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What is Precision Agriculture?

Precision agriculture is a method of farming that acknowledges variability in different areas of land and seeks to tailor management responses to each specific area. In this way, precision agriculture not only saves time and money, but also improves productivity and profitability. 

If you were to look at an agricultural area from a birds-eye view, it would almost be certain you would observe a wide variety of soil types, textures and ecosystem function. From rocky, hilly slopes to sandy river beds, Australia’s agricultural landscape is anything but uniform.  
 
It is for this reason that precision agriculture has evolved to help farmers exert more control over their land by matching management strategies and land use with the unique characteristics of each specific area. By doing this, farmers can optimise their productive capacity and increase production capabilities.  
 
For example, traditional farming practices tend to, apply a uniform rate of water, fertilisers and chemicals to each and every paddock. While this method of farming is still highly productive, it can inadvertently result in a significant amount of wastage.  
 
Precision agriculture, on the other hand, uses data and technology as a means of determining exactly where, how and what strategies should be used to treat individual pockets of land. In a world where environmental concerns are growing and profit margins are shrinking, using precision agriculture to maximise resource efficiency is a significant advantage to farmers striving to achieve higher yields while limiting their input costs.  

How does Precision Agriculture work?

Precision agriculture relies on science, software and specialised tools to collect, analyse, and interpret data in real-time, allowing farmers to make informed decisions and optimise their farming practices for improved efficiency and productivity. 
 
Global Positioning Systems (GPS), drones, yield monitors, variable rate technology (VRT) and farm management software are all agritech tools used in precision agriculture to guide farmer’s decision making and continually improve their accuracy and efficiency. Here’s how it happens:  
 
- Data Collection  
Precision agriculture begins with collecting data about various aspects of the farm, including soil properties, moisture levels, crop health, and weather conditions. This data is gathered using sensors, drones, satellite imagery, and other monitoring devices. 
 
- Data Analysis 
Once the data is collected, it is then analysed using specialised software programs and algorithms. This analysis helps farmers identify patterns, trends, and areas of variability within their farm. 
 
- Decision making 
Based on the insights gained from data analysis, farmers can make informed decisions about various aspects of their farming operation, such as irrigation, fertilisation, pest management, and sowing and harvesting schedules. These decisions are made with the aim of optimising their resource usage, improving yields, and minimising costs. 
 
- Precision application  
Precision agriculture allows farmers to apply inputs such as water, fertilisers, and pesticides with precision and accuracy. This is achieved using variable rate technology, automated machinery, and GPS-guided equipment, which all enable farmers to target specific areas of their paddocks with the right inputs at the right time. 
 
- Monitoring and Feedback  
Throughout the growing season, farmers continuously monitor their crops using sensors and other monitoring tools. This allows them to track the effectiveness of their management practices, detect any issues or anomalies early on, and make adjustments as they are needed. 

What are the benefits and challenges for technology adoption?

In Australia, farms that embrace innovation and integrate technology into their operations tend to achieve higher levels of productivity. The Agriculture sector has been witnessing a steady uptake of AgTech, with a NAB survey finding 75 percent of farmers use at least one AgTech service or product in their operations. However, as the world’s growing population demands more efficiency from Australian agriculture, barriers to technology adoption need to be addressed.  
 
Precision agriculture offers a number of important benefits for farmers, including increased profits due to improved yields and productivity, a reduction in farm inputs and a healthier environment. By precisely targeting pockets of land as needed, precision agriculture ultimately leads to improved environmental outcomes and increased efficiency and productivity. However, practice change and technology adoption do not come without their challenges.  
 
- High up-front acquisition costs  

High up-front costs are a significant barrier to adoption especially for farmers already struggling with limited access to capital or other resources. However, many AgTech solutions offer a significant return on investment in the long run, so solutions like creative financing, government subsidies or improved education could help encourage widespread adoption.  
 
But it’s not only individual farmers who are navigating the high acquisition costs of agritech. The cost of research that helps bring agritech solutions to market is also expensive. growAG. is a platform that seeks to make R&D more readily available to everyone along the value chain. With all 15 RDC’s listing their current research and existing commercial opportunities, it has never been easier for farmers to access the information they need to start innovating and adopting. For example, some of the current research projects include the following:  
 
1. Precision Agriculture in Practice
 
2. Improving precision agriculture and climate adaptation for the Australian Cotton Industry
 
3. Data Resource Access And Allocation
 
4. Implementing precision agriculture solutions in Australian avocado production systems
 
- Data sharing concerns  

Farmers gather an enormous amount of data using AgTech solutions about their crop health, weather conditions and machinery performance. But who gets access to all this data and how it's used is a major concern. Protecting farmers’ data through encryption, transparency, anonymisation and regulatory compliance are a priority for AgTech companies and other stakeholders to ensure that farmers feel safe to use their technology.  

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