Precision Ag Helps Save Soils, Makes Them Work Better

John DavisAg Group, Soil

soilsocietyPrecision agriculture techniques are helping farmers get the most out of their soils, while preserving them for the future. In that same vein and in honor of the 2015 International Year of Soil (IYS), the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is coordinating a series of activities to educate the public about the importance of soil, with March’s theme of “Soils Support Agriculture” and how precision ag supports that concept.

A better name for precision ag might be “site-specific ag”. Growers are able to take large fields and manage them as though they are a group of small fields. This reduces the misapplication of products and increases crop and farm efficiency.

It has been said farmers were the first land stewards. They use research about weather patterns, soil temperature and humidity, growth, and other factors. They rotate crops to improve diversity, and monitor irrigation rates so that salts do not accumulate. They also use precision agriculture practices to apply nutrients, water, seed, and other agricultural inputs to grow more crops in a wide range of soil environments. Precision ag can help farmers know how much and when to apply these inputs.

There is a lot of technology used to make modern agriculture more efficient. For example, some farmers use global positioning systems (GPS) and GPS-computer guided tractors and harvestors. Other geo-referenced site-specific practices may include:

– electromagnetic soil mapping
– soil sample collection
– crop yield data collection
– aerial imagery
– crop or soil color index maps
– soil types
– soil characteristics
– drainage level
– potential yields

Each of these geo-referenced data layers helps subdivide a large field area into smaller management zones. Using small management zones reduces waste while increasing production potential.

By studying the factors that affect soil quality and using precision agriculture, farmers are able to produce more food at a fraction of the cost.

You can check out SSSA’s series of educational videos on soils here.