From devices that instantly analyze field conditions and agricultural inputs to enhanced seeds and planting capabilities, there is no limit to what technology can do for agriculture. Precision agriculture utilizes this technology and information-based systems, allowing farmers and ranchers to achieve greater operational and environmental sustainability. With advanced software and devices at their disposal, farmers are increasing their crop outputs while simultaneously decreasing energy, water and fuel use, leading to sustainable results in fields and on the books.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that implementing precision agriculture practices such as guidance systems could save 16 million gallons of fuel per year. As a result of precision agriculture methods, soybean growers in one survey reported saving an average 15% on crop inputs including fertilizer, seeds and crop protection products. Additional research finds that precision agriculture on large farms results in substantial input savings as well as revenue increases.
Crop protection plays an important role in precision agriculture, bridging a new link between operational and environmental sustainability. Fungicides, herbicides and insecticides are being applied more efficiently due to their highly targeted chemical formulations, but also by means of more advanced equipment, software and systems. Exciting innovations continue to explore ways in which crop protection and precise technology can drive sustainability.
Agricultural aviation already sets standards through the use of the latest precision innovations, such as electrostatic spray boom technology, which mitigates drift and allows less water or carrier material to be added to a crop protection product active ingredient. It may be difficult to imagine remote-controlled agriculture, but the crop protection industry is investigating the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as potentially beneficial innovations in precision agriculture. Crop production and enhancement benefits from satellite and aerial imagery data, which helps provide management information on insects, disease and nutrient enhancement opportunities. One potential for expanding the availability of this data may be found in UAVs.
Although UAVs have not been cleared by the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) for commercial use, growers are already testing recreational models and noticing some of the possible outcomes. UAVs can easily capture field data from an aerial vantage point that growers would otherwise not be able to see without purchasing this data from other sources. Some growers predict that UAVs could be helpful for scouting fields, identifying crop diseases and in precision spot applications of appropriate crop protection products. The aerial application industry is mindful of the standards that these vehicles will operate under and minimizing any potential risk to existing aerial crop-enhancing activities.
Moving Forward With Mobile
Smartphones have changed almost every facet of life, including crop protection. With a variety of agricultural apps at their fingertips, farmers are using smartphones to implement weed and pest management practices, estimate yield potential and instantly reference crop protection product use regulations. Other apps facilitate record keeping and tracking by storing integrated information on pesticide applications including spray location, time and weather data. Easy-to-access data helps inform decision making and saves another valuable resource: time.
One of the most effective and precise modes of crop protection is seed treatment, which provides the best, earliest control against damage from insects, diseases and pathogens through the application of a crop protection product to the surface of a seed. The technology involved in treating seed is highly precise; computerized treating systems calculate total product application rates for batches of seed and automatically adjust rates to provide the most uniform application. Additional coating processes improve the shape of individual seeds, allowing them to move more easily through planting equipment and grow more uniformly in the field.
Coalitions like Field to Market encourage sustainability and precision agriculture through data-driven systems such as their Field to Market Calculator. This online application analyzes input and output ratios among various crops in relation to land use, soil conservation, soil carbon, irrigation water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Innovations like the Fieldprint Calculator marry precision agriculture and sustainability by informing best practices regarding crop protection product applications, improving crop yields and ultimately conserving resources.
Decades ago, farmers relied on experience and intuition to make the best judgments related to crop protection. Now, farmers have the data and instruments to interpret patterns and make accurate decisions about what product makes sense, when and where it should be applied, and how often. Technological innovations, paired with crop protection products, will continue to support modern agriculture that is beneficial to the grower and the land.