Farming Technologies for Success

  • 13;10;9;9;9;9;9;Precision farming technologies can help farmers manage their crops with better accuracy, lower inputs, and higher profits, while reducing the negative impacts of farming on the environment.13;10;9;9;9;9;
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  • 13;10;9;9;9;9;9;Applied data, precision equipment, and data analytics are all precision tools farmers have today to help improve efficiencies and sustainability. 13;10;9;9;9;9;
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13;10;9;9;9;9;9;Modern technology has13;10;dramatically changed the scene on the farm. Today, you will find tractors13;10;equipped with guidance and automation equipment allowing the farmer to focus on13;10;rows of monitors lining the cab. Real-time information is not only being13;10;streamed to the cab but also uploaded to the cloud to be accessed by those13;10;helping make critical on-farm decisions. Sensors in the soil measure soil13;10;moisture and electrical conductivity, while satellites and aircraft equipped13;10;with remote sensors measure crop health. Applied data, precision equipment, and13;10;data analytics are all precision tools farmers have today to help improve13;10;efficiencies and sustainability. 13;10;9;9;9;9;9;

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13;10;9;9;9;9;9;Precision technologies can13;10;help farmers manage their crops with better accuracy, lower inputs, and higher13;10;profits, while reducing the negative impacts of farming on the environment,13;10;such as over use of fertilizers and pesticides. Essentially, these technologies13;10;help farmers to determine exactly when, where, and how much of a certain input13;10;is needed, and where it is not needed. The following technologies are13;10;components of precision farming. 13;10;9;9;9;9;9;

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Precision Positioning Systems

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13;10;9;9;9;9;9;Precision positioning systems use global positioning (GPS) and13;10;navigation systems along with field maps generated from geographical13;10;information systems (GIS) and specialized equipment for improving the accuracy13;10;of many critical operations.13;10;9;9;9;9;9;

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  • Precision13;10;soil preparation improves soil health and long-term sustainability.13;10;Using current and precise soil tests is the foundation to a quality fertility13;10;program. Conservation tillage methods, such as strip-tillage, are made possible13;10;by precision technologies, allowing a farmer to place the desired nutrient in a13;10;band and return to place the seed directly on top of that band at a later time.
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  • Precision13;10;planting equipment improves the accuracy of seed placement, including13;10;depth and spacing, and has the ability to turn planter sections on or off to13;10;accommodate field characteristics. New technology is on the horizon that will13;10;give farmers row-by-row information such as soil moisture, organic matter, and13;10;residue levels.
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  • Precision13;10;fertilizer and pesticide applications help promote a more uniform growth13;10;rate and improve the accuracy of applications while reducing overuse and13;10;overlapping applications. Fertilizers are also becoming more precise, using13;10;technologies, such as slow-release coatings, to reduce the amount of nutrients13;10;being lost before the crop can take them up.
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  • Automated13;10;steering systems/automated guidance systems utilize satellite navigation13;10;systems that either show the farmer guided paths to follow or automatically13;10;steer the wheel through the field. This can improve the accuracy of inputs by13;10;avoiding overlapping applications. Auto steering capabilities also allow the13;10;farmer to keep an eye on other equipment, such as the planter, while the13;10;tractor is operating.
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Sensors and Remote Sensing

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13;10;9;9;9;9;9;Remote sensing systems13;10;collect data from a distance that can be used to evaluate soil and crop health.13;10;Other types of sensors, such as soil moisture sensors, may be portable or13;10;permanently installed in the soil or the field. Many precision farmers utilize13;10;a combination of satellite imagery and smaller-scale data sensors, which can be13;10;mounted on moving machines, such as tractors, airplanes, or drones, to collect13;10;data. Software is used to analyze and display the data on field maps that can13;10;be viewed in real-time, within hours, or the following day, allowing for13;10;quicker reaction times to issues in the field. 13;10;9;9;9;9;9;

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13;10;9;9;9;9;9;Measurements taken in the13;10;visible, near-infrared, thermal infrared, and microwave wavelengths of light13;10;can indicate when, and even why, crops are under stress. Imagery in the visible13;10;range can be used to estimate biomass (yields, plant population, germination13;10;percentage), to detect plant stress, and to identify weed infestations. Thermal13;10;infrared imagery is often used to detect plant stress. Multispectral imagery13;10;can provide more information than single-spectrum imagery. Multispectral data13;10;can be compiled into a vegetation index, which in general, describes the13;10;relative density and health of a crop. High resolution NDVI (normalized13;10;difference vegetation index) images of a field can show when the quality of the13;10;crop begins to decline, such as from nutrient deficiencies, water stress, or13;10;pest and disease issues. Software packages can use the vegetation indices along13;10;with other information, such as crop growth stage, soil moisture readings, or13;10;weather data, to compute exactly where an input (fertilizer, irrigation, or13;10;pesticides) is needed and how much, allowing you to make timely management13;10;decisions to preserve yield potential. These images can also correlate to yield13;10;at the end of the year and be used in addition to a yield map. 13;10;9;9;9;9;9;

