How Technology is Helping Farmers Optimize Their Agricultural Operations
Although precision farming practices were introduced in the 1980s, they have since revolutionized the agricultural industry and spread across the globe.(1) Through the use of various technological tools—like GPS, drones, sensors, and automation, to name a few—precision farming helps farmers aggregate data in order to improve their overall farming operations.
With over thirty years in the agriculture equipment industry, Jim Wood, chief sales and operations officer at Rocky Mountain Equipment (RME), has experienced firsthand how precision farming has advanced the agricultural industry. “To me, precision farming is about putting the right amount of inputs, fertilizer, and chemical to get the maximum production out of your land,” says Wood.
Technological advancements in precision farming lead to multiple benefits in all aspects of agriculture. From the perspective of the farmer, it can effectively increase a farmer’s overall yield production while also minimizing redundancies in application inputs. “It is healthier for the environment, it’s healthier for the land, but it’s also about putting the right product in the right place on the land [to] increase production,” says Wood.
RME provides farming equipment from companies such as Case IH, New Holland Agriculture, and Bourgault, which each integrate precision technology directly into their machinery. From seed drills and sprayers to tractors and combine harvesters, there are many different types of precision technologies built-in.
Take for example seeding—according to Wood, it is one of the most important times of the year for farmers. “If you think about it, in years prior to this horizon of new agriculture or new technology, farmers were seeding over the same piece of land twice because of lack of precision,” Wood adds.
Both seed drills and sprayers are equipped with line sharing technology. Line sharing enables communication between the two seed drills in the field so they are not overlapping the same piece of land. Whether they are planting seed or applying fertilizer, this ultimately reduces costs for the farmer since fewer resources like seed, fertilizer, and chemicals are wasted.
“They are very precise lines. They’re spraying the right amount, at the right time, at the right place, and they’re not overlapping,” says Wood.
In addition to line sharing, seed drills and sprayers simultaneously gather data about farmers’ fields and organize it into something called an “as-applied map.” Otherwise known as precision mapping, the farming equipment keeps track of what seeds or fertilizers have been applied to which field. In terms of food traceability, this helps farmers accurately collect data and report it down the food supply chain.
Further improving data collection in precision farming is the implementation of remote sensors. With sensors, farmers can monitor the condition of their cropland situated 50 km away.
“Farmers can tell if it rained on that piece of land last night; they can get satellite images of how their crop is doing. And so, they can make a lot of decisions without having to walk through the crop,” says Wood.
Sensors and automation are also integrated directly into combine harvesters. As a combine travels through the field, it will simultaneously adjust its settings to produce the best yield based on factors such as crop conditions, moisture, and humidity. As precision farming continues to evolve, Wood says that in the future he expects to see more artificial intelligence out in the fields. “I think you’ll see autonomous vehicles out in the fields, where you won’t need an operator. It’ll go out and do the job you’ve programmed it to do and make real-time decisions on what it’s doing,” says Wood.
Through a combination of various precision technology systems, precision farming works on overcoming numerous obstacles within the agricultural industry—saving time, money, and resources for farmers worldwide.
But precision farming can also address broader universal issues such as feeding a growing population while also attaining both economic and environmental sustainability.(2) “As far as feeding a global economy, I think precision farming assists in the fact that the yield increases—being more accurate and more productive. It helps meet the world demand because they’re basically producing more,” says Wood.
The technology also allows farmers to reduce inputs such as chemicals and fertilizers. Overall, this makes for a healthier environment. “It helps get more production of the land while adding nutrients back into the soil. Actually, the land is probably healthier and that helps feed the world,” says Wood.
By: Kiah Lucero
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1 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada—Historical Evolution and Recent Advances in Precision Farming
2 Washington State University—Precision Agriculture Technology for Crop Farming