At a time when the farmer is faced by decreasing profit margins and changing climates, precision farming is a smart way to farm.
Precision farming utilises six ultra-modern technologies:
- Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which provides a navigation system to establish a position of a tractor or combine anywhere in a land within less than 2 meters on a latitude-longitude grid overlay.
- Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – GIS Computers capture, manage and analyse spatial data related to crop productivity and field inputs.
- Variable Rate Technology (VRT), which provides “on-the-fly” control of field inputs.
- Optical satellite imagery – provides real-time monitoring of crop development and anomalies due to variation in soil potential, physical or climatic variables, pest and diseases, or nutrient deficiencies.
- Satellite Imagery and Aerial Imagery
- Near Infra Red (NIR) Ortho rectified Imagery. This is becoming a very important technology – initially with timber and wine farmers but spreading to all farmers.
Information derived from these technologies allows farmers to:
- apply inputs such as fertilisers and seed at variable rates exactly where they are needed
- make more efficient use of these inputs
Precision Farming promotes good stewardship of the land for future generations, and preserves its potential for multiple uses.
Autonomous tractors and robots
Find the clips on Youtube explaining how an autonomous tractor works in tandem with other vehicles in farm operation. See “The day the world changed” and “The CNH Industrial Autonomous Tractor Concept” for example. Tractors being driven from a laptop is not new, but some planned tractor models do not even have a seat for a driver now!
“Automation is the future of farming. We’re currently at a stage where farm machinery has got to unsustainable sizes”. Find the article “Future of farming? Driverless tractors and drones attempt to grow crops without humans setting foot on the land in a world first” on www.dailymail.co.uk.
For years there has been speculation on using robots in agriculture to replace labour. Robert Goldman speaks of the $100 agricultural robot of the future (Goldman, 2016). Some of the technologies used in precision farming like global positioning systems (GPS) and sensors could help robots navigate the field while completing agricultural tasks …
Training and research
Johan van Biljon at ARC-Agricultural Engineering looks at how drones assist with precision farming. Write to vbiljonj [at] arc.agric.za.
The ARC-Soil, Climate and Water (ARC-SCW) has a section focusing on precision farming research and implementation. Specialised equipment, together with an extensive database of satellite imagery, is used to develop products to assist farmers in improving their profitability through precision farming. Take a look at www.arc.agric.za, write to iscwinfo [at] arc.agric.za or phone 012 310 2500.
Companies involved supply training in their products. Find their details under “Companies”
Elsenburg (Western Cape Department of Agriculture) Mike Wallace (dr): mikew [at] elsenburg.com, FC Basson: fcbasson [at] elsenburg.com, www.elsenburg.com
The North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, runs workshops on precision farming. Astrid Hattingh from HANDRID Flora is the contact: contact details are under the “Companies involved” heading over the page.
The Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom does research on soils and can help with precision farming and fertiliser recommendations. Call PW van Deventer at 018 285 2267 or write to him at 10058591 [at] nwu.ac.za.
University of the Free State Department of Agricultural Economics Tel: 051 401 2824 / 3864 www.ufs.ac.za/agri-econ, www.ufs.ac.za/agriman
Agricultural Management, a division of the Department of Agricultural Economics, does research on precision farming. Find the many papers and publications done on this topic on the website.
University of Pretoria Department of Plant Production and Soil Science Tel: 012 420 3809 / 3223 www.up.ac.za
Find details of the other universities and short course providers in the “Agricultural education and training” chapter.
- Aciel Geomatics Tel: 011 312 75450 www.aciel-geomatics.com
- AE Solutions Tel: 012 940 5921 www.aelab.co.za
- Aerobotics Tel: 064 783 2249 www.aerobotics.io “Early pest and disease detection guided by drone and satellite imagery”
- Afriweather Tel: 021 851 5134 www.afriweather.co.za For instrumentation to monitor weather elements and soil moisture conditions
- AgriScan Tel: 083 327 0138/076 951 1728 www.agriscan.co.za Weekly weather and Crop Bulletin, satellite readings and information
- Agrista Tel: 011 083 7023 www.agrista.com
- Cerealis Group Tel: 018 632 0362 www.cerealis.co.za
- Crop Systems Tel: 021 975 4633 www.cropsystems.co.za
- DFM Software Solutions Tel: 021 904 1154 www.dfmsoftware.co.za Products include the DFM Irrigation Control System and DFM Continuous Soil Moisture Probe.
- Effective Farming Solutions SA Tel: 013 243 0516 / 087 940 3569 www.efarming.co.za
- Electrolee Tel: 012 347 3193 www.electrolee.co.za Monitor the flow of seed, fertiliser and axle rotation.
- ESRI South Africa Tel: 011 238 6300 www.esri-southafrica.com Find agriculture under the industries option on the website.
