The biggest advantage of precision agriculture is efficiency and accuracy, being able to apply chemicals and fertilizers only when and where they are needed, but Ron Heiniger stresses that precision agriculture is still in its early stages and has a long way to go to be fully implemented on the farm.
“We’re moving in that direction, but we are still in the study mode, finding out how to integrate these precision technologies,” Heiniger said at the annual Soybean Producers Forum held at the Southern Farm Show in Raleigh Feb. 6.
Heiniger was the substitute speaker for Gary Roberson, NC State biological and agricultural engineering Extension specialist, who had to cancel his presentation due to a death in his family. Heiniger is professor of crop science and cropping systems specialist at NC State.
“Today’s world in precision technology starts with computing power,” Heiniger said.
In computing, interface is important, Heiniger said. “That’s what you need on your farm,” he said. “You need to be able to interface your tractor, your truck, your home, your sprayer and your combine. You need to be able to interface to integrate all that you do. This integrated approach brings the full value to precision agriculture.”
One area that is well suited for precision agriculture is soil sampling, Heiniger said.
“What would it mean to your farming operation if you could go out and take soil samples on the go and have them analyzed instantly, the moment the sample was taken,” Heiniger said. “You would immediately know what the pH was, what the phosphorous content was, and what the sulfur content was. You would know all the properties that you need to make a decision.”
Farmers will no longer have to send off their samples and wait two weeks for results, but would be able to get results right away, the moment the sample was taken. “This would be a game changer in precision agriculture, the ability to get soil information instantaneously,” Heiniger said.
Through precision agriculture, farmers will be able to adjust varieties by zone depending on the yield potential they have, Heiniger said. “We could actually change varieties on the go,” he explained. “We could plant a defensive hybrid on the go using a single planter and be able to mix those hybrids on the go.”
Through either robots or unmanned aerial vehicles, farmers will be able to spray individual plants. “Robots and UAVs or drones or going to be a big part of our crop protection systems in the future,” Heiniger said.
“That’s the future for crop protection,” he said. “We’re going to be doing it very, very precisely. It’s not that far away. They’re in the pipeline, and we’re going to see some of these technologies in the next five to 10 years.”