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Precision Agriculture Manual - GRDC · PDF file 3 GRDC PRECISION AGRICULTURE MANUAL, 2006 FOREWORD Precision Agriculture, or PA, is a topic of increasing interest and discussion within

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  • Precision Agriculture Manual

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    PRECISION AGRICULTURE MANUAL Chapter 1 - What is Precision Agriculture?

    Chapter 2 - Understanding variability

    Chapter 3 - Getting started

    Chapter 4 - Managing variability

    Case Studies



    Edited by: Emma Leonard, AgriKnowHow, Urania, Via Maitland, SA 5573.

    Philip Price, Mackellar Consulting Group P/L, PO Box 683, Jamison, ACT 2614

    Disclaimer: Any recommendations, suggestions or opinions contained in this publication do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Grains Research and Development Corporation. No person should act on the basis of the contents of this publication without first obtaining specific, independent professional advice. The Grains Research and Development Corporation will not be liable for any loss, damage, cost or expense incurred or arising by reason of any person using or relying on the information in this publication. ISBN 1-876477-65-9 Published June 2006

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    FOREWORD Precision Agriculture, or PA, is a topic of increasing interest and discussion within the Australian grains industry. New varieties and improved methods of agronomic management have enabled growers to progressively overcome limitations to crop growth. In most regions, yield, profit and productivity have steadily increased when averaged across seasonal conditions. This has drawn attention to the inherent variability in yield and margin within paddocks and across the farm. Growers are now looking for ways to manage this spatial variability by better matching inputs to the productive potential of particular paddocks or sites within a single paddock. This would enable them to increase profit, and at the same time improve environmental management.

    PA involves collecting information about specific sites and then using this information to make and apply management decisions. This could be as simple as using Global Positioning System guidance on the spray rig to reduce overlap, or as complex as using a computer card and map of paddock management zones or soil pH to vary fertiliser or lime application on-the-go with a variable rate applicator.

    The basic tools needed for PA have been available for more than a decade, but uptake of this new technology within the grains industry has been slow, especially for the more complex techniques that involve mapping crop or soil characteristics. Several reasons for this slow adoption have been reported by growers in surveys by the GRDC and others. One reason is that investment in equipment for the full suite of PA methods is expensive and growers are uncertain whether a return will follow, nor is it clear if PA will be effective in lifting margins in all farms or cropping regions. Also, to make full use of PA, skills are required in data collection and integration, and in interpreting PA data to enable better management decisions to be made. As yet, there are few people with this combination of skills to support grain growers in using PA in practice.

    In 2003, in response to these gaps in knowledge and skills, the GRDC established a 5 year national research program in PA involving 10 R&D teams working with growers across all cropping regions. One aim of this initiative is to test different ways of using PA to determine which are the most useful for growers in particular situations, and at the same time to uncover the main underlying causes of spatial variability. The program is also developing a range of tools that growers can use to help decide whether PA is likely to be a good financial investment for them. Attention is being given to improving education and training in PA to help provide the skilled people that the industry needs if it is to gain maximum benefit from this technology.

    This PA Manual is the first major product from our PA research initiative. It aims to bring together much of the technical information that agronomists, farm consultants, extension staff and others in the industry need in order to understand how PA methods work and how they can be put into practice on-farm. It is not aimed directly at the average grain grower, although some growers already familiar with PA will find useful information here. Our intention is that organisations and groups will use this technical manual to help underpin their own training programs and as a reference work on PA. The GRDC is working with other groups to develop more education and training products that will meet the need of growers for less-technical information on how to make PA work in practice, and that could be incorporated into tertiary courses.

    This Manual has been prepared by a large number of researchers working within the GRDC national PA initiative, and I would like to thank them for their efforts in bringing together for the first time in Australia such detailed technical information. We know that the coverage of different PA topics varies within the Manual, and that new information is becoming available from the current research. However, it was our decision that this information is needed urgently in the public domain, and that we should make the Manual available as soon as possible. The GRDC intends to update and re-issue this Manual at the completion of our national PA program in 2007. We would therefore welcome your comments on how this version could be improved, so please use the feedback form provided and email or print and post back to us.

    In the meantime, the GRDC encourages you to use the information provided here, including for your own or your organisation’s education and training programs. Please feel free to copy and modify sections from the Manual to suit your own purposes. Our only request is that you acknowledge the authors and the GRDC.

    Peter Reading Managing Director August 2006

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    Section topics 1.1 What is precision agriculture? 1.2.1 Who is precision agriculture for? 1.2.2 Does precision agriculture pay? 1.2.3 Is precision agriculture likely to be worthwhile financially? An investment analysis approach 1.2.4 GRDC precision agriculture research initiative

    1.1 What is precision agriculture? Precision Agriculture (PA) is a general term that describes a wide range of technologies and their use. These technologies provide detailed information about geographic location and spatial variability in soils or crops. This information can be used by growers and advisers to improve cropping decisions, crop agronomy and the efficiency of farming operations.

    PA combines a wide range of data sources based on a common geographic location. For example yield may be monitored directly during harvest with geographic location provided from a Global Positioning System (GPS) and compared to biomass estimates made from satellite images or to soils data from an electromagnetic induction (EM or EMI) survey. PA is a tool that can be used in all aspects of agronomy including soil improvement, nutrition, and pest and weed control. PA is underpinned by data, much of which reflects spatial variability due to past management and crop performance, such as high fertiliser levels remaining where crop yield has been poor.

    The extent to which PA technologies and methods are used in grain cropping depends on the purpose. For example, some growers may use GPS only when establishing raised beds or controlled traffic systems or for sowing into the previous year’s inter-row, or just to reduce overlap when spraying or seeding. Others use yield maps to check the performance of different varieties or the impact of a pesticide. Others again are establishing paddock management zones and using variable rate application to better match expensive inputs with potential yield. A grower wanting to use PA can begin by either using one or two technologies and build on these, or by adopting a whole suite of technologies right from the start. Therefore it is important to remember that there are many ways in which PA can be adopted and used to make or save money, improve timeliness or environmental management and to carry out on- farm trials.

    There are two further, sometimes forgotten, benefits of PA, whose impacts may not be as immediate but can be more far-reaching. The first is the greater information and understanding that growers gain from seeing maps of variability in soils, crops or pests, an understanding that translates into improved cropping decisions and greater efficiency over time. The second is the potential for growers to use PA for their own on-farm trials, where new varieties, fertiliser type or rate, or soil or pest management, can be tested on a small area and the results assessed cheaply using yield or other PA data.

    The definition of PA adopted by the GRDC and used throughout this Manual is:

    ‘Information-rich agriculture. The use of yield maps, other spatial information and input-control technologies to better match agronomy to paddock variability. The aims are to increase profit and improve environmental management.’

    This definition emphasises one of the underlying concepts of PA, by better matching crop inputs and agronomy to the specific characteristics of particular parts of a paddock or farm, a grain grower can improve profit and protect the natural resource base by reducing over or under application of expensive inputs. There are three possible ways that effectively match inputs with site characteristics and yield potential to improve profit:

    higher yields achieved with higher inputs, where the value of