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to variability in crops. The goal of PA research is to define an overall Decision Support System (DSS) for crop farm management in order to optimize field-level management. All the activities are aimed at improving economic and environmental sustainability while increasing food availability and optimizing returns on inputs. PA is based on identifying and managing the variability in the crop farm. Variable Rate Application (VRA) refers to the application of a material so that the rate of application is based on the precise location or properties in the area in which the material is applied. This contrasts with uniform application and can be used to save money and reduce the environmental impact.

Fundamental decisions made by growers should be composed of five main steps:

  1. Observation/Data collection – by using invasive sensors, remote sensors or maps. These sources need to be valuable and practical for making decisions and must contribute by answering a question and providing an interpretation of spatial information. Sources of information may include yield maps, solid and tissue testing, remotely sensed imagery (drone, satellite, airplane etc.), crop assessment, high resolution soil mapping. Data collected over several years may be needed to determine trends in the parameters of interest, and hence, data has become a regular input for the farm management system.
  2. Diagnosis, Evaluation and Interpretation – Just like a doctor treating a patient, diagnosis, evaluation and interpretation will provide the farmer with important clues about the ‘health’ of the farm and lead to the establishment of management zones.
  3. Targeted management plan – Management zones are subfield areas that have homogeneous features, so field practices can be customized to each such area, resulting in a practical and cost-effective approach to Precision Agriculture. The adoption of management zones reduces the cost of fertilizing, improves crop yields, reduces pesticide usage, provides better farm records that are essential for sale and better information for management decisions. The plan will also include an indication of the expected results in terms of yields and income.
  4. Implementation – VRA (Variable Rate Application) may not always work according to plan. Sometimes, during implementation, plans may need to be adjusted to accommodate changes. In the end, the farmer has to monitor and keep track of what is happening on the farm.
  5. Performance evaluation – Monitoring provides the farmer with the information needed to evaluate the success of the plan.

Precision Agriculture

Fundamental decisions by growers should be composed of 5 main steps

(This image includes information from PA companies: Agritask, Croptimistic, CropX, Delair, Farm Dog, Intelinair, Sailog, Taranis, TerrAvion, Trapview)  

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The writer is Dr. Galit Sharabani, an expert in Precision Agriculture with many years of experience in the agricultural business, as well as at Hazera.