Matching technology to value creation: Drones in agriculture

‘Drones in agriculture’ has been a topic hot lately, but is it a real business?

Drones may someday perform all kinds of “work” in the field, like spraying or seeding.  However, today the product of the drone industry is not drones, it’s data. Two ideas persuaded me that there is a business here.   The first is that variability information has real value to growers — it is production control data.  The second is that there are places where drone technology allows real data to replace heuristics and estimation in order to drive action.

Agriculture is a very sophisticated business.  Even in specialty crops with less automation, the growers are extremely sophisticated and as scientifically inclined as one would expect of managers of multi-million dollar production facilities.  Putting production facilities out of doors and using production implements derived from nature only increases the complexity of these operations.   In particular, it introduces uncertainty, variation, and risk into the production process.  The managers of these operations, who  have responsibility for maximizing production, are the customers for this data.

When these managers are trying to squeeze the most production out of a given set of inputs, particularly land and labor, there is a natural cycle of input opportunities.  Data only has value if the manager can act on it, and this is where agriculture becomes extremely heterogeneous.  At one end of the spectrum you have dry farming of corn, where there might be three or four viable input opportunities (plant, a spray or two, then harvest), most of which are already done automatically — or robotically — on a combine.  In high value per acre specialty crops (like vegetables, grapes, or nuts), managers might make over 50 discrete, pre-planned input decisions each year, especially if the crop is deficit irrigated.  Even though these crops are in some ways “lower tech” in that they don’t use as much machine automation (such as combines), they do have a much more sophisticated ability to react to variation data.  These are where the drone’s fundamental advantages are most likely to be valued.

The tradeoff in data collection is a tradeoff between the cost of collection per geographic unit and “responsiveness.”  Responsiveness is the degree to which the system can deliver exactly the data needed to make better decisions, exactly when needed, and is a function of many factors including system reliability, resolution, revisit rate, sensor selection, controllability, and ease of deployment.

Drones and other overhead networked systems provide a continuum of data options.  At one end you have LANDSAT satellite data, which provides free, 30-meter pixels, un-interpreted data once every 16 days (if you are lucky enough not have clouds).  At the other end of the continuum, there are hand-launched drones, which have a high real cost per acre because of their short lifespan and the amount of labor required, but can be launched at anytime and are cheap enough to keep in the back of your truck.  In between you have a variety of commercial solutions.


There will always be a tradeoff between cost and responsiveness, but the idea of drones is that electronics will move the efficient frontier in this tradeoff towards more responsiveness at a given cost.  The challenge with this access to better data is not to overshoot the mark.  It is very expensive to overshoot the required responsiveness for the crop.  The trick is match responsiveness to the needs of the manager.  This is the task for the commercial drone industry: match responsiveness to the needs of the decision-maker.

As time goes on, every category of platform across the continuum will have to offer more responsiveness for the same money.  However, the customer responsiveness needs will not increase unless the managers are also given new mechanisms for taking action. Beyond being used to control fast-spreading crop diseases, I do not know what new markets will open up for drones — perhaps they aren’t in agriculture; the film industry certainly requires even more responsiveness than anything in this field  — but it is going to be fun to discover them.

One of the challenges that I would like to lay down to the ground robotics and manipulation communities is to reduce the cost of making an intervention.  Until it makes production sense to go out into a cornfield 20 or 30 times per season and take an action to improve growing, there won’t be a need for more responsive information.  As interventions become more profitable and crop managers decide to increase the number of interventions, there will be a greater need to automate data collection.  Then we can kick off a virtuous cycle of robotic technology.

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Humates and chemical fertilizers

