The Aspects of Precision Farming

Craig Lipawsky
Product Manager: Guidance & Monitoring Systems
Astrata SA (Pty.) Ltd (Previously Optron)
Tel : +27 (0)11 467 0400
Fax: +27( 0)11 467 0467
Mobile: +27 (0)82 652 0314
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1. Process – identification of management zones.
2. Technology – the application of the process.


Historically most farmers practice some form of precision farming; be it crop rotation; letting fields laying fallow for a season; or excluding areas where crop yields have historically been bad. This is done in an effort to optimise yields and reduce input costs.


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of the biggest issues with precision farming is the cost related to precision farming. Precision farming costs money to begin and maintain; these benefits are seen over a number of years (four years approximately) where higher yields will be achieved and input costs could reduce.
Where does the farmer begin the precision farming cycle; there are numerous opinions and thesis about this issue, so lets look at it practically.

  • Ground – soil classification.
  • Yield monitoring.
  • Variable rate applications.
  • Software.

These are the five categories we will use to put logical structure to the process. Given that one very important underlying factor; without position nothing in this process makes any sense. One of the base elements of precision farming is the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the acceptance by the agricultural industry of this technology. This is where the technology partners get involved and add the missing dimension.


This is one of the more important phases of precision farming as it will determine the prescription of the way the ground should be handled.
Exclude blocks from farming process due to quality of soil.
Determine the chemical structure of the ground to be cultivated.
The issue in this phase is the inherent cost associated as all the lands need to be graded and samples taken; some say 100×100 m grids other say 150×150 m for dry lands and 50×50 for irrigated lands. These are guide lines only and each area will have its own accepted norm; given that this cycle should be repeated every four years; dry land; a sampling programme to cover the farm over four years can be used to minimise the capital out lay (larger farms). Areas which show lower yields determined by your yield monitors may receive additional attention and corrective steps taken.
The process that

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is used here is that the field boundaries are normally mapped (DGPS) and then a grid established. The samplers should then navigate to each point using a GPS and take each sample and record the position. There are data loggers and field software available for this.


This is the most common place (trend) to start with technology as the farmer sees immediate “results” on his yield data. It is also a good measuring tool to monitor the yields year by year and to identify potential problem areas. The yield data is captured on the combine with correlating GPS coordinates and a yield map can be created using office software. These data sets can be compared year on year and monitoring of change can take place.
Most major agricultural suppliers offer some form of yield monitors. Locally JD has GreenStar/Ag Leader; Case has AFS/Ag Leader; NH has Ag Leader; Claas has Ag Leader.


To optimise the plants use of fertilizer and to apply sufficient product in the correct place to optimise yield. This is achieved by using hydraulic motors with encoders to vary the products accordingly. The amount of products that can be varied is currently controlled by a Patent on multiple products; this expires early 2005 and more vendors will offer this solution. Some of the world leaders in the supply of variable controllers and hydraulic motors are Dicky-John; Raven; Mid-tech; Rawson; Flexi-coil; to name a few.
The most optimal process is to vary more than one product however some farmers only vary one product; on Flexi-coil we vary fertiliser only on wheat and keep the seeding rate constant. Where as

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with Maize we vary two products normally and three is becoming the norm.


A number of data sets are used and created in the precision farming process, they are:

  • Satellite images.
  • Farm boundaries.
  • Soil maps.
  • Yield maps.
  • Prescription maps.
  • Application maps.

The software used is GIS based and as such is capable of handling multiple data sets and manipulating such.

There is an acceptance of

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this technology to offer a service to the farmers we are seeing agronomists; soil scientists; fertiliser consultants and Farm management companies moving into this arena to offer a service to their customers and to monitor their Yields and performance of products. Software products used here are SMS Basic; SMS Advanced; AgGPS EZ-Map; SST Toolbox and general surveying software.


Guidance – with the advent of larger implements and tractors a major issue with field preparation is the over working of the area; a norm in the market is 10% seen in ripping; but this is a factor of operator skills and some figures seen in the field are more in the rate of 30–40% (disks and spraying). Taking the cost of running and wear and tear of articulated tractor and apply these cost and you will see how guidance pays for it self.
Manual guidance – GPS based

  • Light Bars.

There are a number of systems in this market sector Trimble; John Deer; Outback; Mid-tech; Raven
Auto Steer – GPS Based

  • DGPS – Omnistar; Beacon; GreenStar.
  • Ominstar HP; Starfire.
  • RTK (Repeatability).

The systems currently available are Trimble Auto Pilot (Platform independent; offer all three options) John Deer AutoTrax (Float solution) Cat-BeeLine (Omnistar HP).
Land Levelling

  • Laser based
  • RTK

One of the processes; normally pivots and flood irrigation; is to optimise water retention and

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drainage. Only Trimble offer these products.