Communication vital component to precision agriculture

By Ann Millington

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico – Precision agriculture solutions are not the same for small and large farms. To figure out what works best for the individual farmer, communication and co-innovation are part of the research process. There are many facets of the farm to consider.

“Just looking at productivity is not enough,” Bruno Gerard, director of CIMMYT global conservation agriculture program, said at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security. “You must look at stability, land efficiency, reliability, resilience and adaptability.”

Blanket recommendations made for large areas of farmland are based on experiment stations, not the individual farmer’s fields. Gerard feels blanket recommendations for nitrogen use continues to cause environmental degradation.

“We are spoiling energy and our environment,” Gerard said on the use of nitrogen. “We have reached a point of diminishing returns.”

Precision farming considers spatial dimensions, and how, when, and where to implement a new variable, such as water, nitrogen and tillage.

Well-watered  (cooler) plots are shown in blue, while water-stressed (warmer) plots are shown in green and red. Thermal image of CIMMYT station at Obregon, Mexico acquired from the thermal camera at 2 m resolution on Feb. 14, 2013.

Well-watered (cooler) plots are shown in blue, while water-stressed (warmer) plots are shown in green and red. Thermal image of CIMMYT station at Obregon, Mexico acquired from the thermal camera at 2 m resolution on Feb. 14, 2013.

There are four building blocks to precision farming: remote sensing and other monitoring tools, nutrient, water and disease management, information and communication technologies, and mechanization.

Implementing the appropriate level of these inputs requires diagnoses from farmers and, at times, crowdsourcing other professionals, Gerard said.

“The way we understand precision agriculture can be quite different from one person to another,” Gerard said.

Stronger partnerships with researchers and farmers can produce more for less, and be better, easier, faster and cheaper, he said.

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