 Intensive agricultural systems demand the use of large quantities of mineral fertilizers in order to supply the plants with basic micro-elements, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.  In doing so, we often forget that mineral fertilizer is for plants what illegal drugs are for sportsmen – you can immediately see high results but tend to ignore the future consequences.  The higher the amount of mineral fertilizer used, the more intensive is the erosion of the soil, the poorer the soil’s humus content, and the environment is more polluted.  The problem of effective mineral fertilizer assimilation is central in plant-growing.  The difficulty of its solution lies in the fact that water soluble potassium and nitrogen fertilizers are easily washed out of the soil, while phosphorus fertilizers, on the contrary, bond with ions of Ca, Mg, Al, and Fe that are present in soil and form inert compounds, which are inaccessible to plants.  The presence of humic substances, however, substantially increases effective assimilation of all mineral nutrition elements.  It was shown in the tests of barley that humate treatment (with NPK) improved its growth, development, and the crop capacity while decreasing the use of mineral fertilizer. (V. Kovalenko, M. Sonko, 1973.)  The tests on wheat showed that one-way use of nitrogen fertilizers on winter wheat crops did not have a high positive effect on the crop capacity, while its use along with humates and super phosphate achieved an expected positive effect. (L. Fot, 1973.)  Interestingly, the mechanism of interaction between humates and micro-elements of mineral nutrition is specific for each of them.  The positive process of Nitrogen assimilation occurs due to an intensification of the ion-exchange processes, while the negative processes of “nitrate” formulation decelerates.  Potassium assimilation accelerates due to a selective increase in the penetrability of cell membranes.  As for phosphorus, humates bond ions of Ca, Mg, and Al first, which prevents the formation of insoluble phosphates.  That is why the increase of humate content leads to an increase of the plant’s phosphorus consumption. (Lee & Bartlett, 1973.)

Therefore, the combination of humates and mineral fertilizer guarantees their effective assimilation by plants.  

     Thus, the idea of combined use of humates and mineral fertilizer naturally comes to mind.  Creation of such a combined fertilizer is a new step in plant-growing development.  It was no coincidence when over ten years ago an Italian company, “ Vineta Mineraria,” published a project, ”Umex: a new technological tool at service for agriculture of 2000.”  This project was about establishing the production of humate-coated granulated nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus fertilizers.  From 1988 to 1990, in Byelorussia, the vegetation field tests and production experiences were carried out to comparatively study new humate-coated forms of mineral fertilizers, such as urea, super phosphate, and potassium chloride, produced in Italy and Russia.  The tests showed that use of humate-coated urea in the production experiences with potatoes increased the crop capacity by an average of 28-31 centner/hectare, whilst at the same time decreasing the nitrate content by 40%, in comparison with the control group (urea). For root-crops, the crop capacity reached 200-220 centner/hectare, with an improvement in the quality of the produce. However, in spite of the impressive results, this project was not developed further, and these new preparations did not appear on the international markets.  Perhaps, the high cost of the humates, in comparison with the mineral base, was the reason, so the new type of fertilizer was not competitive.  However, with the new manufacturing technologies today, these materials can be cost-effective in modern agriculture.

     Field tests (M. Butyrin, 1996) showed that use of humate-coated urea increased the crop capacity of potatoes by 20% and that of oats  by 50%.

     Other important components of plants’ nutrition are micro-elements – Fe, Cu, Zn, B, Mn, Mo, Co.  Plants use a very small amount of them, measured in one thousandth or one hundred thousandth of a percent.  Nevertheless, they are vital to plants’ development.  For instance, boron resists certain diseases and increases the amount of ovaries and vitamin content in fruit.  Manganese is vital for the photosynthesis process and the formulation of vitamin C and sugars.  Copper assists in albumen synthesis, which ensures drought and frost resistance in plants, as well as their resistance to fungal and viral infections.  Zinc is part of many vegetable ferments participating in fertilization, breathing, albumen, and carbohydrates synthesis.  Molybdenum and cobalt are important to nitrogen assimilation from the atmosphere.  Considering what was said in previous chapters, the readers might pay attention to our explanations of similar effect.  We explained it was due to humate use.  But if you consider that the humates transport micro-elements to plants most efficiently and form complexes with micro-elements that are easily assimilated by plants, the seeming contradiction is easily resolved.

     Humic acids form complexes naturally.  For thousands of years, they accumulated vital elements.  When applied, humic acids also extract these vital elements from the soil in an accessible way for plants to form.  For example, iron and manganese, according to respected professor D. Orlov, are assimilated only in humic complex form.  Research by A. Karpukhin showed that the presence of these complexes determine the mobility of most macro- and micro-elements and their supply and travel inside plants’ organs.

Therefore, treating vegetating plants with humates ensures their continuous nutrition with vital macro- and micro-elements.

