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

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 …

Role players

Training and research

Johan van Biljon at ARC-Agricultural Engineering looks at how drones assist with precision farming. Write to vbiljonj [at]

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, write to iscwinfo [at] 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], FC Basson: fcbasson [at],

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]

University of the Free State Department of Agricultural Economics Tel: 051 401 2824 / 3864,

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

Find details of the other universities and short course providers in the “Agricultural education and training” chapter.

Companies involved

 Climate monitoring systems can halve the use of water for farmers. Find companies who offer weather services in the “Weather and climate” chapter.


  • South African National Space Agency (Sansa) Read about the Enhancing Food Security in African AgriCultural Systems with the support of Remote Sensing (AfriCultuReS) project on the website or at

Websites and publications

Refer to the websites listed earlier in this chapter.

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