- Farm-IT Solutions Tel: 083 653 6244 www.farm-it.co.za Farm-IT services include: farm management system remote sensing/GPS surveying agronomists and soil mapping emerging farmer strategy formulation and support
- Farm Quip SA Tel: 071 659 9702 www.farmquipsa.com
- Geo Agro Africa Tel: 016 454 0566 http://site.geoagro.com/en
- GeoFarmSA Tel: 012 348 4586 www.geospace.co.za/geofarmsa/
- HANDRID Flora Tel: 079 893 6537 astridhattingh [at] yahoo.com Precision farming consultants
- Hotsure Tel: 0861 468 873 www.hotsure.co.za
- Intertek Agricultural Services Tel: 011 964 1004 charles.botha [at] intertek.com www.intertek.com
- John Deere www.deere.co.za
- Land Resources International Tel: 033 392 8360 www.lri.co.za Derived from leading edge airborne remote sensing technology, LREye™ Imagery provides growers with vital crop performance information. Recurrent crop problems can be tracked over time, allowing for cost-effective containment and solution-planning.
- Lantek SA Tel: 082 374 4760 www.lanteksa.co.za
- LDR Precision Farming Technologies Tel: 011 396 1065 www.ldrprecision.co.za
- MAPCO Tel: 017 712 7020/3 www.mapcosa.co.za
- NEL Precision Farming Tel: 018 771 9704 www.agleader.com and http://nelprecisionfarming.co.za/agri/solutions/harvest/
- New Holland Tel: 056 212 4822 www.newhollandplm.com, www.nhsa.co.za
- Northmec www.northmec.co.za/afs/ Read about software, autopilot, steering, correction service etc under the Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) option on the website
- NviroTek Labs (Pty) Ltd Tel: 012 252 7588 / 082 889 0139 www.nviroteklabs.co.za National, independent laboratory services for agriculture. Analyses of soils, plants and water are critical to ensure optimum yields of any type of crop, being produced.
- NWK Ltd Agricultural Management Services Tel: 018 633 1143 www.nwk.co.za
- Available services at OMNIA Fertilizer Ltd include detailed soil-and chemical maps for integrating into the Precision Farming process (OmniPrecise™). An Agronomic team can make recommendations on how to develop the Precision Farming process, step by step. Call 011 709 8760 / 888 and visit www.omnia.co.za. and www.fertilizer.co.za.
- Promeet Michiel Theron – 082 802 2442 promeet [at] lantic.net
- Quantum Field Services Tel: 056 213 3222 www.qtfs.co.za
- Ronin Precision Farming Systems Tel: 011 606 2194 www.roninpfs.com Read about the available precision farming equipment on the website. Ronin is also the agent for several overseas companies like Trimble, RDS and DICKEY-john.
- SGS Nviro Crop Tel: 011 800 1000 www.nvirocrop.com
- Swift Geospatial Agricultural Tel: 012 348 9555 http://swiftgeospatial.solutions/agriculture/
- Technifarm Tel: 028 514 3140 www.technifarm.co.za
- Terratek Tel: 018 581 1269 www.terratek.co.za
- TOPCON Tel: 018 468 2822 www.topconpa.com
- Valtrac supplies Pottinger products like camera-assisted seedbed preparation systems and automatic animal detection systems. Tel: 056 817 7308 www.valtrac.co.za
Climate monitoring systems can halve the use of water for farmers. Find companies who offer weather services in the “Weather and climate” chapter.
Websites and publications
Refer to the websites listed earlier in this chapter.
- Uys, G. 2018, June 21. “Pursuing soil health precisely”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/crops/field-crops/pursuing-soil-health-precisely
- Erasmus, D. 2018, April 13. “Will technology end hunger?” Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/opinion/blog/letter-from-the-editor/will-technology-end-hunger/
- A Farm Journal study in Illinos (USA) suggests that Precision Farming can benefit smaller farms as well as large operations. Find the article “Rough ground and odd-shaped fields might increase the value” (2016, September) at www.agweb.com.
- Simon, M. 2017, November 20. “The Hydroponic, Robotic Future of Farming in Greenhouses”. WIRED. Available at www.wired.com/story/the-hydroponic-robotic-future-of-farming-in-greenhouses-at-iron-ox/
- Find the article “World’s First Robotic Vegetable Factory Opening in Japan in 2017” at www.industrytap.com and the video “Robot Farm to Harvest 30,000 heads of lettuce daily” on Youtube.
- Elliot, L. 2018, February 1. “Robots will take our jobs. We’d better plan now, before it’s too late”. The Guardian. Available at www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/01/robots-take-our-jobs-amazon-go-seattle
- In a study released in October 2016, Lessons from the Frontlines of the Agtech Revolution, Automation and robotics is one of six areas where investors are placing their money.