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Comparison of the effect of liquid humic fertilizers

Maize (Zea mays L.) is one of the most highly consumed  crops, and the most important foodstuff after wheat and  rice around the world. The global production of maize is 604 million tons, with a planting area of up to 140 million hectares. Iran produces 2 million tons of maize on 350000 hectares of land. However, the production from hybrid maize seeds in Iran is highly limited (FAO, 2002).

This plant, photosynthetically, is of C4 type and thrives in tropical and semitropical climates (Emam, 2008) and is native for central and southern America (Khodabandeh, 1998). Based on its role in production of grain and forage and providing food for livestock, as well as its industrial use, maize has become an important crop in Iran, as well as in other parts of the world. Expanding the area under  maize cultivation in Iran in order to become self-sufficient is one the most important goal pursued by the government and as a result of implementing programs designed to increase grain maize production over the last few years, this crop has seen a very fast growth in terms of planting area and yield.

Humic substances (HS) are the result of organic decomposition of the natural organic compounds comprising 50 to 90% of the organic matter of peat, lignites, sapropels, as well as of the non-living organic matter of soil and water ecosystems. Authors believe that humic substances can be useful for living creatures in developing organisms (as substrate material or food source, or by enzyme-like activity); as carrier of nutrition; as catalysts of biochemical reactions; and in antioxidant activity (Kulikova et al., 2005). Yang et al. (2004) argued that humic substances can both directly and indirectly

affect the physiological processes of plant growth. Soil organic matter is one of the important indices of soil fertility, since it interacts with many other components of the soil. Soil organic matter is a key component of land ecosystems and it is associated with the basic ecosystem processes for yield and structure(Pizzeghello et al., 2001).

Classically, humic substances are defined as a general group of heterogeneous organic materials which occur naturally and are characterized by yellow through dark colors with high molecular weight (Kulikova et al., 2005).  Shahryari et al. (2011) experienced the effect of two types of humic fertilizers (peat and leonardite derived) on germination and seedling growth of maize genotypes. They reported that interaction of “genotype × solutions (peat and leonardite based humic fertilizers and control) was significant in terms of the length of primary roots.

Application of leonardite based humic fertilizer had a remarkably more effect on relative root growth of Single Cross 794 and ZP 434 than other genotypes. In their experiment, the relation between germination rate and primary roots was positively significant under the condition of application of both types of humic fertilizers; but there was not the same relation for control treatment.

They argued that all types of various humic substances as a biological fertilizer can have an either similar or different effect in early growth stages of maize, as peat and leonardite based fertilizers that they applied produced more seedling roots than control, however the length of coleoptiles was higher in treatment with application of leonardite based humic fertilizer and control than treatment with application of peat based humic fertilizer. They believe that if used in lower quantity these natural fertilizers can have a lot of effect on plant growth.

Hence, in order to recognize how effective they might be, investigations should be considered based on various amounts of humic fertilizers. Finally, they suggested that both peat and leonardite based humic fertilizers could be used to stimulate growth of primary roots in maize which are critical for an optimal establishment of maize in the field.

Gadimov et al. (2009) claimed that humic substances are natural technological products with a miraculous biological effect on crops and concluded that a scientific and practical program is required to make use of this technology in the world, particularly in developing countries. Also, Shahryari et al. (2009) concluded that potassium humate is a miraculous natural material for increasing both quantity and quality of wheat and can be used to produce organic wheat. Thus, application of biological products such as humic fertilizers to provide nutrition for crops can be one of the useful methods to achieve some of the objects of organic crop production.

In addition, Shahryari et al. (2011) studied the response of various maize genotypes against chlorophyll content of the leaves at the presence of the two types of humic fertilizers. In their experiment, solutions (two types of peat and leonardite based liquid humic fertilizers and control) and interaction of “genotypes × solutions” produced significant difference at 1% probability level in terms of chlorophyll content of the leaves. Genotypes such as Single Cross 704 and 505 had the highest index for chlorophyll content when treated by leonardite based humic fertilizer. Peat based humic fertilizer decreased the index for chlorophyll content in genotypes such as 500, OS499 and 505, while leonardite based humic fertilizer decreased the index for chlorophyll content of the leaves in genotypes such as Golden West and Single Cross 704. However, peat based humic fertilizer did not have such an effect on these two maize genotypes.

