Precision agriculture means different things to different people. In Ontario, we have seen adoption of precision technologies, including combine yield monitors, light bars and other sophisticated ways of driving straight, and application mapping.
Yield Monitor, GIS, Variable Rate & Other Technologies
After a slow start with yield monitors, most of these have been readily adopted. Straight driving technologies have been adopted very quickly. Now we are seeing wider adoption of GIS-enabled auto shut-off systems for ensuring pesticides, seed and other inputs are not overlapped as field equipment crosses paths with previous passes.
Less common has been the acceptance of variable rate input technology. There is considerable disagreement on whether the systems are able to adequately identify management zone changes that would justify the change in input levels across a field. However, it is being practiced successfully by some.
One important thing that comes from yield monitor technology is the ability to "visualize" the fields. , Review of data trends over time allows development of good management zones. This is not just numbers, but a visual picture of what is happening in a field.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
The next step in precision technology may be the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's) for monitoring ongoing crop production. These can enable us to "see" our crops visually, but also in terms of stresses that the human eye cannot see. Near infrared reflectance (NIR) cameras can measure response to stresses. Although imagery is available from aircraft and satellite systems, there are some distinct disadvantages associated with their use, such as cost, timeliness, accuracy, resolution, and flight path.
A farmer or agronomist can program a UAV to fly a directed path whenever they want. This allows a crop to be monitored to look for things that might be of interest in the growth of the crop. Advantages of UAV's over plane and satellite include flexibility, lower capital cost, ready learning, and no need to put people in harm's way.
These vehicles are capable of high resolution photography, video capture and NIR photography. Then there is a wide range of software choices available to "build" maps from the images and video captured. They can operate at various heights from 100 to 2,000 ft, cruise at speeds up to 60 km/hr for 30 to 60 minutes, and operate in winds up to 30 km/hr.
They have resolutions of as low as 3.6 cm, but 20 cm is typical. (Figure 1) They can take pictures of from 1 to 60 acres. What is exciting about this technology is that it gives you a view of your crops that is not attainable in any other way, and at various times during the growing season. Ask any "flying farmer" how much they see in their crops from the air that is not visible, even in thorough ground scouting.
Figure 1. Images courtesy of Nicole Rabe from collaborative work with MAFRI and On-Demand Imagery Solutions (Brandon, MB.) showing the resolution potential of UAV's relative to other forms of imagery.
Possible uses of the technology include:
• scouting for disease, insect, and weeds,
• identifying problems fast,
• replant decisions
• visual recorded proof of issues
• record keeping that specified operations were completed,
• scouting deer, racoon and other critter damage,
• looking for "alternate crops" planted in your crops
• delineating management zones, and
• identifying field regions susceptible to soil erosion.
Figure 2 demonstrates the operational aspects of UAV's.
Figure 2. Example of how UAV flight can be used to capture images and develop mapping products that assist crop management (Ag Business & Crop Inc.)
Checkout these websites to get an idea of the range of products, and the capabilities:
Swinglet Cam (http://www.sensefly.com/)