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What Precision Farming Is and How To Get Started With It

Reading time — 10 min
We explain why it's easy and free to start using new ag technologies in simple words.
This probably should have been the first article in our blog. In it, we address questions like: "What does 'precision farming' actually mean?" "What technologies does a farmer need?", "Is precision farming expensive and difficult?" "Do I even need to use it?" and "Where do I begin?" We'll answer all these frequently asked questions in simple words.
This probably should have been the first article in our blog. In it, we address questions like: "What does 'precision farming' actually mean?" "What technologies does a farmer need?", "Is precision farming expensive and difficult?" "Do I even need to use it?" and "Where do I begin?" We'll answer all these frequently asked questions in simple words.
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What is precision farming?
Precision farming is a farming management system based on a fact that a field usually has heterogeneous zones. Precision farming technologies make it possible to identify these zones and manage the variability that comes with a heterogeneous field. This allows farmers to use seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides more efficiently and increase yield. Intuition and luck are increasingly less important in modern farming. Instead, technology is there to let farmers make data-driven decisions. On top of that, using resources more rationally helps protect the environment.
What technologies are we talking about?
They cover a large variety of technology. One area is onboard computers and GPS navigators for vehicles that help avoid overlaps and gaps when applying seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. Other elements of these technologies are digital field maps based on different characteristics and apps for variable-rate fertilizer application that calculate the fertilizer dosage for each individual zone. Likewise, drones and satellites help monitor the field condition remotely, while wireless weather sensors, among others, help determine the temperature, moisture, pressure, and dozens of other field indicators. The data collected from these technologies can be analyzed with other precision farming technologies, like computers, smartphones, and mobile apps. Those also make it easier to maintain documentation and manage the farm efficiently. More technologies are being developed all the time.
When did the idea of precision farming appear?
The concept emerged in the United States in the 1980s, when researchers began doing grid sampling and using the results to conduct variable-rate application. However, the idea of precision farming became widespread only in the past five years thanks to the development of mobile technology, high-speed Internet, and accurate satellite data.
Is it complicated?
Yes and no. Yes, because most technologies are very new and require special skills. For example, you probably won't be able to analyze a satellite image of a field or repair an onboard computer yourself. No, because there are simple technological solutions available to every farmer. For example, OneSoil is developing a free platform for precision farming and making affordable weather sensors and wireless modems for agricultural equipment.
Is it expensive?
Yes and no. Currently, special equipment and software cost a pretty penny, so precision farming technologies are most often used by large farms. We want to change that. All our apps are free, so a farmer only needs a smartphone and Internet access. As with any other kind of technology, as it develops, it becomes cheaper and easier to use. Back in the day, people exchanged messages by carrier pigeon. Now, one out of three people has a smartphone.
Do I need to switch to precision farming?
Yes. It's already profitable and will become a must in the future. Thanks to precision farming technology, American farmers save an average of $11,000 to $39,000 a year. In Tanzania, farmers already use mobile phones to conclude contracts and process various types of payments. In Belarus, the average field seeding overlap is 27 cm, which wastes up to tens of thousands of dollars when calculating the cost of extraneous seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. That means that the sooner farmers start implementing precision farming, the more competitive they'll be in the future.
OK, OneSoil, where do I start?
1
Download the free OneSoil Scouting app to monitor plant conditions and mark problem areas.
2
Estimate how much you can save using variable-rate fertilizer application. If you have a small or homogeneous field, skip to step 10. If not, keep reading.
3
Buy an onboard computer to monitor fieldwork and apply seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides effectively. It'll pay for itself in one season.
4
Calculate variable fertilizer rates using our free tool for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium application. This will save you money by varying the dose for different parts of the field.
5
Find out if your combine harvester has yield monitoring sensors. If you have them, activate them. If you don't, invest in some.
6
After harvesting, analyze the digital maps you get and mark areas with low productivity.
7
Measure soil acidity to find and eliminate the cause.
8
If you still haven't found out what the cause is, buy or order a relief map of your field. Analyze it. In our experience, the reason for low yield is the pH level or the field's relief 95% of the time.
9
If those aren't the reason behind the low yield, conduct a soil nutrient analysis to measure levels of phosphorus, potassium, humus, and other elements. This is the most expensive method, and its effectiveness depends on soil sampling accuracy. That's why we recommend using it as a last resort.
10
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