What is Precision Agriculture?

Precision agriculture (or PA) is about observing, measuring and responding to variability in crops and animal production systems - doing the right thing in the right place at the right time (and if applicable, to the right animal).

Precision agriculture (or PA) has been described as ‘doing the right thing in the right place at the right time (and if applicable, to the right animal).’ It is an approach to agriculture based on observing and measuring variability in crops and animals, using various technologies to diagnose the causes of this variability, and responding appropriately with precisely timed and targeted actions.

PA makes use of satellite imagery, high-resolution corrected GPS systems, variable rate nutrient application equipment, ground-penetrating RADAR, soil electrical conductivity measurement and many other cutting-edge technologies. In most cases, PA implementations involve relatively small investments which can lead to significant boosts to productivity and profitability, usually through a combination of reduced inputs, shorter work times and improved yields.

In broadacre cropping enterprises, a PA approach allows each paddock to be divided up and managed in much smaller segments or management zones. While the paddock is still usually used for the same purpose (e.g. the same crop is grown throughout the paddock), each management zone can be allocated variable application rates of seed, water, fertiliser and other nutrients depending on factors influencing yield, such as soil type and nutrient content, crop yield, compaction rate, salinity or pH. For broadacre cropping systems, soil compaction can be limited through implementation of controlled traffic farming programs, in turn improving yields and fuel efficiency.

In livestock and pasture enterprises, technologies such as 3D scanning, walk-over weighing and automated drafting make it easier for animals to be monitored and managed individually for the best possible care and final production outcomes. Robotic milking systems are already in use, offering significant gains in productivity while also keeping labour costs down. GPS movement tracking technologies are becoming available that not only monitor an animal’s location, but can even enable detection of illness, distress and even oestrus, allowing timely and appropriate attention or intervention. Virtual fencing technologies are also emerging which could reduce or even eliminate the need for fences around paddocks.

In horticulture and viticulture, proximal remote sensing of near-infrared reflectance, partnered with soil conductivity and moisture monitoring, can provide valuable information about tree and/or vine health. Sugar content analysis and physical fruit/berry assessment partnered with centimetre-accurate GPS positioning can provide an accurate indication of which parts of a vineyard or orchard are ready for harvest, and which parts need a little more time to mature. Irrigation can be precisely managed and controlled to deliver exactly the right amount of water to each tree or vine at exactly the right time, allowing production of the best possible quality fruit and/or wine.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, or ‘drones’) are set to become an invaluable tool to farmers and land managers in every agricultural industry. This technology offers extremely broad versatility, and is already being used widely for ultra-high resolution remote sensing of biomass in crops and pastures, along with extremely accurate surveying and digital elevation mapping. A wide range of other uses are also being investigated, including thermal imaging, property surveillance, gas and fire detection, bird and dog control, weed detection & suppression, and even herding of livestock.

Eden PA is at the forefront of current research and development in precision agriculture technologies, and is ready and available to assist you with advice and assessment of your property and operations in order to help you make the best decisions for the future of your farm.

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