“Right time, right place, right rate are the key elements of precision agriculture,” said Phil Howard, Southern States manager of precision agriculture, in it’s third quarter 2010 newsletter. Precision agriculture allows farmers to make better informed management decisions and improve input allocation, thus improving efficiency, lowering production costs and increasing profits.
Over 580,000 acres are in the Southern States precision agriculture program. Howard believes that this number will continue to increase. “Precision agriculture tools will help producers maximize yields and protect the environment, and that’s good for the future of agriculture.
Another component of precision agriculture is called Variable Rate Technologies (VRT). VRT involves applicators that can automatically change their application rates in response to their relative position. VRT systems are available for applying a variety of materials including granular and liquid fertilizers, pesticides, seed and irrigation water. VRT applicators consist of a controller that adjusts the substance flow rate, a positioning system, and a map which details the preferred application rates for an individual field.
VRT controllers are comparable to those used on many sprayers, spreaders and other agricultural equipment. On conventional machines, the operator controls the application rate by selecting the desired rate from the console panel in the cab. By integrating GPS and geographic information system (GIS) databases into the system, application rate changes can be made automatically as the vehicle crosses the field.
Southern States has made a substantial investment in precision agriculture equipment, Howard said. Providing information and services to the producer through precision agriculture will maximize his potential for production and will provide the most economical return.
Southern States offers precision agriculture services in 31 locations with a goal of expanding services to all major crop production areas within the next two years. Precision agriculture services offered include geo-referencing field boundaries and site-specific soil testing, electronic site specific nutrient fertility recommendations by field and electronic variable rate nutrient application maps utilized to variably apply the site-specific fertilizer or lime recommendations
Custom variable rate nutrient fertilizer and lime application with dry and liquid applicators is also available. Southern States can also develop a recommended electronic variable rate crops seeding map to be utilized by the producer to plant crops by field location.
The economic factor driving precision agriculture is the savings realized when crop inputs are applied only when needed and where needed. But another important benefit to consider is that by utilizing such site-specific nutrient management, precision agriculture also reduces excess run-off and improves the environmental sustainability of crop production.