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Geospatial Intelligence and the Drive Toward Precision Agriculture

October 19, 2017
Imagery & Data
Analysis

THE CHALLENGE

Growers consistently say that the most challenging aspect in agriculture is price volatility. While ‘forward contracting’ can remove some of the unknowns, growers must consistently produce crop yield at a cost that generates sustainable returns in a variety of foreseeable price environments.

However, prices are largely outside the control of an individual grower. Therefore, growers must make the best possible decisions about the elements that are within their control. Those elements largely deal with the decisions that affect farming effectiveness and efficiency-impacting margins. The impact of price volatility can be mitigated by an emphasis on margin growth rather than merely yield growth. Growers must maximize margins across all areas of operations and be able to make quick operating decisions as conditions evolve. This requires maintaining situational awareness of growing conditions and gaining a level of predictability for prospective changes. Growers who bear this in mind are positioned to make decisions governing additive allocations, investments and operational behavior, which creates a growing environment that is price agnostic. Yield is defined by profitability, not merely quantity.

Precision agriculture is the concept of observing, measuring and responding to inter- and intra-field variability in crops. The goal of precision agriculture research is to define a decision support system for whole farm management with the goal of optimizing returns on inputs while preserving resources. Many refer to precision agriculture as the fourth revolution in agriculture- referring to mechanization, chemicals and genetically modified organisms as the previous revolutions.

Informed decisions are at the heart of precision agriculture – decisions that are informed with an understanding of what growing conditions were, are and will be. A temporal based understanding of growing conditions generates clarity in regards to the ‘precision’ aspect of precision agriculture (what to grow, when and where to grow it and with what variable applications).

THE ROLE GEOSPATIAL INTELLIGENCE

Making informed precision agriculture decisions, and therefore gaining resilience from price volatility, will largely require the use of technology and data. Geospatial technologies are designed to maximize situational awareness, which enables growers to make data-driven decisions that improve productivity and reduce costs across farming operations.

Geospatial technology is a relatively new information infusion that brings situational awareness from a typical environment of reports and tables into a visual realm that better aligns with human recognition and engagement. Geoawareness is already contributing to better, more informed operational decisions, and promises to lend unprecedented insight that will support strategic farming decisions in the future.

GEOSPATIAL CONTRIBUTIONS TODAY

While growers are justifiably wary of adopting new technologies that don’t yet have a proven return on investment, geospatial information is already giving growers the insight necessary to improve margins across nearly all aspects of agriculture.

  • Yields are boosted and the costs of additives are optimized as geospatial intelligence provides growers insight into the field conditions that are driving variable rate prescriptions for seed, hydration, nitrogen, and crop protection additives.
  • Geo-aware growers are making better decisions relative to the field conditions that effect drainage, irrigation, soil classification and PH balance. Archiving this information gives growers a historic baseline from which to build crop planning and yield prediction models.
  • Capital planning and investment allocation is optimized as crop yields become more predictable with a level of accuracy that was previously unfeasible without geospatial analytics.
  • Geospatial intelligence is helping to optimize harvesting logistics from field operations to processing locations.

GEOSPATIAL CONTRIBUTIONS MOVING FORWARD

Crop yield in the United States must increase 70 percent over the next 35 years to feed the expected 9.6 billion people on the planet in 2050, and we must do so while ensuring the safety of our foods and the sustainability of our farmlands. Only 11 percent of the earth’s surface is arable farmland and that portion is declining each year. With 70 percent of the world’s fresh water supply used for agriculture, that supply must be used as efficiently as possible.

  • Precision agriculture objectives must be accomplished under increasing environmental regulation and scrutiny. Geospatial intelligence will provide growers the insight necessary to remain compliant with environmental regulations and the data which might be necessary to validate it.
  • The rate of data growth will necessitate that decision support systems automate the analysis of data and present the answers that growers seek without requiring them to wade through volumes of raw data. These answers will be optimized so growers can make more informed decisions with minimal technology engagement.

Today, growers are challenged with sorting through the complexity of products, services and technologies that all propose to enhance their Precision Ag execution. The movement will continue towards greater collaboration, connectivity and standardization amongst the various offerings. Decision support tools will become more comprehensive to provide growers a one-stop source for information to support their decisions.