By Ulrich Adam
Agriculture today is about high speed and high precision. In the past 10 years, precision farming has experienced unprecedented growth around the world: Around 80 percent of new farm equipment sold today has some form of precision farming component. Precision farming is all about doing the right thing in the right place at right time with the right amount. It leads to higher profitability, improved sustainability and increased productivity. Plus, it saves farmers time and enhances their well-being.
Applying crop protection products with precision equipment, including integrated electronic commutation and variable rate technology, demonstrates the power of digital technology on the farm. It also shows the benefits of like-minded industries working together in this case, where agricultural equipment meets crop protection.
Modern, more efficient farm equipment allows farmers to 1) improve their crops through more targeted input applications; 2) reduce input costs; 3) benefit the environment due to fewer inputs; 4) reduce work and increase comfort for farmers (i.e., self-driving tractors can operate in bad weather and at night); and 5) improve profits. For example, farms in Germany using advanced digital, precision technology have reported higher yields per hectare with reduced herbicide and diesel use by 10 and 20 percent, respectively.
Modern agricultural machine technology specifically helps farmers with crop protection by:
- protecting crops from pests with exact doses and targeted applications of products;
- allowing for responsible product use with less exposure;
- efficiently using scarce agricultural area; and maximizing harvest results.
CEMA (Comité Européen des Groupements de Constructeurs du Machinisme Agricole), the European Association of Agricultural Equipment, has a partnership with the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) to produce a state-of-the-art, universal industry standard for Closed Transfer Systems, which will allow crop protection products to be put in sprayers without opening them so farmer exposure will be minimized.
In addition, CEMA and ECPA are planning to launch a dedicated website about the benefits of new sprayer technology. It will inform farmers how to purchase new equipment or retrofit old equipment. Better, safer and more precise application of crop protection products is our mutual goal.
From Data to Drones
Thanks to digital connectivity, smart farm equipment can connect the “dots” of data and put them into an optimized order by consulting, for instance, field-specific information from cloud-based farm management software. Sensors and remote sensing collect data from a distance to evaluate soil and crop health, such as the presence of pests or diseases.
The big question is when and how will drones and robots be used in the field to apply crop protection products and improve crop production? While field robot prototypes exist, they are not yet being used in fields. Drones, however, are already taking off in agriculture.
Used mainly for capturing images and providing data, drones allow for permanent monitoring of a crop from planting to harvest. They can also help farmers react faster to threats, such as weeds, insects and fungi; save time crop scouting to take appropriate actions; and improve the application of variable input rates in real time. This data is processed in the cloud and translated into useful information, such as plant health and pest infestations. This data can then be entered into smart machinery to adjust the amount of inputs, such as crop protection products, for a field accordingly.
In addition to determining pest outbreaks, drones can be used to apply crop protection products. In Japan, for example, drones do aerial spraying. While they are not allowed to spray in Europe, drones are being used there to distribute biological agents like wasp eggs. But the potential for dronesis sky-high around the world.
Water-resistant, drones can monitor any type of crop in any geographical area under any weather condition. They can also get higher quality and more precise images in real time as they fly below the clouds and have high photo resolution — far superior to satellites, which only take pictures once a week or month and don’t work well when it’s cloudy.
It is expected that the use of agricultural drones will grow significantly in the coming years as they offer a wide range of applications that improve precision farming. In addition, they can potentially replace human application of crop protection products, minimizing farmer exposure. That’s some high-flying technology.
Ulrich Adam is secretary general of CEMA, the European association of agricultural equipment manufacturers based in Brussels. CEMA represents 4,500 manufacturers that produce 450 different types of machines ranging from tractors to precision seed drills.