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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions on precision farming.
Image with FAQ to represent Frequently Asked Questions

In this section you will find an answer to frequently asked questions related to the topic of precision farming.

1. What is food security and food integrity?

At the World Food Summit in 1996, the international community accepted a target to eradicate hunger in all countries and strove towards achieving food security, i.e. when all people, at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Now in 2020, we are striving to achieve a global food system that is not only safe, accessible and nutritious, but also, that our food is authentic, sustainable and ethical. To reflect this, Professor Christopher Elliott defined food integrity as existing when all people, at all times, have access to food which is safe, authentic and nutritious. The systems used to produce the food are sustainable, ethical, respect the environment and protect the human rights of all workers.

2. What are the challenges in the food system?

The integrity and security of food is of increasing concern due to a number of challenges which exist within our food system. These include: Feeding a growing population; Growing competition and scarcity of land, water and energy for food production and over exploitation of the wild fisheries which affects our ability to produce food; Increasingly complex food chains creates difficulties for surveillance and increases the number of opportunities for fraudulent activity; Food Consumption concerns with around one in three people suffering some form of malnutrition; and Climate change.

3. What is precision farming?

Precision farming is defined as innovative farming management practices, which involve observing, measuring, controlling, and optimizing agricultural production processes. Precision farming leverages the capabilities of modern technologies, such as the internet of things, sensor technologies, global navigation satellite systems, and cloud computing.

4. Why is precision farming being introduced to the food sector?

Globally, there is a growing understanding the current farming practices are unsustainable, failing to support a decent standard of living for farmers, and not providing enough food to support projected population growth. The introduction of precision farming helps optimize the usage of available resources to enhance sustainability and profitability of agricultural production. It reduces negative environmental impacts, provides safer operating conditions, and allows a larger volume of data and information to be generated.

5. What role can drones play in precision farming?

A drone is a remotely piloted model aircraft equipped with a camera. Professional drone systems, also called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), come in all shapes and sizes. They are equipped with an autopilot system, a GPS, a compass, and a barometric altimeter allowing the drone to fly fully autonomously. These drones can carry different instruments, such as a video camera or a photographic camera, or thermal and infrared sensors. The drone images provide a bird’s-eye view of the farm and allows a detailed characterization of the condition of individual crops. Moreover, as opposed to more traditional remote sensing platforms, such as satellites and (manned) aircrafts, drones can provide images with a much higher spatial level of detail; and allow a greater flexibility in terms of when to fly.

6. What is site specific fertilization?

The supply of nutrients in natural soils is typically insufficient for obtaining high crop yields. Traditionally. Fertilizer application is often based on average crop recommendations and a field is treated as a homogenous area. However, this can lead to over-fertilization in some areas and under-fertilization in others. Thus, site specific nutrient management technologies are developed to maximize crop productivity while reducing environmental impact. Remote sensing technology is a useful tool to identify field areas that have similar characteristics in terms of soil fertility and potential crop productivity. These areas are called management zones. For instance, satellite and drone images provide insight in the crop development over time, and its response to the lack of nutrients throughout a field. Information about vegetation status can be obtained from the images acquired by satellites.

7. What are NIR sensors?

NIR stands for Near-Infrared Spectrometry. NIR sensors can be used in precision farming to measure nutrient profiles in crops and manure.

8. What are the concerns with agricultural robotics?

The use of agricultural robotics has limitations. The high machine weights result in serious soil compaction which has a negative impact on water infiltration and root development. Moreover, the machines are becoming too large for road transport.

9. What are Global Navigation Satellite Systems

To reduce the negative impacts of soil compaction from heavy machinery some farmers are implementing controlled traffic farming. In this system, all machines drive over the same paths which are no longer tilled, while the rest of the field is left undisturbed. Global Navigation Satellite Systems, such as the American GPS or European Galileo systems, play a crucial role in the establishment of these paths. These systems allow a tractor to determine its absolute position in space which can then be used by a control system to track a predefined path. However, as this does not allow to detect obstacles in the field, most tractors with GPS guidance still have to be manned by a human operator to supervise the system.

10. Are agricultural robotics commonly used in the sector?

When it comes to fully autonomous agricultural robots, the dairy farming sector is leading. The first commercial milking robot was introduced in 1992. Nowadays, these systems are already widely used. For example, in 2017 22% of the Dutch dairy farmers were using a milking robot. More recently, robots for feed distribution and manure removal have also been introduced on dairy farms.

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