Meanwhile, leonardite based humic fertilizer had no effect on index for chlorophyll content of leaves in genotypes such as 500, OS499 and 505. Genotypes such as ZP677 and ZP434 produced no response against the application of the two types of humic fertilizers. This study was aimed to compare the effect of liquid peat and leonardite based humic fertilizers on the yield of maize genotypes in Ardabil Region.


This experiment was conducted at Agriculture Research Station of Islamic Azad University, Ardabil Branch (5 km west of Ardabil City) in 2009 – 2010 cropping year. The region has a semiarid and cold climate, where the temperature during winter season usually drops below zero. This region is located 1350 m above the sea level with longitude and latitude being 48.2°E and 38.15°N, respectively.

Average annual minimum and maximum temperatures are -1.98and 15.18°C, respectively; whereas maximum absolute temperature is 21.8°C; and mean annual precipitation has been reported to be 310.9 mm. The soil of the field was alluvial clay with a pH ranging from 7.8 to 8.2.

Vegetative materials included six maize genotypes prepared from the Agriculture and Natural Resources Research Center of Ardabil Province. The Experiment was conducted as split plot in the basisof randomized complete block design with three replications. The main factor included three conditions (peat based humic fertilizer; leonardite based humic fertilizer; without the application of humic fertilizer) and the sub factor included six maize genotypes (ZP677, Golden west, OS499, ZP434, Ns540 and Single Cross 704). Each of experimental blocks included 3 plots, 320 cm length in rows, with80 cm from each other containing plants at 20 cm distances.

Pretreatment of seeds were done on the basis of 220 ml per 10 L of water to be applied for 1 ton of seeds. Moreover, irrigation was done in flooding manner. Weed-fighting was done both mechanically and manually during all growth stages. Liquid humic fertilizer was prepared and applied based on 400 ml per 50 L of water for 1 ha of maize plantation. The prepared solution was sprayed upon the aerial part of the plants during 5th leaf stage, appearance of reproductive organs, flowering and grain filling stages. All the samples were taken randomly from competitive plants at middle rows. Study traits included grain number per ear row, number of grain row per ear, ear number, weight of 1000 grains, biological yield, vegetative yield and grain yield.

Statistical analysis

Analysis of variance of data and mean comparison of them was done using MSTATC and SPSS programs. Mean comparison was done using Duncan’s multiple range test, at 5% probability level. Due to abnormality of data for ear number and its high coefficient of variation, square root conversion was used to normalize it.


Results from analysis of variance for study traits suggest that there was a significant difference  between experimental conditions in terms of grain yield and biological yield at 1 and 5% probability levels, respectively. In addition, there was a nonsignificant difference between study genotypes in terms of all evaluated traits except for number of grain row per ear and wet biomass at 1% probability level. Furthermore, there was no difference observed between the interaction of genotype and experimental conditions for any trait being studied, and this was in agreement with the report of Shahryari et al. (2009). This means that under study genotypes had the same responses to potassium humate.

Moreover, results from mean comparison of data (Table 2) for studied genotypes indicate that genotype OS499 (110.70 g) had the highest 1000 grain weight, whereas genotype Single Cross (81.20 g) had the lowest 1000 grain weight on average. Based on mean comparison of 1000 grain weight, genotypes OS499 and ZP434 were placed in the same group as NS540, whereas genotype ZP677 was placed in the same group as Golden West. Genotype ZP677 (with a mean value of 15.48) and genotype ZP434 (with a mean value of 13.49) had the highest and lowest values of number per ear, respectively; and genotypes such as Golden West and Single Cross were placed in  the same group as NS540 and had no difference in terms of this trait. Genotype ZP677 (with a mean value of 20.89 ton/ha) and genotype OS499 (with a mean value of 16.93 ton/ha) had the highest and lowest biological yield respectively and genotype OS499 was placed in the same group as ZP434, whereas genotypes such as Golden West and Single Cross were placed in the same group as NS540. Genotype ZP677 (with a mean value of 108.68 ton/ha) was the best among other genotypes in terms of wet biomass, whereas ZP434 (with a mean value of 77.52 ton/ha) had the lowest value for wet biomass. ZP677 was placed in the same group as NS540, whereas genotypes Golden West and OS499 were placed in the same group as ZP434 and had no difference in terms of this trait.

