In my travels this winter, I had the opportunity to listen to a number of presentations on precision farming. This topic seems to be the hot one for the season. Here’s what I think about what I’ve heard so far. Precision farming is a tool that will be used by top end growers. The potential yield increase from using the techniques required to accomplish precision farming could give a ten per cent increase at best for most growers. There are numerous technologies that could give this type of increases or better available to local growers. These include the use of fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides in our area. In our field trials, we have seen certain inputs provide up to 20 per cent yield increases. These are the type of inputs that growers should look at first. Precision farming will not provide this level of return. Precision farming requires investment for it to be successful. The first piece of equipment that needs to be modified is the combine. Mapping capabilities as well as yield monitors must be in place on the combine. Mapping is the first tool that must be in place for precision farming to work. The maps that the combine generates will give an idea of what areas of a field yield. This information will allow growers to produce maps that will target where more information is needed to look at what inputs need to be added. The area will have to be looked at for the weeds present and for the fertility that is in the soil. Soil and tissue tests could be used to look at what fertility levels are required. Once recommendations for changes are developed, a prescription of activities will have to be put together to meet the specific needs of the field. Most of the areas of change will be in the area of fertility. Fertility recommendations must be put into a map and set up so that the equipment that you apply the fertilizer with can accommodate the changes required. More fertilizer may be used in some areas while other areas will see reduced levels applied. The maps from the combine will generate where the need is for changes, the type of change will dictate what type of equipment needs to be used and the equipment will be used to put the right prescription into the field. All these tools need to be in place to have a successful precision farming program. If you are considering looking at precision farming, start with your combine. Get the mapping technology put onto your machine. If you don’t have mapping capabilities, you will have to find other ways to estimate yields and where to make changes. The changes have to be directed to the right spot to insure that the program will work. Finally if you are considering using precision agriculture to improve the yields on your farm, talk to an expert. Make sure you have the right pieces to make a system work on your farm.
Dave Cubbon, P Ag