Bringing digital transformation to the agriculture sector is both a challenging and rewarding effort. Increasing profits and improving productivity are secondary goals compared to the accuracy-boosting potential of technology and its revolutionary role in helping businesses meet new standards in the sustainable agriculture era.
For that reason, we often see modern farming technologies mentioned in the context of precision agriculture software—a technological shift towards the new mentality. However, decision-makers have a lot of questions to address before they commit.
What should be their priorities? How do they choose a precision agriculture product that fits their aspirations?
Having touched upon precision agriculture in our previous article, we decided to dive deeper into the subject and introduce foundational elements of this concept and the opportunities it provides for decision-makers.
What is precision agriculture, and why is it important?
There are many definitions of precision agriculture (also known as precision farming). All of them are relevant to understanding the connection between technologies and various vital agricultural activities, such as crop farming, cattle management, and harvest analytics. For that reason, we're going to look at all the angles.
Precision agriculture is a science
From a scientific perspective, precision farming focuses on improving crop management through advanced technological solutions. It's a relatively new field explored across the globe to address modern challenges and gain better crop yields through better irrigation techniques, fertilizer management, and gleaning more vital data by harnessing innovative technology. This scientific field reinvents approaches to agriculture by highlighting the importance of information and equipping farmers with tools and platforms for gathering and analyzing data.
Precision agriculture is a strategy
Precision farming is often viewed as a strategy dedicated to injecting more control into every step of crop management and crop farming. Set in motion back in the 90s, when industries started leveraging the benefits of GPS technology, precision agriculture continues exploring innovation and applying the latest digital transformation trends and tech to agricultural challenges and needs. Such a strategy is dedicated to reducing human error, minimizing wasteful resource consumption, and unlocking new revenue streams for farmers.
Precision agriculture is a technological framework
The term "precision agriculture" is often applied to the entire range of technologies and products designed for improving various agricultural activities and operations. Any agtech solution that can optimize and increase the efficiency of crop farming, enable harvest forecasting, or inject more data into crop yield analysis is considered part of the extensive framework dedicated to changing agricultural practices and introducing new, efficient techniques.
Regardless of the perspective you approach precision agriculture from, several definitive qualities always lie in the foundation of any precision ag strategy:
The ultimate goal of precision farming is to remove uncertainty and blindspots from agriculture operations, providing farmers and facility workers with a clear understanding of their progress, crop quality, and the return on their investment. Precision agriculture technology is always designed to connect farmers with every opportunity and pitfall of the space they work with—from weather conditions to soil quality to the impact of the previous yields on the current results.
Another priority of precision agriculture is to help agriculture businesses adjust to the wide range of factors and variables that affect crop farming and harvest results. For example, agtech solutions can deliver an in-depth look into environmental factors and calculate their impact on the quality of produce. Additionally, innovative technologies are often leveraged for agricultural supply chains to adjust to new compliance requirements and establish better visibility across the entire chain.
Following the demand for sustainability and responsible resource management, precision agriculture equips farmers and facilities with means to prevent wasteful activities and reduce the number of manual tasks. As a result, it lets agriculture organizations and individual entrepreneurs do more with less by identifying the areas for reducing or minimizing resource consumption and bypassing labor shortage constraints.
Benefits of precision agriculture
To evaluate the potential impact of precision agriculture on the industry, we should first look at the main agricultural trends that determine the priorities and practices of decision-makers and organizations involved in the sector.
- Climate change
As weather conditions change in a more unpredictable pattern and cases of heat waves become more frequent, it raises the question of developing more adaptive and resilient farming models—and making farming available for a wider range of areas.
- Consumer agenda
Much like other sectors, agriculture saw the expansion of modern consumer needs. Aside from expecting top-quality products, buyers want to make more informed and responsible decisions about the products they buy. As a result, they lean towards suppliers who advocate transparency and enable product traceability.
- Population growth
As the world population is estimated to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, increasing productivity while minimizing resource consumption is a priority for agriculture organizations, farmers, and businesses. A global effort to accelerate food production operations and secure uninterrupted processes fuels the search for practices and technologies that can remove redundancies and unlock new advantages for agriculture.
