The global population has quadrupled over the past century, and along with this population growth comes a rise in demand for food; by 2050, food demand is expected to increase between 59% and 98%. The problem is that land is a finite resource, and at the rate things are currently going, we won’t have enough of it to produce the food we need. That’s where GIS can make a world of difference. By implementing agriculture mapping techniques, farmers can practice precision farming, allowing them to get more out of the limited resources available to them.
What Is Precision Agriculture?
Precision agriculture was first theorized in the early 1980s, and since then, it’s revolutionized modern farming practices. Precision agriculture works to increase sustainability, profitability, and crop yields while simultaneously reducing the inputs needed for farming, such as land, water fertilizer, herbicides, and insecticides. In essence, it’s about using technology to grow more with less.
Precision agriculture takes into account the fact that large plots of land are rarely uniform throughout. Different sections within them will have varying levels of moisture, soil types, nutrients, sunlight, acidity, etc., and those variations can have major impacts on what that piece of land needs to be as productive as possible. For instance, the amount of fertilizer you apply to an area could be impacted by the soil type (different soils have different nutrients), crop type (different crops need different nutrients), and slope (runoff could cause a buildup of fertilizer at the base of an incline).
Similarly, the amount of water, herbicides, and pesticides you use could vary significantly depending on the specifications of the land as well. With the help of agriculture mapping software, instead of treating an entire field as one cohesive unit, farmers can tend to the land based on each specific location’s exact needs.
Why Invest In Precision Agriculture?
A study conducted by The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), in partnership with the American Soybean Association, CropLife America, and National Corn Growers Association found several data-backed, quantifiable benefits of precision agriculture. Between the productivity increase, cost reduction, and environmental impact precision agriculture has had, it's clear why so many large farmers are choosing to invest.
One of the main reasons to invest in precision agriculture is that it can do wonders for a farm’s productivity; it allows farmers to grow (and sell) more crops without having to purchase additional land. In fact, due to the rise in precision agriculture practices, productivity in the US has increased by approximately 4%. This more efficient use of land has saved roughly 10.2 million acres - the equivalent of four and a half Yellowstone National Parks - from being turned into cropland.
The goal of precision farming is to do more with less, which can end up saving farmers a good amount of money. For instance, precision agriculture has reduced herbicide use by around 9%, which translates to an estimated 30 million pounds of herbicide being avoided.
Because of precision agriculture, fossil fuel use by farmers has decreased by 6%, preventing roughly 100 million gallons of fossil fuels from being used, which is equivalent to taking 193,000 cars off the road annually. However, lessening fossil fuel use isn’t the only area where precision agriculture can make a positive impact on the environment. Precision farming also led to a 4% decrease in water use by farmers, saving approximately 750,000 Olympic swimming pools' worth of water.
The Role Of Agriculture Mapping Software
Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) are computer systems that store, analyze, and display location-based data. While the applications of GIS are virtually endless, in precision agriculture, GIS-based agriculture mapping software is primarily used to show and store detailed information on precise locations in a field. This information not only gives farmers the ability to evaluate alternative management techniques by combining and manipulating layers of data, but the ability to give specialized care to each section of the land. One way precision farmers do this is through variable rate application, the application of different amounts of materials (such as fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides) at different locations within a field.
So, Where Does This Information Come From?
While there are numerous sources of GIS data, a huge contributor is remote sensing technology, which involves gathering information on the Earth’s surface by scanning it from high altitudes with drones, satellites, and manned aircraft. Remote sensing can detect plant disease, insect infestations, crop moisture, nutrient deficiencies, the ripeness of fruits, and more. This data is then uploaded into agriculture mapping software, which will visually display the findings in a layered map.
Another source of precision agriculture data, and an important source at that, is soil reports. Depending on the agriculture mapping software they use, farmers may have to conduct soil sampling on their own or search the internet for existing soil data to make these reports, but with Land id™ (formerly MapRight), this information is available with the click of a button.
If farmers need information beyond what remote sensing and soil reports can provide, they also have the option to look at the vast array of GIS data available. For example, farmers could add a layer for topography, wind patterns, precipitation, and soil type to plan for crop management, site suitability, and irrigation/drainage.
Use Your Resources Better With Land id™
If you’re thinking of investing in precision agriculture, look no further than Land id™. Our software offers a plethora of GIS layers, the ability to upload aerial photographs and remote sensing data, and best of all, comprehensive soil reports.
To start, Land id’s soil reports show the soil type, which will provide insights into the nutrient and water content, allowing farmers to better plan fertilizer application and irrigation. They’ll also display the NCCPI ratings, which show soil’s ability to produce dryland crops, and WAPI values, which indicate the soil’s ability to produce specific crops. With all of this (and more) at your fingertips, practicing precision agriculture doesn't have to be complicated.
Interested in seeing what Land id™ can do for you? Start your 14-day free trial today!