“Intelligent” Agriculture: How Modern Technologies Can Help To Triple The Efficiency
The efficiency of Ukrainian farms is rather low. Such a conclusion was drawn by a Difco International manager in Ukraine, Roman Puchko. At Kyiv Mini Maker Faire he explained why Dutch farmers sneer at Ukrainian agriculture efficiency and how observation, analysis and the usage of modern technologies can boost agriculture efficiency.
I work for a Dutch company and often arrange tours of Ukrainian farmers to the Netherlands”, said Roman Puchko. “Once we with two representatives of a major Ukrainian agricultural holding visited a farmer raising calves for veal. I introduced the people as representatives of an agricultural holding, told him about thousands of land hectares we plough, thousands of pigs, cows and hens we raise. The Dutchman smiled at me and said: “I’m really sorry that you need to work so hard to earn your living”.
Why do we get different yield in different parts of the field?
In precision agriculture we start with yield mapping. The first randomly selected map shows that the yield of one part of the field is twice as big as in the second part of it. Technologies help us to understand the reasons.
First of all, the historic assessment of field potential is taking place considering its efficiency for last 5 years. “This is done with the help of archives, satellite images, weather patterns and different algorithms that help to count dry substance of biomass. We can scan the soil to determine the organic substance content in the upper soil horizon and electrical conductance”.
Soil consists of three components: biological, physical and chemical. To determine the yield it is important to analyze soil chemical properties. For finding homogeneous zones the soil is explored with the help of drones or satellites. Only after that a differential approach to each area is developed.
“There is a lot of soft that enables to create map-tasks for equipment. The farmer can program a seeding machine or a sprayer: where to sow more and where to spray more. It helps to redistribute the expenditures and optimize the profit on each part of the field”, says Roman. Sometimes the analysis shows that the upper layer can be restored only in 3 or 4 years.
The image shows that at one part of the field the nitrogen content is 7 kilos per hectare and at another it’s only 1 kg per hectare. Such monitoring helps to plan fertilization. “If in May you decide to fertilize your wheat once more, you can use the field map which will show how much fertilizer you need, whether there is no transpiration deficit, if the soil and plant really need this fertilizer and how much should be added”, says Roman Puchko.
The minerals count for 25 % expenditures on grain and oil-bearing crops. The image shows that fertilizers usage can be reduced by 50%: there is no need to add them.
Such thrifty usage of resources refutes the myth that precision agriculture systems are expensive. Some of them cover the costs spent on them by only one solution: the reduction of nitrogen fertilizers only by 5 percent exceeds the price of such a system.
Five agronomist’s devices
This device measures the soil resistance. All you need is to stick it into the ground and the device will show the resistance of different soil layers.
Soil compaction and its depth affect the moisture exchange and plant’s ability to absorb necessary elements. “The main aim of Ukrainian agriculture is to observe what is happening on the surface: what nice stems, fields and country we have. But in fact the growth of the plant happens in the ground and the device will show that the resistance at the depth of 30 centimeter exceeds a critical level and efforts are to be taken,” says Roman Puchko.
In Europe such a device costs about 3,000 euro but in Kiev you can find it even cheaper. Another useful option is GPS that transmits a detailed soil compaction map to the computer.
If a farmer does not have Internet access or he does not rely on satellite images he could take his own measurements using this device. When he comes back to the office he could study the whole route with data about herbage in different parts of the field, nitrogen fertilizers level in the leaves. Of course, this device is more useful for small-scale farmers.
SBG Auto Plough
This technology has its own history. Professionals observed how a tractor pulls a plough and a seeder and noticed: they work inefficiently due to unevenness of the ground the equipment can not follow a tractor trajectory. The tractor goes straight but the aggregate moves to the right or to the left due to the bump.
Engineers developed some special processors that are attached to the aggregate or to the tractor discs to determine the angle of a slope. The processors work as follows: they broadcast signals to the antenna located on the tractor. Hydraulic system, connecting two machines, changes the position of aggregates according to the slope. Such a device will ensure a perfect ploughing and seeding even on slopes and curves.
Such a device will help to provide higher accuracy of GPS. Owing to global positioning systems farmers can experience 2, 3, 5 or 10 meter accuracy which does not do for corn and soya seeding. RTK-station provides the connection between the tractor’s antenna and satellite global positioning system and correlates the signal of the system with the 2 centimeter accuracy. As a result without efforts you can achieve accurate seeding and spraying in the field.
This robot is programmed to remove weeds within the pre-set area. It is highly efficient for high crops: other equipment cannot move there but a robot goes among corn stalks and pulls the weed. It can move in any direction.
Cheap equipment for precision agriculture
“Intelligent” agriculture does not always mean expensive modern technology. First of all, it’s common sense and knowledge.
“Here is a good example: there is a register containing different weeds and herbicides that kill them. Every spring an agronomist opens such a register to decide what and when to apply. It is more difficult than just fly over the field using a drone”, says Roman Puchko.
Weather stations are installed on the fields for farmers to get a forecast concerning humidity, time and amount of precipitation. This information is essential for accurate herbicides application. Besides the rules of efficient and precise herbicides application are sold by specialized companies.
“At the slide axes X shows the time of two days and axes Y shows the efficiency. You can see that the best time to apply the pesticide is tomorrow about 5 o’clock in the morning”, explains Roman. You can only imagine how easily you can waste your efforts applying it at the wrong time of the day.
New IT approaches to animal breeding
I work in the field of dairy farming that is why I can explain what farmers can do to increase efficacy. For example, there is a program monitoring health and activity level of cows, it is called Overalert. It can sound funny but we monitor the activity level of cows and determine the period when the insemination is the most likely to be successful”, says Roman.
Why is it so important? The cycle in cattle farming is rather long. When animals are born they need a lot of time to mature and give birth to babies and only then they begin to make milk. So to increase efficacy farmers try to boost the process with the help of different innovative technologies.
The idea is rather simple: special antennas scanning 800 animals within the radius of 150 meters detect any movement in a cow house . “There are some standards that determine the quantity of cows’ steps, chewing motions, the time of lying, the frequency of standing up etc. The farmer monitors the data if he notices that some cow behaves in a different way he automatically gets a message about “an unfertilized cow №07005,” explains Roman Puchko.
The farmer using the system can choose a perfect ox to fertilize the cow. In fact, every cow is unique: it has its own characteristics of milk, udder and many other qualities. The ox choosing system takes into account more than 50 characteristics.
“In such a careful way the farmer planned the fertilization of the cow. This helps to minimize the period when the cow does not make milk, saving a lot of farmer’s money. So both the cow and the farmer are satisfied”, says Roman.
It is not all about management but also about psychology. Monitoring the cows’ signals includes monitoring many things from its species to its manure.
It is only a small part of “intelligent” technologies used by farmers to increase efficacy. Recently Software Focus has already published an article about intelligent greenhouses when farmers can preset the greenhouse maintenance.