Precision Agriculture

Precision agriculture is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring, and responding to inter- and intra-field variability in crops. The farmer’s and/or researcher’s ability to locate a precise position in a field lets him create maps of the spatial variability of as many variables as can be measured (e.g. crop yield, terrain features/topography, organic matter content, moisture levels, nitrogen levels, pH, etc.). These variables are at the heart of precision agriculture and are key to defining amendment strategies, or ‘recipe maps.’

Precision agriculture has been enabled by technologies like:

– crop yield monitors mounted on GPS-equipped combines;
– variable rate technology (VRT) like seeders, sprayers, etc.;
– an array of real-time vehicle mountable sensors that measure everything from chlorophyll levels to plant water status;
– and multi- and hyper-spectral aerial and satellite imagery, from which products like Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) maps can be made.

With the total value of our nation’s crop estimated at $140 billion per year, even a modest improvement in yield would have a substantial aggregate economic impact. However it’s not yet clear how a UAS can deliver more usable data to a farmer or provides a cost benefit over the existing image solutions available to them today. Our ongoing research digs into the critical questions underlying the use of UAS in agriculture and shows the rationale supporting massive, rapid adoption; this despite the massive bets – in terms of time and capital investment – that are already being placed.


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Colin Snow

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