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Making crops management easier: the benefits of precision farming

January 11, 2018

According to FAO study “Looking ahead in world food and agriculture: Perspectives to 2050” world population is expected to grow and food production must increase by 70% in the 2050 to meet the increasing demand. This and the necessity to reduce the ecological footprint of food production represent a huge challenge for the agri-food sector. Otherwise, due to climate change and variables that intervene in the system, maintaining optimal conditions is increasingly difficult and mistakes in crop management can create serious damage to the company’s economic sustainability.

 

 [Nitrogen prescription map]

 

In order to remain competitive, agricultural producers need rapid access to emerging technologies.

 

Farmer, agronomist and other operators of agricultural world needs to optimizing agronomic practices for reduce treatments costs, reduce product losses and improve crop quality and furthermore produce in a sustainable way. These important points must be consider for be competitive on the market and comply with national and international rules.

 

Information and communication technologies (ICT) for some time now offers new perspectives and challenges in the agricultural sector. Software and other new technologies in support of agricultural management have spread due to the significant benefits that these systemsthey can provide. New management systems and new machinery machineries are changing the approach of agricultural operators to crops’ issues, agricultural decisions and to the agriculturalfield operations, generating athe so-called “third green revolution” in this sector.

 

The increasing use of ICT in agriculture generated a new farm management strategy  to guide farmers to take the right decision in the right time is called Precision Agriculture, a system to guide farmers to take the right decision in the right time. It uses modern technologies, such as remote sensing by satellite or drone, geographic information systems (GIS), sensor for collect weather data, for collect useful information by crops. These data analysis of these data allow to perform effective and sustainable targeted treatments, more effective and more sustainable.

 

The analysis of extended land vegetative condition is often not easy because requires an overall vision of the crop. In this view, Pprecision farming system supports to increase a clear and correct perception of what has happened, what is happening and what will happen in the near future (Situational Awareness). The analysis of extended land vegetative condition is often not easy because requires an overall vision of the crop. Modern Remote Sensing (RM) technologies and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can support operators to know and manage critical issues in crops, for example regarding nutritional deficiencies or pests attack. These support methods usually are based on maps, that can also be related to large areas and have a very high resolution for highlight critical areas of each crop.

 

Farmers can better known plant health status, phenological phases, water needs, nutritional deficiencies, and can act promptly before crop’s status get worse.

 

Decision Support System (DSS) is a way of precision farming practice for supporting farmer choice. Everyday farmers need to take crucial decisions in order to face daily routine activities or unexpected events but often they do not have the right information. For instance, farmers do not know the land characteristics of their farm therefore, they apply fertilizers and crop control substances uniformly over fields, at certain times during the year. This leads to over-application in some places and under-application in others.

 

So, farmers need instruments for monitoring the intra-field variability in crops, that help their decision about agricultural practices for saving input products (fertilizers, phytosanitary products, water), save money, and reduce environmental impacts in line with European standards. Precision farming support farmers in monitoring plant health status, phenological phases, water needs, nutritional deficiencies, so that theycan act promptly before crop’s status get worse. Decision Support System (DSS) is an instrument  of precision farming  for supporting farmer choice.

 

 

 

An example of DSS could be a software that integrates maps with vegetation indices calculated by remote sensing, weather sensors and other elements supporting technicians and agronomists in plots analysis to ensure quality production: spread of fertilizers and phytosanitary products and irrigation.

The output provided could be georeferenced maps, tables and statistical charts, giving scientific support to identify problems and needs in the crop and to verify effectiveness of the treatments.

 

 

  [Visualization of insect traps in the fields]

 

One of the most useful DSS are forecast models available in specific software/application for agricultural management. For example there are forecast model that provide information about the probability (risk) of generation and diffusion of pests in crops. This alert is generated by an algorithm based on weather conditions in the area, collected with weather station installed in the fields. An example of models could be the one about “Olive fruit fly” (Bactrocera oleae), an insect that due heavy losses of olive and worst quality of olive oil. Another example is the “tobacco blight” (“Peronospora tabacina)” model for tobacco, for advices about the diffusion of this fungi that damage tobacco leaf. Probabilities of pests generation are different in each area, depending on specific micro-climatic conditions. Thanks to these models, farmer can treat crops before pests attack the plants and damage becomes visible, reducing product losses and increasing quality. Other useful forecast model are the one about phenological development of plants and the one about water balance for advise about irrigation. Forecast models allow operators to predict a problem, a deficiency in the crop, and to act promptly.

 

 [Forecast model for preventing olive fruit fly diffusion]

 

 

 

Velia Sartoretti from Agricolus

 

 

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