Precision agriculture: The future is now

Precision agriculture (PA) reportedly has the potential to boost agricultural productivity by 70% by 2050. With a growing global population, PA techniques can deliver much-needed food security in the decades to come. Precision agriculture (PA), is a crop-farming management concept based on identifying and managing the variability of growing conditions on the crop farm.

Variable Rate Application (VRA) refers to the application of a material, so that the rate of application reflects the precise location or properties in the area where the material is applied. This contrasts with uniform application and can help reduce costs and minimize the environmental impact of growing crops.
A further key focus in PA research involves defining an overall Decision Support System (DSS) for crop farm management to optimize field-level management. Activities are aimed at improving economic and environmental sustainability while increasing food availability and optimizing returns on inputs.

Five key steps to applying precision agriculture successfully:
1. Observation and data collection. Several years’ worth of data is often needed to determine trends in key parameters, making data a key input in farm management systems. Common sources of information for crop growers include yield maps, solid and tissue testing, remotely sensed imagery (drone, satellite, airplane etc.), crop assessment and high-resolution soil mapping.
2. Diagnosis, evaluation and interpretation. Just like a doctor treating a patient, diagnosis, evaluation and interpretation offer the farmer important clues about the ‘health’ of the farm and support the setting up of management zones.
3. Targeted management plan. Management zones are sub-field areas with homogeneous features. They enable field practices to be customized to each area, resulting in practical and cost-effective precision agriculture. Specifically, using management zones reduces the cost of fertilizing, improves crop yields and reduces pesticide usage. It also provides better farm records – essential for improving sales and gathering information to support management decisions. A strong plan will also indicate the expected results in terms of yields and income.
4. Implementation. VRA 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. Effective monitoring ensures the farmer has the information they need to evaluate the success of the plan.

This article was co-written by Hazera with Dr. Galit Sharabani, an expert in Precision Agriculture with many years of experience in the agricultural business.

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