The Cost of SPA

Quinta da Cholda has gradually been introducing some Precision Agriculture (PA) techniques on its 500-hectare corn farm.

It was in 2014 that we made the first investments in equipment for the collection and processing of data through the implementation of self-driving tractors and productivity readers on harvesters to obtain productivity data. Over the past few years, we have been investing in new tractors equipped with the latest self-driving and telemetry technology, as well as new equipment such as a Variable Rate Technology (VRT) fertilizer applicator.

We have also been experimenting with various data management software to collect all the information that comes from tractors and harvesters. We now use software that allows us to collect and process data from several different machines (and brands), as well as to prescribe tasks to be performed. We hired a consulting firm specialized in Precision Agriculture to do the processing and filtering of the data, to build a standardized database. Having all the information organized and treated, we are now able to make VRT prescriptions for new applications of production factors, such as seeds, phytopharmaceuticals, and mobilizations.

We now do the survey of images with drones, with a minimum of 4 flights per campaign. We have a company that renders all the images captured with the drone, in a single image which are then stored so that we can consult and analyze them over time. We also use several satellite image management platforms with the analysis of NDVI and other parameters. Many of these platforms, some are paid, others are free to use.

We are now trying to take an economic approach to implementation costs and operative costs necessary to maintain the entire structure for collecting, handling and prescribing tasks.

We started from several premises so that we can value the costs of adopting Precision Agriculture.

In our 500-hectare farm, the total value is 88€/ha. We’ve also analyzed the values ​​for smaller farms. In some cases, we have a proportional cost and in others an increase due to the small size of the farm.

Thanks to Precision Agriculture (PA), we can now achieve a more sustainable management of our operations and a more rational use of the input factors with great economic and environmental benefits to agricultural production.

Year Costs (ha) Area (ha)
25 50 100 300 500
Increased cost with PA machines and implements 19 19 19 19 19
Annual electroconductivity 3 3 3 3 3
Soil analysis + Nutrient chart 7 7 7 7 7
Drone flights (4 flights / year) 16 16 16 16 16
Satellite images management platform 2 2 2 2 2
Software licenses 57 28 14 5 3
Technician’s time allocated to PA 50 50 40 13 8
Consultant – drafting and analyzing productivity charts 24 12 6 6 6
Consultant – Support and preparation of prescription letters 16 8 4 2 2
Manager’s time allocated to PA 20 20 10 3 2
Learning curve (cost of “mistakes” + time) 20 20 20 20 20
Total/ ha / year 234 185 141 96 88
% on average crop costs (2.200€/ha) 10,6% 8,4% 6,4% 4,4% 4,0%