What is Precision Ag?
Precision Ag is a term used to indicate the use of modern technologies in a growing operation. Global-Positioning Systems (GPS) are utilized to steer implements and machines automatically, Mobile Implement Control Systems (MICS) have been developed to run and record information from machines and implements, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are leveraged to gather and manage agricultural data collected through equipment computers and other hardware. A Precision Ag operation will typically include the use of external remote aerial, space-based, or ground-based sensors and other informative data sources. Typically, a Farm Management Information System (FMIS) will be employed to house all of the information a Precision Ag grower is capable of producing.
A grower that uses precision ag technology will do more than simply store this information. Using the systems described above, a grower that utilizes precision ag technology and data can leverage their operational data to produce site-specific agronomic decisions. This enables field prescriptions – be it seed, chemical, fertilizer, irrigation or otherwise – down to a site-specific point based on the varying levels of potential in a particular field. This technology and data allow for quick, in-field decisions and further yield optimization while preserving both natural and operational resources. There is also the added benefit of easing a grower’s federal reporting requirements through streamlined data collection and delivery systems.
Common Precision Ag Solutions
There are many options available to handle this data. Here is a summary of the main types of systems in the agricultural industry today:
GPS (Global Positioning System)
Auto-Steer and GPS guidance uses GPS signals to automatically steer or guide a machine or implement. Various accuracies are available and can steer or locate machines and devices within a 1 inch to 2 foot repeatable position (Examples: RTK 1-2”, OmniStar 2-5”, WAAS 6-24”, GLONASS 6-24”)
Many of these steering or guidance systems are integrated directly into a MICS controller so a user can control and view different options for where and how these GPS positions interact with a machine, implement or device. GPS is also used with hand-held devices such as smart phones/tablets to show a specific location of a person relative to external data and maps.
MICS (Mobile Implement Control Systems)
Located in a cab, these GPS controlled systems control the machine/implement itself. These devices can also record and distribute data to other systems. Examples below:
Planter/Seed Monitors use GPS position to monitor location of seed population, overlaps, and skips while recording and controlling how, where, and when seed is planted.
Yield Monitors use GPS position, sensors, and associated electronics mounted on a harvester to quantify the yield for the crop being harvested on an instantaneous and averaging basis. The Yield Monitor data can be combined with the Plant/Seed Monitor data for effective evaluation of farming practices by soil type, variable rate application, nutrient program, etc.
GIS (Geographic Information Systems)
GIS (Geographic Information Systems) programs use GPS positions and Geo-referenced maps to capture/store data, analyze, and manage different layers of data.
FMIS (Farm Management Information Systems): System which visually coordinates and manipulates data mainly from agricultural practices as well as provides general record keeping management. Uses data from MICS controllers and Remote sensed data to create and manage valuable datasets to prescribe decisions and work orders to a field with a MICS controller.
The act of detection and/or identification of an object, series of objects, or landscape without having the sensor in direct contact with the object. Common examples below:
Satellite imagery: Color RGB or infrared imagery taken from space (100-500 miles above the earth) to determine vegetative growth and patterns in a field.
Aerial imagery: Either color RGB or infrared imagery taken within airspace to determine vegetative growth and patterns in a field. (Examples: Planes, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS/Drones)
Other Typical Sensor Types:
Ground: Used to measure temperature, moisture, EC (electro conductivity), PH, organic matter, etc.
Weather: Ground or satellite based equipment used to measure temperature, moisture, sun reflectiveness, wind speed, etc.
Mobile: A hand held device or mounted to an implement which records infrared, temp, nitrogen, PH, and other signatures from a plant or soil.