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Precision in Crop Farming [Agriculture
Posted on November 7, 2014 @ 09:28:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I recently borrowed a book from the local agricultural campus called Precision in Crop Farming. I took the book out after scanning through it and feeling impressed that the area of precision farming is maturing and there is starting to emerge a curriculum of studies on what concepts and technological principles a precision farmer needs to be aware of to get a certificate or degree in precision farming.

Precision crop farming is about being more precise in measuring the variability in conditions within crop fields and correspondingly more precise in how you respond to that variability. It is an area at the forefront of integrating sensor technologies, GIS technologies, geo-positioning technologies, wireless technologies, and robotic technologies. The end game is something like a robot or automated vehicle traveling the fields seeding, fertilizing, watering, and weeding according to the variable conditions of the field. The robot would also be involved in the harvesting and post harvesting operations as well. Researchers justify precision farming on the grounds that it can be economically, ecologically, and agronomically beneficial for larger farming operations. I leave it up to you to judge.

In someways this is a dismal vision of the future of agriculture where we become another level removed from physical contact with soil and sunlight, another exodus of the workforce from the countryside to tend to computers programs monitoring distant crop fields.

You don't have to buy into the vision however to be interested in what precision farming is up to or how the field is evolving. I also think that parents of high school kids should start to rethink some prejudices they might have about farming as consisting of low paying jobs with alot of drudgery. It certainly can have this aspect too, but by the time your kids graduate from an agricultural program that has a good set precision farming courses, I think you might be surprised at the number of opportunities available to them not just in farm contexts, but also in golf course management, residential and commercial landscape design and management, public works, monitoring soil conditions around oil fields and pipelines, and other areas. Some of the transferable skills you learn would be the ability to setup and interpret sensor readings, to geo-locate those sensor readings on maps of the landscape, to fuse those maps with other sensor readings and GIS databases, to setup sensor networks throughout landscapes using wireless technologies, to know how to setup and monitor machinery and equipment to address conditions identified in field maps (or by on-the-go sensors), to know how to automate vehicle operations, etc.... These are just some of the skills you would explore in a precision farming curriculum as outlined in the book Precision in Crop Farming.

The video below illustrates what is potentially good and bad about precision agriculture. The technology is certainly interesting to observe and study, but as one commentator noted, it appears to be wrong farming done better (the "wrong" part being spraying of herbicides to control weeds). I fully expect that precision farming will deliver correct farming done better as well.

Learn more about this video and possible futures for farming by visiting Robots Podcast with Peter Corke.

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