Variable-rate farming equipment harbors huge potential for curbing the use of agricultural inputs, from machinery fuels to pest-killers, fertilizers and water.
The principle is straightforward: by connecting field sensors and actuators through algorithms and electronics, variable-rate precision farming devices allow farmers to take into account field variability in terms of topography, moisture levels and other factors affecting crop production when working their soils and nourishing their plants.
Yet uptake on the ground of these technologies is lagging, as the price and complexity that come with variable-rate farming equipment deter many farmers from making the leap. Fortunately, new studies conducted by researchers from the University of Clemson, South Carolina, further document the cost-saving benefits of variable-rate farming technologies. These have the potential to strengthen farmers’ revenues, especially as average field variability is set to increase along with farm holding sizes.
Take variable-rate automated tillage, for example: by connecting the tillage equipment to sensors determining soil characteristics and thickness, farmers can adjust blade depths along the way, with fuel savings of up to 45%, according to Jonathan Fox from Clemson University.
In addition, new types of variable-rate fertilizer application tools have become available to farmers and smart farming enthusiasts. In South Carolina, drones embedded with infrared cameras measure nutrient levels in cotton fields. By benchmarking such levels against ‘maximum yields’ in cotton rows, an algorithm tells a variable-rate applicator how much and where to spray fertilizer.
Click here to learn more about the work of researchers from Clemson University on precision agriculture.