Europe: A Look at Precision Agriculture Adoption in Poland
Editor’s note: Poland has more than one million farms, one of the highest totals in Europe. These farms vary considerably in size depending on their region, which Stanislaw Samborksi, Warsaw University of Life Sciences, says is a big reason why precision ag adoption differs greatly across the country. The following is Samborski’s breakdown of Poland’s current precision ag situation from ISPA.org.
The total agricultural land area in Poland in 2017 was 14.6 million ha, while the total sown area was 10.8 million ha. Cereals consisted of 70.7% of the sown area. The total number of farms, 1.4 million, is decreasing but is still one of the highest in Europe. Farms of 50 and more hectares account for only 2.5% of the total number of farms, but cover about 31% of the agricultural land area. The average agricultural land area per farm varies greatly depending on the region of Poland, the smallest in the southeastern part reaching only 4.1 ha in Małopolskie Voivodship and the highest, 30.8 ha, in the Zachodniopomorskie Voivodship (northwestern Poland).
Much bigger farms are usually located in the northern and northwestern part of Poland and are characterized by more intensive agricultural production than those located in southeastern Poland. That range of farm size helps explain why Polish farms differ in terms of precision agriculture adoption. Due to glaciation, fields are often characterized by high spatial variability of topography and soil properties, which increases the potential for adoption of precision ag solutions. Environmental conditions (e.g., growing season, annual rainfall, soil quality) result in a yield potential that is about 30%-40% lower in Poland than in Western European countries.
Here are some key facts that highlight the current precision ag situation in Poland:
- The number one precision ag tool used, due to its most rapid pay back, is Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) autosteer / lightbars.
- Auto section control of spreaders, sprayers, and planters are being used more often, even on medium-size farms due to its simplicity in use and savings on agricultural inputs. On irregularly shaped fields and fields where tramlines are not established these savings are estimated by the farmers as 5%-15%.
- Yield mapping is used mostly for grains and winter rape. The total number of combines equipped with a yield mapping system is estimated to be a few hundred. There is one potato harvester with yield mapping.
- The quality of yield mapping is often limited by the lack of proper calibration of the system. Moreover, yield data due to its information-intensive nature and lack of proper processing are not often used for decision-making.
- There is one combine with a grain protein sensor used for research purposes.
- Soil sampling together with a creation of soil fertility maps has been offered by precision ag companies and crop consultants for about 15 years.
- Variable rate application of potassium, phosphorus, and lime fertilizers is used on large and very large farms, mostly based on grid soil sampling.
- A few companies offer soil electro-conductivity mapping to do soil sampling by management zones, but the within-field soil electro-conductivity patterns are usually not verified, even by soil texture or other soil characteristics determination.
- Small and very small farms often do not do any soil sampling.
- A few companies started to offer processing of satellite images via website applications to estimate biomass production and yield potential, and to produce maps, mostly for variable application of nitrogen.
- The total number of active optical sensors used for variable application of nitrogen in cereals is estimated to be several dozen, including all the makes offered worldwide.
- Variable rate application of pesticides and variable rate seeding is estimated to be used only on a few to dozen farms.
- The biggest farms use software based on GNSS technology to improve work efficiency of farm tractors and machinery.
- Precision ag is taught at a few universities and recently also in technical and agricultural secondary schools.