While monumental, the Global Food System didn't leave these trends and challenges unnoticed and unaddressed. Currently, its effort can be characterized by the following aspirations:
It's important to ensure that the world's population is provided with sufficient amounts of food by accelerating its production, updating agricultural operations, and introducing more advanced farming practices—as well as new approaches to farming and food system players.
The agriculture industry needs to change and accommodate all participants contributing to the food system. Therefore, small farm owners, female farmers, and youth should be given means and opportunities to optimize their production and enter the market.
Accelerated productivity must go hand-in-hand with reducing the negative environmental impact and responsible resource consumption. New farming technologies and models must be resilient to disruptions and let businesses quickly adapt to new shocks.
4. Safety and nutrition
The quality of food shouldn't be overlooked in favor of quality. The food system must be based on advocating healthy and safe foods and providing farmers with means for producing them.
Precision farming allows connecting these aspirations with reality and provides facilities with tools and means for:
- Reduced dependence on weather conditions
Weather and climate change are intertwined with crop farming and can improve or completely sabotage the harvest outcome. Accordingly, there is no place for disparity or inaccuracy in weather forecasts — farmers need updates on every change and shift in climate before it affects their work. Precision agriculture technology makes this task possible by enriching weather monitoring with satellite data, advanced analytical tools, and algorithms for predicting weather patterns or capturing divergences.
- Resource cost minimization
Minimizing wasteful resource consumption requires taking a more in-depth look into how resources are used across the facilities. With the help of precision agriculture software for inventory management, agriculture businesses and farming organizations can improve their application control regarding fuel, fertilizers, and herbicides, preventing potential resource leaks and making more informed decisions about using their assets. Additionally, around 34% of farmers in Europe and South America expect to generally reduce their input prices with the help of precision farming tools.
- Preserving soil health
The importance of optimizing resource consumption goes beyond cost efficiency. Sustainable farming practices require farmers and organizations to pay extra attention to soil health. Such an effort includes maintaining optimal soil structure, its water retention levels, preserving biodiversity, and laying the groundwork for growing nutritious and disease-resistant crops. Rational and responsible pesticide use is one of the keys to accomplishing these objectives—and by using precision ag tools, companies can adjust their pesticide application practices by getting a more accurate picture of crop health and potential complications.
In general, the trend of precision agriculture technology adoption can be characterized as emerging. However, farming communities that implemented precision ag solutions report satisfying results and increased quality of work.
According to the AEM study, utilizing precision agriculture products:
- reduced fuel consumption by 6%
- increasing fertilizer placement efficiency by 7%
- boosted crop production by 4%
These positive results can be amplified and maximized with the overall acceleration of precision farming tool adoption across agricultural facilities The latter isn’t merely a theory or a “what-if” scenario, but a certainty. Around 60% of US-based farmers remain confident about increasing their profitability or at least maintaining it at its current level, and nearly 21% of agricultural enterprises (from small to large) are interested in leveraging precision farming technology to improve their performance.
Ready to add more precision to your agriculture operations?
Precision agriculture: examples
With the concept and the benefits of precision agriculture sorted out, it’s time to look at the examples of precision agriculture technology—and their part in reworking traditional farming practices into enhanced, resilient, and data-powered strategies.
The range of precision agriculture products is generally rather broad, from information technology to GPS, AI tools, drones, and sensory networks. All these solutions have a powerful influence at each stage of crop farming and yield improvement, so it's important to overview the entire precision agriculture arsenal before taking the first investment steps.
Big data analytics in precision agriculture
Data silos aren't uncommon for any sector that collects large amounts of data from different workplace-related sources. Much like any other industry, data silos in agriculture mean informational asymmetry and multiple productivity constraints. Removing data silos and avoiding them altogether requires changing traditional approaches to data in favor of flexible digital strategies for collecting and organizing various data types.
Traditional enterprise data
Operational systems data, activities data, key performance indicators, and different types of data on enterprise processes.
