The next major agricultural advancement is the use of smart devices to monitor crops, livestock, and weather. Precision agriculture is a new approach that uses Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to improve operations.
Farmers have always relied on technology, starting with the agricultural revolution of the early 1800s. The introduction of canning, steel plows, and other agricultural machinery allowed farmers to produce more food with less labor.
Precision farming is likely the next major change in agriculture, offering many of the same benefits provided by earlier technologies. However, the technologies for precision farming are still new.
Why should farmers pay attention to the developments in precision agriculture? The use of new technologies gives farms innovative solutions for dealing with declining yields, unpredictable weather, and other common agricultural issues.
What Is Precision Agriculture?
Precision agriculture involves the use of various technologies to aid agricultural processes. It is the practice of implementing technologies to gain more accuracy and control when growing crops or raising livestock.
The concept is simple. Farmers increase the precision of their farming operations using sophisticated technologies. With the help of connected sensors and monitors, farmers can increase yields and improve the efficiency of their farms. This may lead to increased profitability in an industry that faces many challenges.
Precision farming started in the 1990s with the introduction of GPS guidance systems for tractors. John Deere implemented GPS technology in its tractors to reduce steering errors. This resulted in fewer overlap passes, allowing farmers to waste less fertilizer, seed, and fuel while saving time and labor.
Along with GPS to aid steering, precision farming has grown to include other technologies. Some of the core elements of this practice include:
- GPS soil sampling
- Variable rate technology (VRT)
- Computer-based analysis
- Remote sensors
GPS Soil Sampling
GPS soil sampling provides details related to the available nutrients in the soil. Checking the pH level and nutrients help farmers formulate a plan to optimize the use of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides.
Variable Rate Technology (VRT)
This technology includes different devices for adjusting the input of farming equipment based on external factors, including weather. VRT systems often use software and a controller to adjust the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and a variety of equipment in specific locations. About 15% of US farms already use some type of VRT system.
The analysis covers various applications for assisting with crop scouting, field maps, and other precise farm plans. Farmers may use data to reduce expenses, increase yields, and limit their impact on the environment.
Are one of the oldest examples of precision farming. Farmers first started using remote sensors in the 1960s to monitor land, water, and other resources. For example, farmers may use sensors to estimate the amount of moisture in the soil, helping to calculate the precise amount of water to use on the field.
No matter the technology, the goal is the same. These devices and systems allow farmers to make decisions with greater precision.
Advantages of Precision Farming
Precision farming shares many of the advantages provided by smart devices for consumers. Many household devices are now connected via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Smart homes allow homeowners to simplify common tasks, such as turning off the lights and lowering the temperature at night.
The latest technologies for precision farming also help simplify common tasks. However, there are many additional reasons to implement new farming technologies, including:
- Detailed data analysis
- Higher crop yields
- Reduced waste
- Less manual labor
- Increased efficiency
Due to the limited adoption of new technologies in the farming industry, there are not a lot of case studies. As more farmers start using precision farming equipment, additional advantages may be discovered.
Detailed Data Analysis
Using sensors to monitor soil, crops, weather, or livestock gives farmers more data for making more informed decisions. This is the heart of precision farming. Making precise calculations to accommodate for weather changes and other factors requires access to more data.
Tractors, tills, and other equipment may be connected to devices that transmit data to a central database. Computer software is then used to analyze the data, presenting farmers with a detailed look at the issues that impact the efficiency of their farms.
Higher Crop Yields
With a closer look at soil conditions, crop growth, and weather, farmers can achieve higher yields. Traditionally, farmers make decisions related to planting, irrigating, fertilizing, and harvesting crops based on historical data and regional conditions.
Sensors, mapping tools, and analytical software make it easier for farmers to alter their operations based on weather or soil changes. Farmers can now monitor entire fields remotely and alter the delivery of water, pesticides, or fertilizer without leaving the house. The data is updated in real-time, ensuring greater accuracy and informed decision-making.
One of the most significant benefits of precision farming is the ability to reduce waste. With accurate data on soil and crop conditions, farmers can adjust the use of resources to limit unnecessary doses of fertilizer or pesticides.
Using fewer pesticides and less fertilizer may lead to improved soil conditions, as these products often contain harmful chemicals that may seep into the ground. This requires farmers to rotate fields and crops. Maintaining quality soil may limit these practices, providing an additional boost to overall efficiency.
Less Manual Labor
Automating tasks reduces the need for manual labor on a farm. While farms will always need humans to handle certain tasks, more tasks are being performed by automated equipment.
Mechanization led to major reductions in farm labor starting in the 1950s. The decline continues today, with less of a need for seasonal labor and a reduction in farm output. The agricultural workforce is expected to continue shrinking over the coming decades.
With less interest in agriculture as a career, farms may need to rely on automated equipment to replace manual labor.
The combination of advantages discussed leads to increased efficiency. With less spending, waste, and damage to crops or livestock, farms become more profitable.
Profitable farms rely less on government subsidies, which may help increase government spending in other areas that benefit farmers. For example, this may lead to increased funds for government programs to assist with the adoption of new technologies.
