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What is Precision
Agriculture?

Introducing Dirt to Database

By: Kris Sibley July 16, 2018

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What is Precision Agriculture?

Precision farming is a collective effort between diverse IT systems, a data-excavating, real-time analytics providing, autonomously-driven force revitalizing archaic seed-to-sale processes. We're combining technologies like UAVs, soil mapping, remote sensing, and GPS integrations to forge a dialogue between them, a conversation we can tap into and decipher to better address the four w's—when, where, why, and what.

Table of Contents

We have made remarkable advancements in agricultural technology, but we have reached a tipping point where the manual processes that sustained our produce and livestock supply for thousands of years aren't quite cutting it anymore. Unfortunately, relying on the Farmer's Almanac is a death sentence in a world with an explosive population with almost 8 billion mouths to feed and dinner tables to douse in organic, brightly colored fruits and grass-fed steaks.

Not only is there pressure to boost harvest volumes, but to disintegrate operational blinders obscuring the view of the public eye as consumers become increasingly sensitive to the environmental deficits fertilizers and additives exacerbate. The process of nurturing seeds for produce through controlled maturation is a human feat we've been exploring for at least 23,000 years; to give some perspective, scholars have traced organized farming back to the Paleolithic Era, to a civilization that existed 10,000 years before the first person stepped foot in North America. It makes sense that agriculture is as old as time, as there is one constant between all human beings—the need for nutrients and sustenance to sustain life.

So, this brings us back to the 8 billion people demanding a complicated array of livestock and produce options; how do we align production with market demands? To be frank, there is no way our current methodology accommodates those demands. Even though the boat is still afloat for now, we need to begin bracing for a rogue wave, the dangerous elixir of resource limitations and overpopulation.

By 2050, the world's population will teeter just below 10 billion, a population of that size requires tremendous changes in agricultural production. To conquer current and future agricultural needs, farms must leverage a network of IT solutions that drive sustainability, predictability, and profitability, a network that gives way to a new, precise generation of organized harvest currently referred to as precision agriculture.

Unpredictability is paradoxically, a constant for the agricultural industry and a strong adversary to production. As we need more and more food to sustain the population, predictive analytics present an opportunity to escape the repressive grip of chance—something we no longer need to subject crops to.

Precision farming is a collective effort between diverse IT systems, a data-excavating, real-time analytics providing, autonomously-driven force revitalizing archaic seed-to-sale processes. We're combining technologies like UAVs, soil mapping, remote sensing, and GPS integrations to forge a dialogue between them, a conversation we can tap into and decipher to better address the four w's—when, where, why, and what.

The idea is to forge a holistic picture of the land and the conditions influencing its composition that pivots in real-time using remote sensing technology. The sensors collect granular measurements related to salinity, moisture, fertilizer potency, weather, growth rate, and any other environmental variable impacting the lifecycle. Of course, if we want to tack onto broader trends, precision farming is a vertical offshoot of big data, a more niche version of the universal thirst for data-driven operations. To get the holistic picture of their land, many growers have already begun instrumenting precision techniques to obtain the qualitative and quantitative data they need to increase their yield and improve their approach to land management.

For a truly robust big data solution for precision agriculture, it is normally best practice to seek out assistance from a third-party developer who can guarantee a seamless integration of new technologies and software into a farmer's existing systems and deliver the best results so growers can achieve the highest possible return on investment. Chetu has experience processing the sophisticated technology behind precision agriculture, here are some of the technologies we're excited about:

Precision Agriculture through Soil Mapping and Crop Sensors

Where do you go when your car is not as fast as you want or working the way it should? You have someone take a look at the moving parts. Soil is the engine of the agricultural machine, a power source, or at times, a disability to the rest of the moving parts. As demands rise, soil composition does what it always has, it fluctuates frenetically. Although we have conquered medical anomalies, forged dialogue between inanimate machinery, and mastered hydroponics, there is one mountain we cannot move—we cannot change the weather. Because we cannot control the weather, we cannot control the soil, along with other factors inherent to soil composition (salinity, pH, textures, organic matter, etc.).

Farmers have always scouted samples manually, and shipped them off to a third-party for analysis. Not only is this process skewed, considering it paints a very one-dimensional picture, but it also takes too long to process. Defining land by one or two soil samples is like defining the world by the perspective of one or two human beings—soil is highly complex and a dynamic facet of the environment, impossibly captured in a single sample.

pile of soil used with soil mapping sensors

Digital soil mapping a component of precision agriculture, and defined as a geographical representation of soil composition through extensive data collection. In other words, we are recreating the soil digitally through the use of sensors placed throughout the viable land. In collecting real-time analytics on soil attributes, farmers can better understand what additives will induce optimal growing conditions. These sensors inhabit a wide spectrum, meaning there is a significant gap between the functionality of the simplest sensor and the most sophisticated one, levels dictated by the IT intelligence driving the actual mechanism. Sensor software has the ability to funnel data from the device to the database, self-adjusting variables according to the analytics.