Data on rainfall, sunlight, humidity, temperature, data collected from agriculture and delivery vehicles, livestock data.
Research data on plant diseases, crop genomics, animal genomics, breeding statistics.
Transaction data, financial forecast data, trade data, market trend insights and analytics.
Information on weather conditions and potential changes (heatwaves, hurricanes, heavy rain, drop in temperature).
Area-focused data gathered from satellite mapping, information on problem areas.
Securing high crop yields, improving profitability, and maintaining high biodiversity needs leveraging all these insights, gleaning them from large data systems, and using them as the baseline for powerful and actionable crop farming strategies. Following that need, big data analytics became definite to the future of agriculture. Having found several applications in numerous agricultural fields, data analytics solutions deliver transformative results to growers, farmers, workers, and researchers.
- Increased production rate
Big data analytics enables agriculture businesses to maximize their productivity by enriching predictive analytics with more exclusive and relevant insights, exposing areas for improvement, and delivering better yield forecasting accuracy.
- Accurate demand forecasting
The accuracy of predictive analytics and time series analysis directly correlates to the volume and quality of data used in calculations. By leveraging data analytics, farmers gain access to valuable information on patterns, trends, and variables that impact buyer demand and define their needs for the season. Consequently, it opens the door to opportunity as farmers become able to make more informed decisions and get more profit from the demand spike.
- Transparent supply chain management
Big data analytics solutions provide a 360 view of the entire agriculture supply chain, letting farmers and growers track their product's journey from their facility to the distributor and then to the store. Such visibility helps small-to-large agribusinesses ensure regulatory compliance and timely identify potential issues that can affect product quality.
- Energy use optimization
Big data analytics for precision farming let decision-makers dive deeper into electricity and water usage, identifying opportunities for optimizing resource consumption and implementing more sustainable practices.
- Advanced equipment maintenance
With the help of data-driven precision agriculture systems, enterprises can calculate the estimated farming equipment lifespan, applying maintenance works when needed and, therefore, reducing disruptions caused by sudden equipment failure.
Aside from introducing these benefits, big data analytics tools play a vital role in aligning demand with supply and connecting various data points (weather, satellite, financial, and field data), letting growers find a correlation and use it to adjust their practices.
GPS in precision agriculture
When it comes to precision agriculture trailblazers, GPS is the first technology that comes to mind. Being used across nearly all sectors, GPS continues to bring extreme value to the agriculture, replacing blind spots and points of uncertainty with a clear and clean image of routes to take and areas to address.
The current precision agriculture solution market offers a variety of GPS solutions that can offer a new perspective on a number of agricultural operations.
- Safe cattle monitoring
GPS made a large difference in cattle management. By outfitting livestock with GPS collars and using special tracking apps, farmers can easily pinpoint the herd location and map grazing routes.
- Detailed yield mapping
GPS precision agriculture software is often used for measuring crop yields and enabling more detailed monitoring of a selected area. Farmers can view land and seed characteristics with yield maps and evaluate potential crop production results. With yield mapping, agribusinesses and facilities receive an accurate image of their most and least productive areas—using this knowledge to optimize their resource management.
- Efficient farm routine
This benefit is particularly relevant to large farming facilities that work on large plots of land and need fast and responsive farm equipment navigation as well as more advanced means for coordinating workers, developing routes, and ensuring uninterrupted movement and task completion.
- Enhanced soil exploration
The use of GPS technology for precision agriculture lets growers locate patches of land where the soil needs more nutrition and treatment before it can be used for crop farming. Additionally, GPS tools allow for selecting perfect soil taps for growing specific crop types, accelerating operations altogether, and preventing crop failures.
Another advantage worth mentioning is the contribution of GPS technology to environmental control. GPS technology is frequently used in crop scouting, identifying productive patches of land, and mapping out potential strategies for irrigation and farming.
Drones in precision agriculture
Among all precision agriculture products and technologies, drones are discussed most fervently in the context of the opportunities they can reveal and the value they can unlock.
