Precision Agriculture: A New Approach to Crop Management

By 2050, it is expected that the world’s population will reach 9.2 billion people, 34 percent higher than today. Much of this growth will happen in developing countries. To keep up with rising populations and income growth, global food production must increase by 70 percent in order to be able to feed the world. Even the intensively managed cropping systems are becoming unsustainable with respect to increasing profitability. It has become imperative that the next phase of the Green Revolution must be triggered with a paradigm shift from the less efficient conventional farming towards an efficient farming system So that agriculture productivity and sustainability can be optimized.

If we talk about Pakistan’s agriculture, it is characterized by small scale farms with low productivity and inefficient use of inputs. In recent years, our agriculture sector has been facing some serious problems, such as reduction in crop productivity, hike in input prices, water scarcity, power shortage and reduced acceptance of our products in international markets. Moreover, lack of subsidies on agricultural inputs, unavailability of quality inputs and lack of information from consultant agencies, poor agricultural policies of government and untimely availability of irrigation are major factors which negatively affect farming community. Our levels of agricultural production system and market demands for quality products seem to have reached a stage where conventional farming system alone may not help in improving the economic conditions of farmers. To sort out this situation there is a need of a system in which we can maximize food production with minimum environmental impact risks and overall reduce the cost of production. In present scenario we have opportunity to create differences with the help of science and technological innovations to address critical issues that will have significant effects on the lives of millions of people.

Precision agriculture is a farming management based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops. It is about managing the variations in field accurately to produce more food using lesser resources and reducing cost of production. Precision agriculture is also known as site specific crop management (SSCM). It enables the farmer to produce more efficiently through rational use of resourced and balanced use of inputs. Chemicals and other expensive inputs use only where and when they are necessary. In addition promotion of environmental stewardship is vital component of this system.  Precision agriculture is not technology, it is a management philosophy to respond to spatial variability but technology makes it possible. Precision agriculture is a multi disciplinary approach as it aims to identify, analyze and manage spatial and temporal variability associated with all aspects of crop production within the fields for optimal productivity, profitability, and sustainability, protecting land resources and safeguarding the environments.

A New Approach to Crop Management 1

Precision agriculture has potential in utilizing natural resources efficiently and protecting the natural ecosystem. There are four steps involving in implementation of precision agriculture.

  1. Characterizing the extent and scale of variability in soil and crop attributes
  2. Interpreting the significance and causes of variability
  3. Managing variability on spatial and temporal basis
  4. Evaluation of the outcomes resulting from variability management practices

First step in precision agriculture is characterization of variability and this is the most important step because other steps can be implemented successfully if variability is correctly known. In following attributes, variability can be assessed; yield variability of a crop is determined by using yield monitors fitted on combine harvester with accurate spatial locations using global positioning system device. Field variability in topography, elevation, slope and field boundaries can be measured by proximal land satellite based remote sensors. Soil variably can also assess through proximal soil sensors. It is the variability in soil physical (structure and texture), chemical (N, P, K and pH) and mechanical (bulk density and soil strength) properties. Crop and tillage variability can also characterize. Once variation is adequately assessed then it is interpreted that what were the causes behind it. After that it is managed by customizing agricultural inputs on site specific basis within fields. Finally evaluation is done. It includes the assessment of economic gains and environmental benefits of these technologies. Furthermore, this requires it complete comparison with conventional agriculture.

Precision agriculture comprises following components; Digital Global positioning systems (DGPS) is a network of different satellites, which is used to identify the location of data points of soil and crop attributes on basis of longitude, latitude and elevation. Geographic information system (GIS) interprets hardware, software and data for characterizing, managing, analyzing and displaying all forms of information. Remote and proximal sensors are used to differentiate crop species and to monitor yield and locate different stresses in field. Application control can be done through map-based control and real time control. Map-based control mare commonly used as they required less complicated apparatus. Variable rate technology has a soil nutrient map with GIS system stored in a computer mounted on a GPS guided tractor that senses and find exact locations within field and decision support system decides exact requirement of inputs in the field and commands the variable rate applicator to apply exact dosage of input at each location.

A New Approach to Crop Management 2

In Pakistan, there is not even a single farmer who is using this advance technology. The only precision technology that is used in Pakistan successfully is laser land leveling. In Pakistan there is also need to support this information based agriculture by government agencies and the agriculture researchers should conduct research on farmer’s fields to bring their attention towards this contemporary type of agriculture. It is a fact that adoption of this innovative type in entire country is not possible as every farmer will not agree to adopt these sophisticated technologies, but there are some relatively developed farmers, which can act as incubators for adoption of these technologies for emerging.

There is need to drive modern agricultural technologies in Pakistan. There is good scope of various precision technologies to be implemented in the country. In this perspective farmers and government authorities should look forward to adopt new and sustainable technologies to increase the efficiency of available resources and reducing the input costs. The concept of doing the right thing in right place at right time has a strong intuitive appeal.

About Authors:

Usman Zulfiqar*, H. Aftab Ahmad, Usman Anwar and Muhammad Ahmad

University of Agriculture, Faisalabad


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