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precision agriculture

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Precision agriculture (PA) is an approach to farm management that uses information technology (IT) to ensure that crops and soil receive exactly what they need for optimum health and productivity. The goal of PA is to ensure profitability, sustainability and protection of the environment. PA is also known as satellite agriculture, as-needed farming and site-specific crop management (SSCM).

Precision agriculture relies upon specialized equipment, software and IT services. The approach includes accessing real-time data about the conditions of the crops, soil and ambient air, along with other relevant information such as hyper-local weather predictions, labor costs and equipment availability. Predictive analytics software uses the data to provide farmers with guidance about crop rotation, optimal planting times, harvesting times and soil management.

Sensors in fields measure the moisture content and temperature of the soil and surrounding air. Satellites and robotic drones provide farmers with real-time images of individual plants. Information from those images can be processed and integrated with sensor and other data to yield guidance for immediate and future decisions, such as precisely what fields to water and when or where to plant a particular crop.

Agricultural control centers integrate sensor data and imaging input with other data, providing farmers with the ability to identify fields that require treatment and determine the optimum amount of water, fertilizers and pesticides to apply. This helps the farmer avoid wasting resources and prevent run-off, ensuring that the soil has just the right amount of additives for optimum health, while also reducing costs and controlling the farm's environmental impact.

In the past, precision agriculture was limited to larger operations which could support the IT infrastructure and other technology resources required to fully implement and benefit from the benefits of precision agriculture. Today, however, Mobile apps, smart sensors, drones and cloud computing makes precision agriculture possible for farming cooperatives and even small family farms.

See IBM's video introduction to precision agriculture:

This was last updated in February 2016

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