The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is coordinating a series of activities throughout 2015 International Year of Soil (IYS) to educate the public about the importance of soil. March’s theme is “Soils Support Agriculture.” In one of SSSA’s March Soils Matter blog posts, experts explain what precision agriculture is, and why farmers use it.

Precision agriculture is one of many modern farming practices that make production more efficient. With precision agriculture, farmers and soils work better, not harder.

A better name for precision ag might be “site-specific ag”. Growers are able to take large fields and manage them as though they are a group of small fields. This reduces the misapplication of products and increases crop and farm efficiency.

It has been said farmers were the first land stewards. They use research about weather patterns, soil temperature and humidity, growth, and other factors. They rotate crops to improve diversity, and monitor irrigation rates so that salts do not accumulate. They also use precision agriculture practices to apply nutrients, water, seed, and other agricultural inputs to grow more crops in a wide range of soil environments. Precision ag can help farmers know how much and when to apply these inputs.

There is a lot of technology used to make modern agriculture more efficient. For example, some farmers use global positioning systems (GPS) and GPS-computer guided tractors and harvestors. Other geo-referenced site-specific practices may include:

  • electromagnetic soil mapping
  • soil sample collection
  • crop yield data collection
  • aerial imagery
  • crop or soil color index maps
  • soil types
  • soil characteristics
  • drainage level
  • potential yields

Each of these geo-referenced data layers helps subdivide a large field area into smaller management zones. Using small management zones reduces waste while increasing production potential.

One example of a precision agriculture practice is to evaluate the natural soil variability of a field. If the soil in one area holds water better, crops can be planted more densely and irrigation can be sparing. Or, if the plot is used for grazing, more cattle can graze than a similar area of poorer quality soil.

By studying these factors and using precision agriculture, farmers are able to produce more food at a fraction of the cost. Farmers also conserve soil for sustainable food production. Precision ag results in a stable food supply, which results in a strong community.

As part of their celebration of IYS, SSSA is developing a series of twelve 2-minute educational videos. They are working in conjunction with Jim Toomey, who has worked with the UN in the past on a video series. He also authors the environmental cartoon, Sherman’s Lagoon. March’s Soils Support Agriculture video can be viewed at https://www.soils.org/iys/monthly-videos.