Shahryari and Shamsi (2009a) reported that potassium humate increased the rate of biological yield of wheat from 3.26 to 3.72 g/plant; but it had no effect on harvest index. Also, they found that uses of potassium humate increased grain yield. Results from mean comparison of data  for experimental conditions being studied indicate that application of leonardite based liquid humic fertilizer produced the highest biological yield(21.99 ton/ha on average), whereas no application of humic fertilizer produced the lowest biological yield(14.97 ton/ha on average). In this respect, both types of applied humic fertilizers had similar effects. Application of leonardite based liquid humic fertilizer produced the highest grain yield (7.09 ton/ha on average) among the conditions being studied, whereas under the condition of without humic fertilizer obtained the lowest value(4.07 ton/ha).

Ayas and Gulser (2005) reported that humic acid leads to increased growth and height and subsequently increased biological yield through increasing nitrogen content of the plant. It has also been reported that application of humic acid in nutritional solution led to increased content ofnitrogen within aerial parts and growth of shoots and root of maize (Tan, 2003). In another investigation, the application of humic acid led to increased phosphorus and nitrogen content of bent grass plant and increased the accumulation of dry materials (Mackowiak et al.,2001). Humic acid leads to increased plant yield through positive physiological effects such as impact on metabolism of plant cells and increasing the

concentration of leaf chlorophyll (Naderi et al., 2002).

Also, spraying humic acid on wheat crop increased its yield by 24% (Delfine et al., 2002). In general, the results from this study indicate that the application of leonardite based humic fertilizer increased biological yield by 46.89% compared to control, whereas peat based humic fertilizer increased biological yield by 34.47% compared to control. Seyedbagheri (2008)evaluated commercial humic acid products derived from lignite and leonardite in different cropping systems from 1990 to 2008. The results of those evaluations differed as a result of the source, concentration, processing, quality, types of soils and cropping systems. Under their research, crop yield increased from a minimum of 9.4%to a maximum of 35.8%. However, application of humic fertilizer in this study increased the biological yield by 40.68% on average. Application of leonardite based humic fertilizer increased the grain yield of maize by 74%.

Also, peat based humic fertilizer increased the grain yield by 44.7%. Overall, the mean increase for grain yield under the condition of application of humic fertilizers was as high as 59.45%. Similar results were also presented by Shahryari et al. (2009b) on wheat. They reported increase of grain yield (by 45%) from 2.49 ton/ha to 3.61 ton/ha affected potassium humate derived from sapropel in normal irrigation conditions.


Results from this experiment indicate that the application of liquid humic fertilizer can positively affect the maize yield and some agronomic traits related to it. These desirable effects can be a consequence of its effect on the physiology of the maize. In general, application of humic acid can lessen the need for chemical fertilizers and subsequently reduce environmental pollution, and compared with other chemical and biological fertilizers, they are affordable. Finally, it can be said that application of humic fertilizer not only increases the yield of maize, but also can play a significant role in achieving the goals of sustainable agriculture

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Open System for Organic Agriculture Administration

Efforts to increase the availability of sustainable development in natural resources worldwide are  consecutive and proliferated through the last decades. Sectors and divisions of many scientific  networks are working simultaneously in separate schemas or in joined multitudinous projects and  international co-operations. Organic Agriculture, as a later evolution of farming systems, was  derived from trying to overcome the accumulative environmental and socioeconomic problems of  industrialized communities and shows rapid development during the last decades. Its products  day to day gain increased part of consumer preferences while product prices are rather higher  than those of the traditional agriculture. Governments all over the world try to reduce the  environmental effects of the industrialized agriculture, overproduction and environmental  pollution, encouraging those who want to place their fields among others that follow the rules  of organic agriculture. All the above make this new trend very attractive and promising.

But the rules in organic agriculture are very restrictive. The intensive pattern of cultivation  worldwide and the abuse of chemical inputs, affected the environment, therefore any field  expected to be cultivated under the rules of organic agriculture has to follow certain steps but  also be ‘protected’ from the surrounding plots controlling at the same time different kind of unexpected influx (e.g., air contamination from nearby insecticides’ use, water pollution of  irrigation system from an adjacent plot that has used fertilizers, etc). It is obvious that the gap  between wish and theory and the implementation of organic agriculture is enormous.

