Precision farming: An innovative approach for crop management
Authors: A. P.Verma, Dr. H R Meena and Diksha Patel

Precision farming provides a new solution using a systems approach for today's agricultural issues such as the need to balance productivity with environmental concerns. It is based on the implementation of advanced information technologies. It includes describing and modeling variation in soils and plant species, and integrating agricultural practices to meet site-specific requirements. It aims at increased economic returns, as well as at reducing the energy input and the environmental impact of agriculture.

Precision Farming: Definition and Concept

Precision farming is an advance e-agriculture application. Farmers are using ICT and other technologies to obtain information about agricultural resources which allow them to identify, analyse and manage the spatial and temporal variability of soil and plant for optimum profitability, sustainability and protection of the environment. Pierce and Nowak (1999) define precision farming as the application of technologies and the principles to manage spatial and temporal variability associated with all aspect of agriculture production. Precision farming is important because: (i) nutrient variability within a field can be very high affecting optimum fertilizer rates; (ii) yield potential and grain protein can also vary greatly even within one field, affecting fertilizer requirement; (iii) increasing fertilizer use efficiency will become more important with increasing fertilizer costs and environment concerns; (iv)irrigation at critical stages is very important and (v) pest and stress management at early stages helps the farmer to get maximum yield (Patil, 2009; Mondal and Basu, 2009).

Concept of Precision farming includes;

1. Variations in crop and soil properties within a field

2. Mapping of this variation

3. As a consequence of spatial variability within the field, proper management actions are adopted

Why Precision Farming needed in Indian Agriculture

During 1970s due to green revolution the production of food grains in five decades, has increased more than threefold. All this has been possible due to high input and technology application. However, even with the spectacular growth in the agriculture, the productivity levels of many major crops are for below than expectation. Even the crop yields of India’s agriculturally rich state like Punjab and Haryana is far below than the average yield of many high productive countries (Ray et al., 2001). On the other sides, India shares 17.5 per cent of world’s population, 1 per cent of gross world product, 4 per cent of world carbon emission, 3.6 per cent of CO2 emission intensity and 2 per cent of world forest area. One of the major reasons for this status of environment is the higher population growth and indiscriminate use of natural resources base. The Indian status on environment is, though not alarming when compared to develop countries, gives an early warning to manage such issues. In this context, there is a need to convert this green revolution into an evergreen revolution, which will be triggered by farming systems approach that can help to produce more from the available land, water and labor resources, without either ecological or social harm. The potential of precision farming for economic and environmental benefits could be visualized through reduces use of water, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides besides the farm equipment. Instead of managing an entire field based upon some hypothetical average condition, which may be not exist anywhere in the field a precision farming approach may recognizes site-specific differences within the fields and manage actions accordingly (Goovaerts, 2000). Today, the knowledge of field conditions is difficult to maintain because of large farm sizes and changed in area formed due annual change in leasing arrangements. Precision farming offers the potential and simplifies the collection and analysis of information. It allows management decision to be made and quickly implemented on small areas within larger fields.

Technologies Adopted for Precision Farming

Many technologies developed in 20th Century contributed to the development of the concept of precision farming. These are;

1. Remote sensing

Remote sensing provides a great deal of fundamental information relating spectral reflectance and thermal remittance properties of soils and crops to their agronomic and biophysical characteristics at scales that may range from small patches within a field to large regions (Pinter et al. 2003). This makes it an attractive tool for site-specific decisions in many environments, particularly with regard to soil characterization, non-destructive monitoring of plant growth and detection of environmental stresses which may limit crop productivity. Key developments in recent years include rapidly increasing availability of remote sensing technologies and substantial improvements of the spatial and spectral resolution. Remote sensing hold great promise for precision in agriculture because of its potential for monitoring spatial variability over time in high resolution (Moran et al. 1997).

2. Global positioning system (GPS)

GPS is a navigation system based on a network of satellites that helps users to record positional information (latitude, longitude and elevation) with an accuracy of between 100 and 0.01 m (Lang, 1992). GPS allows farmers to locate the exact position of field features, such as soil type, pest occurrence, weed invasion, water holes, boundaries and obstructions. The system allows farmers to reliably identify field locations so that inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and irrigation water) can be applied to an individual field, based on performance criteria and previous input applications (Batte and VanBuren, 1999). Advantages of GPS in farm operations are-

i. Rows are not forgotten and overlaps are not made.

ii. The number of rows can be counted during work.

iii. Tools and equipment can be operated in the same way from year to year.

iv. It is possible to work at night or in dirt with precision.

v. The system is not affected by wind.

3. Geographical Information System

Geographic information system is a tool for handling geographic data. It is an organised collection of computer hardware, software, geographic data and the personnel designed to efficiently capture, store, retrieve, manipulate, analyze and display all form of geographically referenced information according to use defined specification. GIS can display analyze information in map that allow better understanding of interactions among yield, fertility, pest, weed and other factors. A farming GIS database can provide information on filed topography, soil types, surface drainage, subsurface drainage, soil testing, irrigation, chemical application rates and crop yield. Once analyzed, this information is used to understand the relationships between the various elements affecting a crop on a specific site (Trimble, 2005).

4. Variable Rate Technology

A soil nutrient map with GIS is stored in a computer mounted on a GPS guided tractor that senses the exact location of tractor within the field and sends signals to the computer. The decision support system decides the exact requirement of fertilizers and other inputs for each location in the field and commands the variable rate applicator to apply the exact dosage of input at each location (Maleki et al., 2007). Other variable rate systems include sprayers, granular spreaders, tillage implements, hydrous ammonia spreaders, irrigation systems and herbicide applicators. Information extrapolated from the GIS can control processes, such as seeding, fertilizer and pesticide application, and herbicide selection and application, at a variable (appropriate) rate in the right place at the right time (Batte and VanBuren, 1999).

5. Computer and internet

In precision farming computer and internet play a prominent role and enable as a source of information gathering and processing tools. The high speed computer has made faster processing the data gathered during precise management of land parcel. Internet, which is a network of computer, is most recent development among all these technologies.

Advantages of Precision Farming

1. Precision farming helps farmers in performing timely tillage operation, adjust seed rate, fertilizer application etc. according to soil condition.

2. It can generate production comparisons for a particular farm

3. Efficient use of equipment

4. Reduction of ecological degradation

Barrier in adoption of precision farming in Indian context

In Indian context the factor which limit the use of site specific precision farming are as fallows as reported by different scientists-

a. High initial investment

b. Lack of local technical expertise

c. Knowledge and technological gaps

d. Uncertainties on return of investment to be made on new equipment and knowledge management system.

e. Precision farming as new story to Indian farmers needs demonstrated its impact on yields

f. Complexities of tools and technique require new skill

g. Infrastructural and Institutional constraints including market imperfection

Heterogeneity of cropping system , small size of farm, farmer socio-economic and psychological characteristics’ impede the application of precision farming


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About Author / Additional Info:
I am currently pursuing Ph. D. (2nd Year) in Dairy Extension Division, ICAR-National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal-132001 Haryana (India)