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The Networked Farm

Digital Revolution: More Efficient Agriculture, More Reliable Harvests

Agriculture is in the grip of a revolution. Digital information about weather, soil conditions and crop health is already helping modern farmers optimize their harvest yields. Now experts want to create further intelligent digital tools to advance connectivity in agriculture, with the objective of conserving resources, safeguarding harvests and protecting the environment.

• The Challenge: Agriculture must become more efficient and sustainable if it is to provide enough food for a growing world population.

• Solution: Researchers are developing intelligent software tools which link digital information about weather, soil conditions and crop health and provide farmers around the world with vital information on which to base their work decisions.

• Benefit: The linking of all the data improves predictability and helps to conserve resources, safeguard harvests and protect the environment.

The digital revolution is changing the face of agriculture, with the zeros and ones that make up binary code set to become the most important tools for farmers worldwide. Highly automated tractors and combines equipped with a vast array of sensors are already traversing our fields of corn, oilseed rape, soybeans and wheat, collecting data about plant health, yields, soil composition and field topography. Drones and satellites are likewise helping farmers work more efficiently by generating millions of relevant data points. Nowadays satellite imaging allows us to analyze a single patch of land at a resolution of just 30 centimeters. The ability to analyze highly accurate data from the current growing season and compare it with previous years brings a whole new dimension to modern agriculture. Farmers are able to better predict influences affecting yields and respond more quickly to changes. This means they can take prompt action to prevent harvest losses.

Higher Yields Thanks to Sowing Strategies Matched to the Soil

Digital farming is based on individual data elements. There are thousands of different soil types around the world. But the soil’s quality can vary greatly even within a region or a ­single field. The more a farmer knows about his soils, the better equipped he is to decide which varieties to sow in a certain area to produce optimal yields. It will definitely be a benefit to drive forward the digital revolution in agriculture.

Satellites Survey Crops in the Fields From Space

Digitalization enables farmers to make rapid decisions tailored precisely to individual fields – from selecting the right crop variety and applying exactly the right fertilizer dose through to determining the ideal time for crop protection measures and recognizing plant stress factors at an early stage. The experts can now use satellite data to remotely diagnose the condition of a crop and measure the biomass in each section of the field. But that’s not all. In the near future we will be able to distinguish individual plants from space.

Agronomists around the world are also breaking new ground as they embrace the digital revolution. For example, they plan to collaborate with space technology company Planetary Resources in Redmond, Washington, USA, to develop new products. One possible example is a soil humidity index which provides information about the water storage capacity of the soil and issues automated recommendations for optimal fertilizer strategies and the best time to irrigate. Another project could involve a canopy temperature monitor which provides daily information and recommendations for action during the time from when crops are sown through to the harvest by identifying problem areas in the field.

There is a Zoner geoinformation system from IntelMax in Calgary, Canada. Where researchers now have new colleagues with extensive expertise in agricultural IT, as well as innovative software that can be used for the evaluation and graphic representation of the satellite images of selected agricultural areas in Canada, the United States, ­Brazil, France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia taken over a 30-year period. All this information is stored in a gigantic database which agricultural experts now intend to harness to provide smart connectivity. They are currently working on the Agronomic Decision Engine – a management tool that will provide tomorrow’s farmers with quick and simple answers to key questions, such as, is it worth using a crop protection product in this field? Which one? How much? When and where? What is the most suitable seed for my field? How often do I need to irrigate?

More Targeted Application Means Lower Pesticide Quantities

The researchers also store information in their databases about the efficacy of the crop protection agents – for instance, at which stage of growth certain herbicides are most effective in controlling weeds. When combined with the field data, this ­information allows crop protection products to be applied to exactly the square meter that needs them – and nowhere else. As a result, less of the active substance is required. In the summer of 2016, the team of experts tested a timing and dosage schedule for the first time on selected farms throughout Europe.

Precision Agriculture Increases Yields, Lowers Costs and Protects the Environment

By helping farmers to budget better for every grain of seed and milliliter of crop protection agent in the future, we can help avoid potential harvest losses, increase yields globally – and go easy on the environment as well as the farmer’s pocket.  The objective for the researchers is to assist farmers with new, digital tools that will enable them to get the best out of their soil.

For further information contact our subject matter experts.

Ing. Chimico e Alimentare Camila Schiavinatto Godoy

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