Indeed, drones carry a powerful potential for modernizing crop farming and improving visibility across all facilities. They also provide an option to tackle labor shortages and assist workers in the field by taking over some manual-managed tasks and routines.
Using drones for precision agriculture has gone beyond the exploration stage. Having reached 1.5 billion USD in 2022, the global agricultural drone market is expected to stand at 29.9 billion USD by 2035, which signifies the rapidly growing demand across agribusinesses.
When examining the drone use cases for precision agriculture, we can highlight their efficiency in solving the following challenges:
- Bypassing budget constraints
Crop farming (and farming operations in general) is an expensive endeavor. Farmers have to invest in rent, fuel, fertilizer, land, and equipment rent, leaving little room for additional spending. While having a high price bar, drones compensate with low maintenance costs and cost optimization opportunities as they can transport supplies and vegetables, facilitate worker tasks, and reduce truck rollouts.
- Pest control
The video filming capabilities of drones have also found their use in precision agriculture. By regularly surveying the land and submitting the video feed to facilities, drones allow farmers to identify the first symptoms of plant disease, catch the initial signs of crops getting affected by pests or parasites, and take appropriate measures, ultimately saving the harvest. By using drones, farmers can scan entire plots of land within a short time, which also accelerates pest-related troubleshooting.
- Crop yield optimization
Combining drones and precision agriculture software gives farmers more visibility regarding the estimated crop production potential. Outfitted with data-driven capabilities, drones can automate data collection, providing growers with rich insights on chemicals, water, and yield per plant and enabling them to monitor their performance and make the adjustments necessary for increasing crop yields.
Aside from valuable assistance with crop management, drones offer a valuable update for land surveillance, letting farmers dynamically monitor the land and borders of their farming territory. This is not much of a security measure as a way to keep track of the land's borders and stay in line with the region-specific agricultural zoning rules.
IoT in precision agriculture
IoT technologies unleash the visibility-boosting power of sensory networks and connectivity to enable real-time insight delivery straight from the field right into the analytical database. IoT solutions for precision agriculture are applied in a large variety of areas, including:
- Environmental monitoring
To stay notified of even the slightest changes in the environment or soil health, remote sensors can be placed in the field or directly into the soil to monitor environmental data and instantly forward new findings to the farmers.
- Greenhouse control
Sensors installed in greenhouses keep track of temperature, humidity, and soil quality, and ensure the metrics stay within the necessary parameters. Farmers are instantly notified of issues such as sudden temperature increases or irrigation systems not working properly.
- Crop management
IoT precision agriculture technologies can facilitate crop farming by automatically gathering data relevant to crop health and submitting it to analytical tools or apps. Such features make it easier for agribusinesses to manage data for decision-making and forecasting, shedding more light on new opportunities or patterns to take note of.
Combined with drones or big data analytics, IoT solutions enable farmers to shift their model of operation to a new standard of efficiency, sustainability, and resource optimization, building a smart ecosystem and keeping all the exclusive insights in front of decision-makers.
The motto of sustainable farming can be described as “Doing more with less.”
This is also the motto precision agriculture builds from, providing a technological response to the challenges that keep increasing in scale and complexity as agribusinesses adapt to urbanization and new environmental and societal factors.
Within precision farming, agriculture businesses are invited to reinvent their mindset regarding farming operations, become intolerant of data inaccuracies, and replace blindspots with potent sources of insights. The process remains rocky as every transformative decision is a long-term investment—and agriculture business owners want to be aware of all the leverage and value they can glean from putting their budget into custom precision agriculture software.
From our point of view, the best and most rewarding decisions are preceded by detailed research of the enterprise's needs and a discovery session outlining the must-have features of the potential solution.
If you’re currently at the research stage and could use the insights from an experienced technology partner, let’s chat. After teaming up with the Trinetix team, experienced in empowering agriculture businesses with custom precision agriculture technologies, you will be able to define the right approach and product needed for winning industry competition. Our teams will navigate you through every step of your journey—from ideating the product that works for your particular niche and needs to turn it into a comprehensive solution ready for use.