Precision farming is a fairly new concept that offers farmers a new set of tools to help them visualize and manage their land, increase crop yields, and to better understand their soil conditions. Precision farming uses GIS, which stands for Geographical Information Systems, and GPS to divide a field into small portions in order to look at the field in greater detail.

 Think of it as a magnifying glass for a field giving you in-depth information on a scale that allows you to fine tune your farming practices. The result is better crop yields, reduced waste and spending.

Precision Farming

Handbook of Precision Agriculture

 This information can be used to reduce fertilizer waste by providing precise information on what kind of nutrients are already in the soil. By discovering what the fertilizer levels are like for each square foot of land in the field, GIS can reveal where the nutrient levels are building up, and where they are thinning out. This will allow you to fix potential problem areas giving you more uniform nutrient concentrations.

  You can use this technology to keep track of what the ph of the soil area is. This is accomplished by dividing the farm into small units then analyzing the soil. If the soil is too alkaline or acidic in one area, it can lock the nutrients preventing the crops from absorbing them. With precision farming the areas where the ph is too high or to low can be treated to give the entire field a uniform ph allowing for better crop management.

gis corn mapCredit: dms-mapping

   Farmers can also see what kind of nutrients are in the soil so that they don’t waste money buying fertilizers that might already be in the soil. One area of a field may have a lot of nitrogen and not enough potassium, while another area may have just the right amount of phosphorus but not enough nitrogen. Precision farming will let you apply more precise amounts of fertilizer to balance your nutrient levels.

Physical Methods in Agriculture

Physical Methods in Agriculture: Approach to Precision and Quality

   Water management is another area that farmers can use GIS and benefit from because precision farming can reveal the areas where the water is draining to fast or slow. If the water flows to fast, it can take nutrients with it; if it flows to slow it could drown the roots. Soil erosion and improper drainage can wash away soil and fertilizers from your fields and send them down the river where they won’t do you any good. This run-off is a major source of pollution that costs farmers lots of money to replace the lost fertilizers.

   Here is a list of some of the more useful GIS map layers that can be used to help farmers get a better understanding of there fields helping them to determine there fields needs on a more fundamental level.

 SOILMAPS: This is one of the most important maps available to a farmer for obvious reasons. This type of map shows you what kind of soil the field consists of, what the ph is, what nutrients are in the soil, and how much organic material is in the soil.

SoilmapCredit: dms-mapping

 DEMS: Short for Digital Elevation Models, this map is useful in showing where water flows, and how well it flows. This information can reveal areas that fertilizer and pesticide build up can be a problem. It can also show the farmer areas where run-off might be a problem due to the field draining to fast removing needed fertilizers.

 HYDROGRAPHY: This type of map deals with water issues. By revealing the flow and drain patterns of water, the farmer can better determine irrigation issues that might not be readily known by just looking at the field with the naked eye. This allows for more precise control of water resources resulting in reduced water usage.

FlowlineCredit: dms-mapping

These are just a few maps that are valuable for data analysis, This is a growing industry that is rapidly expanding and becoming more useful.

Even though precision farming is still a fairly new field of research, it has a lot of exciting possibilities that the agriculture industry can greatly benefit from. A lot of farmers have already started using this technology and are experiencing positive results from the information GIS provides.  What I have revealed here is just the tip of the iceberg; there are a lot of exciting possibilities waiting to be discovered with Geographical Information Systems.