How do you define precision agriculture?
To me, precision farming is about solving an agronomic problem under changing environmental conditions and crop status. You need to start from the problem, not from the technical tools as we have often done over the past 20 years. Furthermore, precision farming is demand oriented. Decisions are not based on achieving a potential maximum yield, but on the actual need of the plant.
What are the most important questions before introducing precision farming?
First of all, the farmer should ask: Which of the weak points in my production system am I most concerned about? Then the farmer should ask himself what information and data are required to find an appropriate solution. Thirdly comes the question on which technology provides this information and translates it into the appropriate action based on agronomic rules? In addition, the farmer needs to understand his own attitude towards risk. For people who are willing to take more risks, an online process is more suitable, i.e. sensor-based application in real time, while risk-averse farmers will prefer offline application maps.
How long does it usually take until a farm that has not worked with precision farming before is completely digitalized?
Once the strategic decision to start with precision farming (variable rate fertilisation, sowing, nitrogen or crop protection) has been taken, the actual introduction of digital solutions into the farm can get started. I’ll take Agricon as an example: We offer a basic training programme on our premises and then, depending on the scope of the digitalisation project, two to six days of training directly on farm (refreshment of agronomic knowledge, data management and machine operation).
Precision Farming gives the producers power over their decision making, as they can solve an agronomic problem scientifically.
Based on this framework, farmers are 95% self-sufficient in each precision technique after one year. It gives the producers power over their decision making, as they can solve an agronomic problem scientifically. Around five years should be allowed for a complete conversion to digitalized or automated crop production.
What trend do you see in practice? How fast is precision farming spreading?
Reading the press often gives the impression that precision farming is a common practice on many farms. Reality is, we are just getting started. In Germany, a country that is at the forefront in Europe, I estimate that only 10% of the farms regularly use precision farming techniques, although the adaptation is accelerating over the past few years. Being optimistic I would predict that in ten years we will be at 50%. We will most likely see a generational effect as young farmers in the age between 25 and 35 who are taking over farms grew up with modern information technology. They are open to new technologies and say: why should I do all this work on paper or in my head?
Will we see a paradigm shift?
Yes, but in the end, it’s just a return to farming’s roots – a high-tech version of the agriculture of yesteryear.” Just as it was then, today it is again a matter of keeping a close eye on the entire farm, every field and every sub-site as an operations manager. Only then can they make a rational decision as to whether, when, where and how the resources are used economically. The careful analysis of site-specific data serves as a basis for rational decision-making, which must then be implemented consistently.