New technologies in agriculture – Precision Agriculture

Improvements in the capability and adoption of remote sensing technologies will allow farmers a much more accurate understanding of the variation in conditions across their land.

by Dr CL Williams and Dr PC Wootton-Beard, Farming Connect Knowledge Exchange Hub, IBERS, Aberystwyth University

PRECISION agriculture describes a range of technologies which aim to improve the accuracy and efficiency of farming. the technologies which contribute towards this approach are designed to provide data, which can be converted into insights and result in better-informed decision making. a system can also use this data to continually improve the accuracy or efficiency of a task.

this data is collected using a range of sensing technologies including environmental sensors, crop sensors, imaging technology, equipment sensors (such as those attached to farm machinery) and GIS.

Smart crop sensors analyse a huge range of measurements which relate to plant health (e.g. water needs, organic matter content, soil nitrogen, and pH). In the past, a farmer might have lost a large proportion of a strawberry harvest to unexpected frosts. However, with sensors measuring soil moisture, air temperature and humidity, and notifications sent to a smartphone, preventative measures can be taken in time.

this information can be applied at a variety of scales. For example, at the farm scale, it could be used to schedule farm traffic so that single tracks can be used by a larger number of vehicles, reducing issues such as soil compaction and increasing efficiency.

another application might be to automate processes such as grain offloading by controlling the movement and positioning of multiple vehicles. It could also provide detailed information about environmental changes which could be interpreted by the machinery delivering fertiliser, allowing it to be applied in a way tailored to the soil’s needs. Needless to say, this would reduce waste and environmental pollution whilst saving valuable time and money.

all of these sensing technologies are becoming smaller, more robust, less expensive and more accurate, leading to a data revolution which will change the way decisions are made. an excellent example of these machines in action can be found in the experimental ‘Hands-Free Hectare’ project at Harper adams University.

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