Weather, soil moisture levels, and irrigation: these are just some of the variables that farmers assess daily to produce volumes of high-quality crops. Farmers know that to grow healthy crops consistently, they have to understand the best seasons to plant specific crops, the necessary soil and moisture for their crops to grow, and the optimum levels of farming inputs.
Through years of work in the fields, farmers have gained experience conducting these farming analyses. But some still rely on guesswork due to a lack of tools to gather accurate data. This is where precision agriculture can further help improve farming processes.
As its name implies, this technology provides agricultural precision: it supplies farmers with accurate information on various farming variables that help farmers become efficient and productive in their operations and, in turn, grow healthier crops. Precision agriculture goes back to the 1980s, but it has remained a valuable tool for farmers today.
In fact, over the years, the agriculture sector has seen more applications for precision farming equipment through the use of better technologies. And this has also led to better outcomes for farmers.
Read on to know more about precision agriculture in detail and how farmers can benefit from it.
What is Precision Agriculture?
Precision agriculture, also known as smart farming, refers to farming tools that assist crop management and field monitoring.
These farming tools include remote sensors, global positioning systems (GPS), and global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), which are used to monitor and accurately measure various aspects of the farm field, such as temperature, soil moisture, and crop health.
More recently, precision agriculture also integrated advanced software technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), which are being integrated into the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, high-resolution satellite imagery, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and robotics, such as autonomous tractors. These components of precision agriculture are working together to provide real-time data to farmers.
Data volumes are being collected through the sensors and cameras installed on the farm, or through machines, such as autonomous tractors. And through the help of AI, ML, and IoT, these monitoring devices and machines can be programmed to collect information and understand soil and crop health, plant abnormalities, and pest infestation, among many others. After collecting this information, it is then transmitted to farm operators through a software application they can view through their computers or mobile devices.
Once these data sets are collected and stored, these advanced technologies can also run analyses and provide recommendations on crop maintenance, such as the necessary irrigation and agricultural inputs needed by every segment of the field.
IoT platforms can also be linked to cloud services that provide farming-related data, such as weather or maps, which helps farmers gain insights and respond accordingly.
Benefits of Precision Agriculture for Modern Farmers
Precision farming was first introduced in the agricultural sector due to the increasing pressures to meet the demands of the rising population. Decades later, precision agriculture still exists, which speaks volumes about its benefits to farming.
Let’s dig deeper into the benefits of precision agriculture that farmers use today:
Reduction in Farm Operation Costs
Precision agriculture, through its AI and ML components, can provide specific information on the necessary amount of fertilizers, pesticides, and water needed by each segment of the field. It can also optimize the proper mix of biodegradable pesticides: instead of administering these inputs across the entire field, precision agriculture can help limit their application to specific field areas that require treatment.
Farm operators can lower operational costs by conserving these resources and avoiding the application of these inputs more than necessary. The Environmental Benefits of Precision Agriculture Study conducted by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) attests to this. The study revealed that precision agriculture results in a 7% increase in fertilizer placement efficiency, a 9% reduction in herbicide and pesticide use, a 6% reduction in fossil fuel use, and a 4% reduction in water use.
The study also found that full adoption of precision agriculture technologies like variable rate precision irrigation and soil moisture sensors can bring an additional 21% reduction in water usage.
In addition, precision agriculture’s efficient monitoring system lets farmers spend less time in the field. For farm operators, this can further reduce costs in labor.
Increase Yield Output
Farmers struggle to increase yields due to persistent challenges, such as labor shortage, economic recessions, and climate change. Precision agriculture addresses these current agricultural challenges to provide farms with more quality yields.
Gaining more crop output is linked with farmers’ ability to make better operational decisions. And this can occur when farmers can collect accurate farm data, which precision agriculture can provide. For example, precision agriculture’s ability to detect crop and soil health in real-time allows farmers to take immediate action on farm segments that need attention, such as areas suffering from pest infestation or soil dryness.
This valuable information gained from precision farming components helps ensure that crops grow healthy. In addition, knowing which farm areas to pay attention to promotes productivity in farming operations. In fact, the AEM study shows that precision agriculture adoption brings a 4% increase in productivity, which could be further increased by 6% with full adoption of the technology. All these efficiencies in farming processes lead to less pest-infested crops, a boost in healthier crops, and maximized crop output.
Enhance Farming Sustainability
On top of reduced costs and increased yields, precision agriculture’s efficient use of resources such as land, water, fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides, also contributes to greater sustainability in farming practices.
Farmers who use precision agriculture generally use fewer resources to grow more crops, which reduces the adverse environmental effects.
Precision agriculture helps decrease waste from the amount of inputs used in farms. According to the AEM study, precision agriculture saves 30 million pounds of herbicide, 100 million gallons of fossil fuel, and enough water to fill 750,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.>
The same study also found that precision agriculture saves millions of acres of cropland due to more efficient land use. Precision agriculture lowers carbon emissions by reducing the amount of land needed for farming and the number of trips made by AI-powered farm vehicles.
Precision Agriculture Technologies: The Future of Farming
The benefits that precision agriculture brings to farmers have become striking in the agricultural industry that it is becoming increasingly ingrained in farming operations. More farms are adapting the technology, and others are anticipated to follow suit.
On a global scale, the precision farming market was worth USD 6.96 billion in 2021 and is predicted to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 12.8% between 2022 and 2030. And in the North American region alone, the precision agriculture technology market is expected to reach a value of USD 3.3 billion by 2027.
Indeed, the need for farming efficiencies is bringing more farmers towardsprecision agriculture.
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