The idea of precision farming has become mainstream in the past two decades thanks to the expansion of mobile technology, high-speed internet, and satellite data. But precision farming isn't new—it emerged over 40 years ago!
Back in the 1980s, food demand was sharply increasing—and so was the use of fertilizers, crop protection products and of course, water. As a result, it rapidly became a priority for farmers to modernise their practices and optimise their inputs, protecting people and the environment. Precision farming gave farmers better insights and more control.
By 2050 it's predicted that the world's population will reach between 9 and 10 billion people—but Earth isn't getting any bigger and there's certainly no increased availability of water or arable land. To feed the growing population, and to protect the environment, farmers around the world will need to produce more with less. Precision farming will be a huge contributor to the productivity growth global agriculture needs. Let's find out why.
Measure and control
In farming, many things are beyond our control—the weather, commodity prices, availability of qualified labour, to name just a few. From its humble beginnings, precision farming has enabled farmers to gain more control than ever before. It's technology that supports farm productivity, efficiency, and sustainability, paving the way for agricultural entrepreneurship, to do more with less, and for farmers to be the masters of their own success.
There are two basic objectives in precision farming: to measure performance and to control outputs. Achieving these objectives gives you deeper insights into your operations, opportunities for improvement and considerably more control in how you manage each hectare.
Today, many methods of achieving these goals exist but they all come back to those fundamental objectives: measure and control. Precision farming applies the concept of marginal gains to the agricultural world; small improvements for every hectare accumulating to vast potential across the farm. What you can measure, you can improve and what you can control, you can change.
What technology is used in measuring and controlling farm activities?
Precision farming leverages GNSS, machine and crop sensing, together with automatic control technologies to help you make the best decisions and applications for your crops. It essentially guides you on where, what, and how to grow.
Overall, it's a farm management concept based on the use of advanced technologies which collect a large amount of data. This data boosts farm productivity and efficiency while reducing your consumption of many expensive inputs, such as seed, fuel, fertiliser and pesticide. In other words, precision farming helps you measure your performance, leading to increased production in a more sustainable and profitable way.
The 4 key segments of precision farming:
1. Sensors – these measuring devices could be mounted on a machine, inserted into the soil, or controlled remotely from a drone or satellite, and will measure anything from machine performance to crop growth to soil moisture and grain quality. Sensors are used to collect data and gather a clearer picture of your operations.
2. GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) – this is about site-specific control, your hectare-by-hectare treatment. You can use it to collect site-specific data through sensors or control site-specific outputs through varying control technologies such as autosteering and application control.
3. Data management software – this gives meaning to the data collected. Also known as a Farm Management Information System (FMIS), data management software allows the accumulation of all recorded data to be later analysed and used for informed decisions. It creates your digital farm. The data can later be turned into control points and loaded to an application control device, enabling site specific treatment.
4. Control technology – this is the point at which precision farming can make physical changes to your operations. It comes in many different forms such as auto steering, sprayer control, seeding control or even irrigation control. No matter what the control technology, its purpose is to deliver the precision that's almost impossible without it. Whether the changes made by control technology are large or small, they will add up to a lot over the whole of your farm.
Taking your first steps on the path to precision, with Case IH
Case IH first launched its range of precision farming tools and services in 1995—we call them our Advanced Farming Systems (AFS™). These tools help farmers all over the world to measure and control their activities.
Across Case IH's range of tractors, harvesters, sprayers and more, you'll find a range of built-in and add-on technology to help you map yields, control application, steer more accurately (or even automatically!) and even make automatic machine adjustments to improve productivity.
You don't even necessarily need to own a Case IH machine to leverage Case IH technology, as some AFS tools integrate with other brands too.
Like buying your very first smart device, we understand it can be somewhat daunting to invest in precision farming technology, particularly if you've got plenty of experience operating standard farm machinery and traditional farming practices.
But don't worry—we've helped thousands of farmers make the transition to precision farming. Like with all impactful business decisions, there is a deliberate strategy involved. We'd like to share this with you now.
Case IH's 7 Step Precision Farming Action Plan
1. Assign responsibility – the key to every successful precision farming strategy is responsibility and accountability. An individual or group of individuals need to be made responsible for the implementation of your precision strategy. Work out whether this will be you yourself, or one of your employees.
2. Assess inventory – assess what equipment you have and what you need. Depending on the goals of your precision strategy, you may need to acquire further precision farming enabled equipment.
3. Evaluate data layers – layers of data collected by your GNSS-enabled equipment or sensors can be visualised, specifically for your site, in data management software. An impactful precision farming strategy would be quite difficult to implement without any captured data layers. So, evaluate what you have and what you need.
4. Evaluate yield – farmers are always looking to improve yields, no matter what they produce. So, measure it! Knowing your starting point is fundamental to your precision strategy— and it's the best way of measuring your return on investment.
5. Identify software to use – many software options are available on the market. Some focus on financial tracking, some on fleet management and others on agronomy. They are all useful but for your specific goals, some may be more valuable than others. Talk to your neighbours, farm advisors and even your Case IH machinery dealer about their experiences with different software.
6. Simplify and standardise – create good processes and habits and allow what you're doing to become second nature before you consider optimising. The world of precision farming is advanced and the potential is vast, but it can get complicated quickly and you can risk going backwards if you take on too much at once. Any steps you take are steps in the right direction. Make sure you've got it all under control before progressing even further.
7. Optimise – once you have become comfortable with your initial steps in precision farming, you'll have gathered more experience (and data) and will be better able to make a clear assessment of under-performing areas. This could be both in-field or perhaps in your business strategy. Identify 2 or 3 areas for improvement and work towards optimising them. Then, as more precision farming technologies become available, you can continue to improve.
Farming technology is changing the way we farm
Precision farming helps farmers around the world make their agricultural practices more sustainable while still meeting the increasing food demands of a growing population.
No matter where you are on your journey, you can use precision farming to make marginal—or even significant—gains, boosting productivity and profitability, and improving your quality of life.
If you have any questions, contact the AFS experts at your local authorised Case IH dealer. Dedicated Case IH AFS and product specialists work alongside dealers to support customers in the field and quickly answer any questions you may have.
We are here to guide you through your path to precision.