Limitations of Precision Farming
Precision farming comes with many advantages and several limitations. The biggest obstacle related to precision farming is access to new technologies.
While some of the technologies used for precision agriculture and farming are readily available, some remain costly and difficult to implement. Replacing existing practices is also a time-consuming process, especially with larger farms.
Even if a farm has the resources to adopt precision technologies, they may not have the infrastructure in place. The number of sensors, drones, and WiFi-connected devices is limited based on the reliability of the wireless network. In most rural areas, farmers are stuck with outdated cellular networks.
To increase the adoption of precision farming technologies, farmers may need access to faster networks that can handle the transmission of large amounts of data.
What Technologies Are Used for Precision Agriculture?
Precision agriculture relies on a wide range of technologies to compile and analyze data, including:
- Internet of Things (IoT) devices
- Big data analytics
- Blockchain technology
- Drones and GIS-based devices
- Artificial intelligence (AI)
Many of the most exciting developments in precision farming involve a combination of technologies. For example, farmers are implementing IoT devices and AI to monitor and automatically accommodate changes to the soil, weather, and crops.
Internet of Things (IoT) Devices
IoT devices include various sensors that connect wirelessly to a central network on the farm or in the cloud. The software then compiles the data and gives farmers more insight into the factors that influence their harvests.
Big Data Analytics
Big data analytics software helps analyze the data collected from IoT devices, drones, and farm equipment. The data may be stored in a distributed electronic ledger using blockchain technology, offering a streamlined data collection tool with minimal security risks.
This isn’t just for cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, with Blockchain technology changing farming and agriculture by storing and making important information available to everyone in a safe, secure place.
Drones and GIS-Based Devices
Drones and GIS-based devices are being used for everything from crop monitoring to land use mapping. Drones may also collect weather data or help track livestock.
AI and Robotics
AI and robotics are often employed to minimize the need for manual labor or to increase efficiency. Some of the latest farming equipment can connect to wireless networks and automate labor-intensive tasks. One tech startup has even developed a system that completely automates crop production, from sowing the seeds to harvesting the crop.
Common Applications for Precision Farming Technology
Farmers are already using precision farming technology to assist with the following:
- Crop monitoring
- Livestock monitoring
- Climate monitoring
- Soil management
Keep in mind that these are just a few examples of technologies for precision farming. In the coming years, technology companies are likely to introduce new ways to streamline farming operations.
Precision farming technologies and site-specific management practices can help farmers monitor fields with greater accuracy. Examples of the technologies available for crop monitoring include GPS systems, soil sensors, and high-resolution cameras. Farmers can view different fields and track growth rates in real time.
Along with monitoring crops, the latest precision farming technologies make it easier to monitor livestock. GPS mapping and drones can track herds and scope out the best spots for grazing.
Several tech startups are currently working on devices to monitor livestock health. For example, one company created smart collars for cattle, providing vital statistics for improved health diagnoses.
GPS data, drones, and sensors help keep a better eye on weather conditions. Analyzing current rainfall, severe weather, and other climate conditions increase productivity. Farmers can adjust the use of water and fertilizers based on real-time weather data.
Placing sensors in the soil helps farmers monitor pH levels, nutrients, and moisture. This may lead to better irrigation practices, increasing the availability of land for farming. Using a larger percentage of available acreage increases yields, adding to total food production.
John Deere released tractors with GPS steering in the 1990s. The latest automated tractors and farming equipment are much more sophisticated and able to handle complex tasks. Farmers may eventually be able to plant seeds, fertilizer the fields, and harvest crops without the need for manual labor.
Automation is a growing area of precision farming, with many companies helping to shape the future of the industry. One company has developed robotic manipulators that can pick fruit that meets specific quality standards. Another company has pilotless drones that can monitor fields and livestock. There are also many driverless machines and farm equipment, from tractors to tilling machines.
What Is the Potential Impact of Precision Agriculture?
As mentioned, precision farming can help reduce manual labor and increase efficiency on a farm. The widespread adoption of efficient farming practices may help:
- Reduce the cost of food
- Help farms remain profitable
- Increase the supply of fresh food
Limited wasted pesticides, fertilizers, seeds, and other resources help reduce the cost of food production. The savings provided by precision farming helps farms remain profitable while also leading to lower prices in the grocery store.
While lower prices and profitable farms are great advantages, the biggest impact of precision farming may be an increased supply of fresh food. Experts predict that current crop yields will need to increase by 2.4% per year to meet the increased demands of a growing world population.
At the current rate, future generations may face a food shortage. Using technology to improve yields can help farmers supply enough food to prevent a world food crisis.
Conclusion – The Future
Sensors and software are already available to help improve farming efficiency. However, many tech companies and major manufacturers in the agriculture industry are actively developing new technologies. You can expect to see many new developments in the coming years, especially as more farmers start implementing the technologies discussed.
The technologies used should also become more sophisticated and precise. With greater accuracy, more farmers may be willing to adopt smart devices and sensors.
Precision farming is likely the future of the agriculture industry. John Deere revolutionized farming in the 1800s with the introduction of the steel plow. Precision farming technologies may provide the next major change in the way farmers manage their land, crops, and livestock.