Right volume, right spot, right time, right price
Precision agriculture is changing the way farmers and agribusinesses view the land from which they reap their profits.
Today, many farmers use GPSderived products to enhance operations in their farming businesses.
Location information is collected by GPS receivers for mapping field boundaries, roads, irrigation systems, and problem areas in crops such as weeds or disease. The accuracy of GPS allows farmers to create farm maps with precise acreage for field areas, road locations and dis- tances between points of interest. GPS allows farmers to accurately navigate to specific locations in the field, year after year, to collect soil samples or monitor crop conditions.
Precision agriculture, as the name implies, means application of precise and correct amount of inputs like water, fertilizer, pesticides etc. at the correct time to the crop for increasing its productivity and maximizing its yields.
Farmers thus obtain a return on their investment by saving on water, pesticide, and fertilizer costs.
The application of the right amount of inputs in the right place and at the right time benefits crops, soils and groundwater, and thus the entire crop cycle.
Satellite images can also be employed to anticipate potential crop issues.
Instantaneous yield monitors are currently available from several manufacturers for all recent models of combines. They provide a crop yield by time or distance (e.g. every second or every few metres). They also track other data such as distance and farmers to invest in new technologies to improve their farm operations.
In 2005, the Werts built a new free-stall facility and continue to improve their farm today. Ryan is an example of a new generation of farmers that has embraced technology. Jim is encouraged by this generation and by his son’s ambition.
For Ryan, the goal is not “meeting the standard, it’s surpassing the bar.” While he embraces advances in technology he also understands that it has to be combined with hands-on experience and the hard-won knowledge passed down from earlier generations. “It’s about having the greatest know-how.”
While technology has greatly improved efficiency, the most important attribute of Canada’s supply management market model is that it is sustainable economically, environmentally, and ethically. Those three factors are unique to the Canadian dairy system. That stability allows dairy farmers to support programs such as proAction, the dairy sector’s sustainability initiative.
While Jim takes care of the day-to-day operations, Nancy keeps the books and takes care of the calves. Now that her sons are grown, she jokingly talks about how her role has changed. “Now I have the calf department as sort of my nurturing role. It transferred to four legs instead of two!”
Advances in technology and a stable dairy industry has helped farmers like the Werts remain viable into the 21st century. “We understand the land better and understand cattle better,” says Jim. “I think Canadian dairy has a tremendous future.” farms. Site-specific farming has been made possible through the combination of Global Positioning System (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS), and hand-held units.
Affordability has accelerated the acceptance of the new devices, notes Paul-André Hénault, coordinator of the precision agriculture department with Groupe Terapro, the Québec-based company which recently purchased the F. Campeau & Fils dealership in Dalhousie Station. “The qualityprice ratio is very good,” observes Mr. Hénault, adding one of the more popular devices is a Trimble unit that employs Android technology, offering the same features found on mobile devices.
The new equipment is being used in planning, mapping, soil sampling, tractor guidance, crop scouting, variable rate applications, and yield mapping. GPS allows farmers to work during low visibility field conditions such as rain, dust, fog, and darkness.
Farmers can achieve additional benefits by combining better utilization of fertilizers and other soil amendments, determining the economic threshold for treating pest and weed infestations, and protecting the natural resources for future use.
bushels per load, number of loads and fields.
GPS receivers coupled with yield monitors provide spatial coordinates for the yield monitor data. This can be made into yield maps of each field.
Variable rate fertilizer
Variable rate controllers are available for granular, liquid and gaseous fertilizer materials. Variable rates can either be manually controlled by the driver or automatically controlled by an on board computer with an electronic prescription map.
A farmer can map weeds while combining, seeding, spraying or field scouting by using a keypad or buttons hooked up to a GPS receiver and data logger. These occurrences can then be mapped out on a computer and compared to yield maps, fertilizer maps and spray maps.
By knowing weed locations from weed mapping spot control can be implemented. Controllers are available to electronically turn booms on and off, and alter the amount (and blend) of herbicide applied.
Topography and boundaries
Using high precision differential GPS a very accurate topographic map can be made of any field. This is useful when interpreting yield maps and weed maps as well as planning for grassed waterways and field divisions. Field boundaries, roads, yards, tree stands and wetlands can all be accurately mapped to aid in farm planning.
GPS can be coupled to a salinity meter sled which is towed behind an ATV (or pick-up) across fields affected by salinity. Salinity mapping is valuable in interpreting yield maps and weed maps as well as tracking the change in salinity over time.
Several manufacturers are currently producing guidance systems using high precision DGPS that can accurately position a moving vehicle within a foot or less. These guidance systems may replace conventional equipment markers for spraying or seeding and may be a valuable field scouting tool.
Precision farming allows for improved economic analyses. The variability of crop yield in a field allows for the accurate assessment of risk. For example, a farmer could verify that for 70% of the time, 75% of the barley grown in field “A” will yield 50 bushels. By knowing the cost of inputs, farmers can also calculate return over cash costs for each acre. Certain parts of the field which always produce below the break even line can then be isolated for the development of a site-specific management plan. Precision farming allows the precise tracking and tuning of production.
Precision farming makes farm planning both easier and more complex. There is much more map data to utilize in determining long term cropping plans, erosion controls, salinity controls and assessment of tillage systems. But as the amount of data grows, more work is needed to interpret the data and this increases the risk of misinterpretation. Farmers implementing precision farming will likely work closer with several professionals in the agricultural, GPS and computing sciences.