Achieving success with precision agriculture (PA) is a team matter. It is essential to combine different knowledge in a multidisciplinary and complementary team to make the best decisions.
The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) of Australia provides valuable guides and reports worth studying on its website (see references below). In the report “PROFIT FROM PRECISION AGRICULTURE” the five essential roles for a successful AP are identified: the Grower, the Agronomist, the PA Consultant, the Machinery and technology Support, and the Contractor.
THE GROWER: It is identified as the Team Captain who drives the process of implementing PA and makes the final decision. The intimate knowledge of the farm facilitates the function of the other roles as well as enhances their coordination and performance.
THE AGRONOMIST: The knowledge on the science of farming helps identify where the opportunities for improvement lie and to establish the agronomic strategy to solve the limitations and/or exploit the advantages. The Agronomist integrates such strategy into the agricultural system as a whole and the agronomic vision contributes to making economic studies more realistic.
The Agronomist helps clarify where the benefit come from. AP may bring yield increase that may take place for only one year or may occur for several years. In the latter case such increase may stay constant or may decline over the time. AP may also bring increase in quality, which involves higher product value. The benefit may also come from cost savings in crop production inputs. These scenarios are of great interest to the Grower.
THE PA CONSULTANT: The specific knowledge on PA helps define the key data and the form of data collection that provide useful information on variability for the identified opportunity. Organization, collation and, especially, interpretation of the data are also essential tasks. The PA Consultant is able to evaluate the new information generated during the PA implementation as well as to diagnose and solve problems as they arise. The PA Consultant directs decisions as important as the selection of the approaches to site-specific farming. Selection of a map-based method or a sensor-based method for the variable-rate application of crop production inputs requires conscientious analysis that involves agronomic, technological and economic aspects. The PA Consultant and the Agronomist provide valuable complementary approaches from the same information.
THE MACHINERY AND TECHNOLOGY SUPPORT: PA implementation requires machinery and technological solutions with different levels of sophistication. Devoted support ensures the selection of the proper equipment according to the required function under the specific conditions of the farming system. Such selection includes the specification of the modifications in the existing equipment and the need for connectivity. It is critical that the technical support is able to resolve operational issues as soon as possible, including the assistance in the paddock. To have a backup plan for possible technical downtime, which could require manual approach or a blanket rate application, is a major recommendation. Definition of contingency plans for the periods when the equipment is not working is also a critical aspect.
THE CONTRACTOR: The main added value is the expertise in using the machinery and technology. Additionally, labour efficiency is increased and capital and operating costs are reduced in the farm system. A backup plan to apply during technical downtime is also recommended for contractors.
The implementation of the AP is a dynamic process. The evaluation of the results at the end of each season is fundamental to redirect the strategy of the following season: whether the opportunity has been seized, whether the expectations have been accomplished, whether there is a possibility of improving the results, whether the actions that have modified the soil characteristics (structure, pH, fertility…) will have an impact on the growth of the following crop, etc.
The Precision A-Team as a whole will contribute to accomplish such evaluation and to make the most appropriate decisions.