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13;10;9;9;9;9;9;Following are two examples of13;10;how vegetation indices can be used for management decisions. 13;10;9;9;9;9;9;

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  • The chlorophyll content in the13;10;leaves is directly related to the plant’s nitrogen status. Vegetation indices13;10;generated from measurements of visible and near-infrared light are used to13;10;estimate the chlorophyll content of a plant. Therefore, nitrogen needs can be13;10;determined by comparing the vegetation index of different parts of a field with13;10;a standardized vegetation index determined from a well-fertilized crop. This13;10;method works when comparing the same product within the same field. Different products13;10;have their own unique, normal shade of green, making it imperative to compare13;10;only the same product in a field.
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  • Plants that are under water stress will13;10;transpire less and emit more heat; thus, thermal infrared measurements can be13;10;used to determine the moisture status in a field and how the stress varies from13;10;one area of the field to the next. Using measurements of the plant’s13;10;temperature relative to the surrounding air temperature, software programs can13;10;calculate how much water the crop is using at that moment in time, which can be13;10;combined with soil moisture data to determine when, where, and how much13;10;irrigation to apply. 
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13;10;9;9;9;9;9;9;Figure 1. Visual range imagery (left) and multispectral image (right) of wheat heads with fusarium head blight lesions. Photo courtesy of North Dakota State University from Basics of remote sensing for agricultural applications. www.ag.ndsu.edu.13;10;9;9;9;9;9;9;
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13;10;9;9;9;9;9;Advances in technology are13;10;enabling growers and agronomists to move away from satellite and manned13;10;aircraft imagery towards more accessible, flexible, and affordable13;10;alternatives. Small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS, or drones) are gaining in13;10;popularity as they allow farmers to access precision crop information faster13;10;than ever before at more affordable prices. Drones have the capability of13;10;swapping a wide variety of sensors for different needs and can deliver the data to the farmer faster without the scheduling and “tasking�? required for satellite usage or the fuel13;10;costs associated with aircrafts.13;10;9;9;9;9;9;

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13;10;9;9;9;9;9;A properly calibrated yield13;10;monitor can provide powerful decision making data to farmers. This data can be13;10;used to create field-level management zones. These zones can be used to create13;10;field-specific fertility and seed recommendations. Using variable rate13;10;recommendations from the yield history helps tell the story of which areas of13;10;the field will be the most productive and can be managed to a higher level.13;10;Yield maps also act like a year-end report card helping to evaluate which13;10;management practices were successful for that year.13;10;9;9;9;9;9;

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Variable Rate Technologies

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13;10;9;9;9;9;9;Variable rate technologies13;10;(VRT) utilize GPS and GIS, data from remote sensors, and the capabilities of13;10;the precision positioning equipment to vary inputs, such as seed, irrigation,13;10;fertilizer, and pesticides, according to where and at what rate they are needed13;10;in the field. These systems utilize prescriptions coded into the software that13;10;allow for different management zones, as well as the ability to shut off inputs13;10;in non-crop areas such as waterways and buffer strips. These technologies13;10;improve accuracy and better control input costs.13;10;9;9;9;9;9;

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  • Variable rate seeding13;10;recommendations use soil productivity maps, previous yield history, and13;10;personal knowledge of the field to create field-specific management zones. Specialized13;10;precision planting equipment can vary the seeding rate, as well as switch between products of different genetics, according to these13;10;management zones. For corn, this means higher seeding rates in the most13;10;productive areas of the field and lower seeding rates in less productive areas13;10;to maximize yield potential and minimize resource usage.
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  • Variable13;10;rate irrigation equipment allows for irrigation applications to be13;10;customized based on field characteristics, such as soil type, topography, and13;10;crop and field boundaries. These systems can vary the irrigation depth in13;10;different sections of the field, and completely shut off irrigation to areas13;10;such as waterways and sensitive areas, while applying irrigation in other13;10;areas. Some of these systems even allow a more timely and specific application13;10;of water-soluble fertilizers to be applied with a planned water application.
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  • Variable13;10;rate sprayer technologies and equipment, from section control to individual13;10;nozzle control systems, adapt to different areas of the field, giving growers13;10;more control over everything from droplet size to pressure, and the ability to13;10;shut off nozzles when not needed. These capabilities can help maintain steady13;10;pesticide or fertilizer application rates around curves and during changes in13;10;speed, reduce drift at field edges, and limit overlap and spray applications13;10;near sensitive waterways.
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  • Variable13;10;rate fertilizer applications allow for improved crop efficiencies and13;10;reduced nutrient losses. New equipment designs have extended application13;10;windows. Using field history, soil characteristics, in-field sensors, and13;10;imagery can help create a more precise application rate prescription and specialized equipment allows for row-by-row fertilizer application rates. This13;10;technology allows correct amounts of fertilizer to be placed where the soil has13;10;the proper holding capacity and crop density to utilize the nutrients applied. 
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