Monday, 14 July 2014

What is precision agriculture?


In the past, farm paddocks were managed as single units with farmers using estimates of average soil attributes for the whole paddock.

​How does Ravensdown fit into precision agriculture?

Ravensdown has a number of products and services to help farmers implement precision agriculture:

• Intensive soil sampling capability.
• Laboratory testing and analysis through ARL.
• Detailed and differential fertiliser plans.
• Ability to apply variable fertiliser rates within paddocks using GPS technology in spreaders.

What are the benefits for farmers?

• Efficiency: You only apply the types and rates of nutrients/lime required.
• Productivity: Maximising potential paddock yield by identifying and addressing low productivity areas.
• Environmental: Minimising the potential for surplus nutrient applications thereby minimising losses and avoiding environmentally sensitive areas.

Early indications suggest a payback on costs is likely in the first year.

One farmer using it had been applying 120t lime on a 40ha potato paddock and after soil testing (broken down by ha) is now putting on 16t. In another example, a farmer had a high degree of variability in his wheat yield - producing 20t in some areas and 10t in others. This variability was reduced with precision agriculture.

Who does precision agriculture work best for?

The biggest impact is for arable farmers who can track production and identify high and low performing areas and fertilise accordingly. It will also work well for dairy farmers, giving them the ability to address areas of low fertility on a paddock by paddock basis.

How do I find out the variability per paddock; how many soil samples are required?

There is no magic number. Generally, the more samples taken the better the variability will be described. Existing knowledge of paddock variability from understanding the soil pattern and crop yields can be used to optimise the sampling strategy.

Soil tests are either done on a zonal basis, based on areas of high and low yield, or on a grid basis.

How does it work?

Intensive soil sampling information is collected using GPS, and electromagnetic scanning. Harvester yield maps may be used to more precisely understand in-field variation. Prescription application maps are then created and used by GPS enabled machinery to ensure inputs are spread/sprayed in areas that need them, and not applied in areas that don’t.

How does precision agriculture link with other concepts / services – whole farm approach, Nutrient Management Plans?

It is designed to increase whole farm productivity through maximising the efficiency and effectiveness of the fertiliser expenditure leading to economic rewards. It will also minimise environmental impact from excessive nutrient levels.

Where is it being used well?

Precision agriculture is used extensively in North America, Europe and Australia. It is very early days in New Zealand and Ravensdown has the capability to combine all the necessary components into a Precision Agriculture Nutrient Management service.

How do I start with precision agriculture?

The first step is to call Ravensdown’s Customer Centre on 0800 100 123 to organise comprehensive soil sampling. Once these have been analysed by our lab, ARL, nutrient maps will be created for the paddock. Ravensdown can then design a differential fertiliser recommendation.