Right vol­ume, right spot, right time, right price

The Glengarry News - Glengarry Supplement - - News -

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.

Yield mon­i­tor­ing

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.

Yield map­ping

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.

Weed map­ping

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.

Vari­able spray­ing

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.

Salin­ity map­ping

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.

Guid­ance sys­tems

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.

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