Crop sensors are essentially accomplishing the same as soil sensors, but instead collect data related to crop lifecycle. Here we are trying to be more precise with our allocation of additives and resources—giving the crops or livestock just enough sustenance to maintain homeostasis. In monitoring conditions in real-time, farmers reduce waste and reap greater harvests, as their lifecycle becomes more predictable and less prone to unexpected loss. Yes, crop and soil analytics give way to profound changes on a micro level, but also compound to form a storyline growers can access for the next harvest. So as the macro form over time, agriculture becomes increasingly precise, especially since sensors create a continuous data flow—starting with a grainy image of the operation that focuses as we add layers. Sensors leverage qualitative and qualitative relationships to refine agricultural processes, bringing environmental variables from dirt to database.

Generally, these are the sensors growers are toying with:

  • > Electromagnetic

  • > Optical

  • > Mechnical

  • > Electrochemical

  • > Airflow

  • > Acoustic

What Does UAV Mean?

Unmanned aerial vehicle. Basically, a drone. UAVs seemed outlandish not too long ago, mostly because of the high price tag and futuristic exterior. However, as UAVs have become affordable to smaller operations, we have unearthed a plethora of practical applications within the agricultural realm, more specifically, within the precision agriculture model. UAVs complement sensors through 3-D mapping capabilities. Through high-resolution, aerial mapping, growers can apply their real-time analytics to a digitalized replica of their land, engineering seed patterns by conjoining the two forces.

seed to sale graphic

UAVs can be used not only as a data collection device, but also as machinery. Growers can utilize UAV technology to spread seed pods over the fields they manage through a network of sensors. The seed pods contain all the necessary nutrients for the preliminary stages of life, alleviating the stress and manpower required to distribute those additives manually. The same UAVs can be programmed to preform aerial spraying—a fertilizer technique that maximizes crop absorption and prevents excessive ground absorption.

Drones can be engineered with sensors as well, calculating thermal conditions to deliver heat maps that bring visuals to soil mapping sensors. As the technologies collaborate, growers are rewarded with a comprehensive health assessment of their current field conditions, as well as a prediction of how they may look in a few hours, days, and months. The UAV flies overhead, emitting visible and near-infrared light to record green light and NIR light levels within the field. All of this is done through an interconnected, automation system operated and monitored remotely, which bring us to our final topic, remote monitoring.

So What's Up With Remote Monitoring?

In today's IT landscape, there is one word we keep hearing (besides big data), interoperability. We want our systems to be able to forge their own conversations and support cross-channel relationships. Inevitably collaboration yields more comprehensive results. Precision agriculture is no exception. In order to manage their land remotely, the UAVs must coexist with the crop sensors, and the crop sensors should carry an amiable back-and-forth with the soil mapping sensors. By nurturing inoperability, growers can wave goodbye to archaic farming practices, getting out of the heat to understand their land in a more robust way remotely.

Remote monitoring is the hallmark of a successful precision agricultural system. No longer are growers indebted to weather patterns or manual scouting. By implementing these technologies, they will confidently answer the dreaded what, why, when, and where with no trepidation. Precision agriculture is planting with purpose, recreating your farm digitally to know it inside and out, and remaining environmentally conscious as a secondary benefit. Although we have historically paired hard, manual labor with the agricultural industry, it is time to loosen up. IT software solutions give way to an enlightened era, where the farmer retires the Farmer's Almanac for unmanned aerial vehicles seeding the land and sensors that tell you when the seeds need to be nurtured. By bringing dirt to databases, we finally push pass the supply and demand tipping point.

Disclaimer:

Chetu, Inc. does not affect the opinion of this article. Any mention of specific names for software, companies or individuals does not constitute an endorsement from either party unless otherwise specified. All case studies and blogs are written with the full cooperation, knowledge and participation of the individuals mentioned. This blog should not be construed as legal advice.

Chetu was incorporated in 2000 and is headquartered in Florida. We deliver World-Class Software Development Solutions serving entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 clients. Our services include process and systems design, package implementation, custom development, business intelligence and reporting, systems integration, as well as testing, maintenance and support. Chetu's expertise spans across the entire IT spectrum.

- See more at: www.chetu.com/blogs

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