Grid sampling, making maps for fertilization, yield measurements and pH soil corrections were the beginnings of precision agriculture. Now, with GPS technologies that are incredibly accurate at positioning and delivering information about particular areas, precision agriculture continues to grow. Technology such GPS receivers and other mounted hardware and sensors that get data for a software-run control system are all aspects of precision agriculture. These software-connected sensors can produce information that enacts many different kinds of actions, like real-time equipment adjustments and the making of geospatial maps. Modern-day precision agriculture technology includes self-steering systems, GPS guidance, yield monitors, variable rate applications for ‘field prescriptions,’ precise seeding, optical crop sensors, software for farm management, mobile and cloud-based applications, and precise irrigation systems. All of these new systems have improved drastically and quickly because GPS has improved in accuracy. GPS used to be accurate worldwide within 10-15 meters. Now, however, GPS systems can be accurate within centimeters – because of real-time kinematic positioning, among other services that provide correctional feedback. Using GPS, a farmer can plant extremely accurately, easily define boundaries, reduce damages to crops, do analysis of soil content, and make improvements on maps for crop management and yield to further assist in fertilization and application of pesticides.
Region by Region Take-Up
This industry of precision agriculture is anticipated to grow up to 15 percent in the next half decade. The U.S. now leads the world in this industry, with Europe, Asia, and Latin America also adopting precision agricultural methods. U.S. farmers are utilizing guidance and auto-steering for soybean and corn crops. In Europe, farmers focus on efficiently using inputs so as to fight negative perceptions surrounding the agriculture industry. Brazil, in particular, hopes to utilize fleet-management software to manage sugarcane crops.
Asia is a different story, since most of its farms are still quite small and managed traditionally (even with the population boom there). Therefore, precision agriculture isn’t well known. Inexpensive GPS technology is causing some interest in the industry. Asia’s key to agricultural success is becoming more and more aware of precision agriculture’s benefits and options.
How the Farmers Benefit
Clearly, one benefit is savings on inputs. Different farmers will cash in on these benefits at different times depending on what tool they are using. Auto-steering and variable rate application, for example, are easy to implement and give economic returns quickly. On the other hand, tools like field mapping and soil analysis take a longer time to return the investment.
Fertilizer is the on thing the farmer can change his or her expenses on the most. Therefore, a technology that can lower the cost of fertilizer should be of high value. Field prescriptions and variable rate applications are two example of tools that directly cut the expense of fertilizer. Modern technology can show soil maps, detailing how a farmer can use fertilizer strategically in all areas of a field. This method saves money both at fertilization and earns more money at harvest with a better yield.
Under all this is savings on fuel – which is of particular interest to European farmers. Any technology that help farm equipment to be used with more precision (like auto-steering or variable rate planting) also save big on fuel.
In the end, precision farming helps farmers have a better harvest. After fertilizer, seed is the next expense that a farmer can potentially save the most on. Since the introduction of genetically modified seed, this expense has risen dramatically. Therefore, technology that aid in planting (like GPS guidance and variable rate seeding) help a farmer plant more accurately. This way, seed cost can be reduced at planting, while yield is increased!
Additionally, precision agriculture creates more lifestyle benefits. GPS auto-steering frees up the farmer to do other things. Cloud-based software saves time and energy by collecting, analyzing and storing data in real time, so the farmer can asses the data without the legwork.
Being ‘prescient’ as a farmer makes it so an agriculturalist can be more flexible in all aspects of managing your fields. In addition to this, a farmer has better accuracy of data. This makes decision making all the more easier. Questions like: what, when and how to plant, as well as financial issues, insurance dilemmas and equipment decisions are all made easier with precision farming.
Many Partnerships and acquisitions of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and precision agriculture innovators have resulted in a network for distribution for all the latest equipment.
There remain three main OEMs: AGCO, backed by Topcon Positioning Systems; Deere & Co, CNH Global, backeded by Trimble Navigation; and Ag Leader/Novariant, backed by AutoFarm. Each of these leaders of the industry have teamed up with those at the head of precision agriculture to keep their competitive edge.
Such alliances push the companies to make not just hardware, but also data management solutions and software. They also push the OEMs to keep inventing instead of turning their focus onto distribution and development of deals. These alliances make it so the OEMs and the industry leaders both can play to their talents without risking too much.
These alliances are very important for the precision agriculture industry. Quality, usability, customer access, marketability and product support will be the marks of success of these alliances.
Good land for farming is becoming scarcer and scarcer and also degraded. The idea that precision agriculture is more sustainable makes it attractive globally. Even so, without Big Data, precision agriculture would have no future.
Systems, both hardware and software, are becoming more user-friendly and are more centered on data management that helps farmers in decision making in both planting and insurance. Hopefully, farmers will be empowered to be more and more proactive.
It is evident that younger farmers will be earlier adopters of precision technology. Not only are the younger generation more apt to try new things, they are also more educated about the benefits of precision technology. As leasing farmland increases, more and more farmland will be available to these young farmers who are keen to incorporate precision technology.
The equipment will also see further improvements in the future. Things such as remote monitoring which can be used for diagnostics make it possible to troubleshoot different systems (like tractors, and other equipment) in real time.
Of the new technologies introduced in the precision agriculture industry, optical crop sensing might be a game changer. Optical crop sensing makes it possible to manage application while being site-specific. This makes variable rate application even more of a viable option because it uses information from infrared scans that can be gathered rain or shine, night or day.
Look out for the unmanned aviation vehicle (UAV). Using a UAV, a farmer can survey many farm activities like moisture, crop health and fertilizer application. President Obama’s 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act has a goal of integrating UAVs into U.S. airspace in 2015. Now, six research sites in the U.S. are working out how UAVs can further precision farming.
In the future, we can expect more acquisitions, partnerships and alliances, but only in the software sector of this industry. Software innovations have the potential to add great value to the industry, since such software systems are easily integrated, adding instant benefits. The global agricultural market is ready for acquisitions and mergers in this sector as new software will be in high demand.
As precision agriculture becomes cheaper and more available, the industry will make inroads into Eastern Europe, China and Latin America. While each area will have its own problems that precision agriculture will address (depending on geographic, demographic, and environmental factors), accuracy, environmental concerns and data-driven solution will surely be important issues.
Understandably, profit is the driver for change globally. For the precision agriculture industry, every market has different problems that need addressing. Latin America has many crops and many people to work those farms. This is a perfect market for data-management software. European farmers are more concerned about environmental impact and thus need precision technology to help with that issue. With it’s booming population, asian farmers need solutions to feed the growing population. The many rural farmers also need a way to learn about farming innovations.