Precision agriculture or Smart Farming involves a technologically-mediated study of how variations within the field impact the growth of plants.
For instance, knowledge about the topography of the soil, how it affects crop growth, soil nutrients and water, combined with data from previous years, can support better informed, real-time and site-specific decisions.
Various strategies and technologies for precision agriculture have been implemented in the United States since the early 1980s, and expanded to Europe, Canada, and Latin America in the late 1990s.
Technologies for precision agriculture—which include global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), crop yield monitors, variable rate technologies (VRT) like sprayers and seeders, and software like decision support systems (DSS)—allow for the most rational decisions to be made at every stage of the production cycle: planting, growing and harvest.
While an almanac and accumulated local environmental knowledge got most growers through the growing seasons in decades past, new technologies are taking the guesswork out of growing.
Using the latest in precision agricultural technologies allows growers to save time and resources, maximize production while minimizing the environmental impact of farming.
Nitrogen runoff, for example, can be better-controlled with adequate knowledge of the soil and the way water moves through it. Intra-field soil testing and mapping of residual nitrogen, obtaining growing season data on how nutrients are being taken up by the crop, also enable the grower to make better, site-specific decisions.
Ultimately, this smart environmental choice allows growers to save money, by using inputs, like fertilizer, only where they are required, instead of as a broad-based application.
Collecting global environmental data, as well as inter- and intra- field data will lead to smarter and smarter decisions in planting, growth and harvest each and every year. As the knowledge and database in crop science grows, yields can only get higher.