Defining Precision Agriculture In Vegetable Growing

Editor’s Note: Sometimes we throw around a term like “precision agriculture” so much that it loses its precise meaning. So we caught up with an expert, Tim East, Trimble Navigation Limited’s Strategic Account Manager, North America Agriculture, who answered some questions on everything from what precision ag really means to how it benefits growers — today and tomorrow.

Q1 What is your definition of precision agriculture?

Tim East: From an agronomic perspective, precision agriculture is defined as “The application of technologies and principles to manage time and location variability associated with all aspects of agricultural production for the purpose of improving crop performance, profitability, and environmental quality.” While this is factually correct, it may be difficult to apply this textbook definition to your every day farming operations. An easier way to define precision agriculture is “The process of putting the right thing, in the right amount, in the right place, at the right time.”

Q2 So precision agriculture is a pretty big topic, and is likely an elusive one for many growers. What does precision agriculture entail? Guidance systems are probably the first thing that comes to mind for most growers, correct?

East: Precision agriculture started primarily with guidance and it can be considered to be the backbone of a precision agriculture solution. Automated application systems, water management products, and information management solutions are built on guidance and positioning systems to provide faster machine operation, higher yields, and lower consumption of chemicals than conventional equipment. A combination of these systems can be used for tractors and other farm equipment used in spraying, planting, cultivation, and harvesting applications — resulting in decreased costs and increased productivity and efficiency for the farm-ing operation.

Q3 But it also involves record keeping,
right? Is that to improve decision-making on a year-to-year basis?

East: Yes, record keeping is an essential part of precision agriculture. Data is used for sound decision making and to satisfy regulatory/compliance reporting requirements. For example, you can transfer yield data, coverage maps, A/B guidance lines, and field records from in-cab displays to the farm office simply by pushing “send” on a touchscreen. Data is sent and received using a cellular data modem and the wireless data plan of your choice. There is no need to run USB flash drives or data cards from one place to another. Using integrated software, you can take your precision farming data and merge it with your accounting program to generate true profit maps and enterprise statements. Profit maps are automatically generated to show which precision farming practices are more profitable so that you can make better management decisions.

Q4 What other reasons would a farmer have for using precision agriculture products?

East: Consider the use of nitrogen on a crop. By adding a Trimble Field-IQ crop input control system and an FmX integrated display or CFX-750 display to a tractor, a farmer can gauge where he has already applied nitrogen in his field in order to eliminate over application. By adding a prescription map and Farm Works Software solutions, a farmer can vary the amount of nitrogen that he applies on his field in real-time. This adds up to less time spent in the field, a more effective use of nitrogen, and greater crop yields.

Q5 Water use is a major issue throughout the world. How does precision agriculture help farmers use water wisely?

East: Water issues throughout the world vary by geographic area. Farmers are generally searching for ways to level, irrigate, or drain their fields. Precision agriculture products can help with all of these water management processes. For instance, Trimble has recently released the WM-Drain farm drainage solution to streamline surface and sub-surface drainage processes by linking the survey, analysis, design, installation, and mapping steps in a drainage workflow. The FmX display needed to work with the WM-Drain solution may be combined with Farm Works Surface software and the Trimble Connected Farm to create a wireless loop of information between the office and the field — saving a farmer or contractor valuable time and improving crop yields by controlling ponding, optimizing root depth, maximizing planting seasons, and minimizing nutrient loss.

Q6  Where do you see precision agriculture going in the future?

East: Revolutionary innovations such as the introduction of telematics to the Trimble Connected Farm continue to take the precision ag industry into exciting new territory. Telematics allows an operator to track vehicle movement and service hours in the field from the farm office to maximize fuel efficiency and organize fleet management and maintenance schedules through real-time data transfer. While telematics may only seem applicable to very large corporate farms, the basis for this technology allows even the smallest farming operation to save time while using fewer employees. 

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