Obviously one can overcome this gap using a sophisticated complex system. Such a system  can be based on a powerful GIS and the use of widely approved mobile instruments for  precise positioning and wireless communication. In such a system data-flow could be an  “easy” aspect, providing any information needed for the verification of organic product cycle  at any time, any site. 


As the world’s population has increased from 1.6 billion at the beginning of the 20th century  to over 6.2 billion just before the year 2004, economic growth, industrialization and the demand for agricultural products caused a sequence of unfortunate results. This aggregation of disturbances moved along with the reduction in availability and deterioration of maximum yield results from finite ranges of plots on earth’s surface. Overuse of agrochemical products (insecticides, pesticides, fertilizers, etc.), reduction and destruction of natural resources, decrease of biodiversity, reduction of water quality, threat over rare natural landscapes and wild species and an overall environmental degradation, appeared almost daily in news worldwide especially over the last two decades. The universal widespread of this situation has raised worldwide awareness of the need for an environmentally sustainable economic development. (WCED, 1987) In the beginning of year 2004, EU Commission for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries declared three major issues towards a European Action Plan on organic food and farming that may be crucial for the future of organic agriculture:

− the market, (promotion and distribution)

− the role of public support and,

− the standards of organic farming.

It is obvious that in general the market has a positive reaction if there is a prospect of considerable gain. Thus we can say that the other two will define the future. The strict rules of organic agriculture have to be ensured and all the products have to be easily recognisable.Also a guarantee about the quality and the origin of any product has to be established.

Organic Farming is derived as a sophisticated sector of the evolution of farming implementation techniques aiming through restrictions and cultivated strategies to achieve a balanced production process with maximum socioeconomic results (better product prices, availability of surrounding activities as ecotourism, family employment in low populated villages, acknowledge of natures’ and rural environments’ principles and needs, etc.). Meanwhile, the combination of latest technological advances, skills, innovations and the decline of computer and associate software expenses were transforming the market place of geographic data. Now, more than ever before, common people, farmers, private enterprises, local authorities, students, researchers, experts from different scientific fields, and a lot more could become an important asset supporting the development of innovations of Informatics in Geospatial Analysis. With the use of Geographic Information Systems and Internet applications various data can be examined visually on maps and analyzed through geospatial tools and applications of the software packages. Much recent attention and efforts has been focused on developing GIS functionality in the Worldwide Web and governmental or private intranets. The new applicable framework, called WebGIS, is surrounded with a lot of challenges and is developed rapidly changing from day to day the view of contemporary GIS workstations.

Precision Organic Agriculture through GIS fulfils the demands of design strategies and managerial activities in a continuing process. By implementing this combination, certified methods for defining the best policies, monitoring the results and the sustainability of the framework, and generating a constructive dialogue for future improvement on environmental improvement and development could be developed.


Organic Agriculture is derived from other organized smaller natural frameworks, publicly known as ecosystems which are complex, self-adaptive units that evolve through time and natural mechanisms and change in concern with external biogeochemical and natural forces.

Managing ecosystems should have been focused on multiplication of the contemporary needs and future perspectives to ameliorate sustainable development. Instead, political, economic and social agendas and directives, as well as scientific objectives resulted in few decades such an enormous amount of global environmental problems like never before in the history of mankind. Valuable time was spent over the past 75 years by research, which was trying to search how ecosystems regulate themselves, for example how they adjust to atmospheric, geologic, human activities and abuse (Morain, 1999).

Organic Agriculture flourished over the last decade particularly after 1993 where the first act of Regulation 2092/91 of European Union was enforced. Until then, and unfortunately, afterwards, worldwide environmental disasters ( e.g., the Chernobyl accident of the nuclear reactor in April 1986), accumulative environmental pollution and its results (acid rain, ozone’s hole over the Poles, Greenhouse effect, etc.) and even lately the problems that occurred by the use of dioxins and the propagation of the disease of “mad cows”, increase in public opinion the relation between natures’ disturbances and the continuing abuse of intensive methods of several industrialized chains of productions. Among them, conventional agricultural intensive production with the need of heavy machinery, enormous needs of energy consumptions and even larger thirst for agrochemical influxes the last fifty years, created environmental disturbances for the future generations. Therefore, IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) constituted a number of principles that, enabling the implementation of Organic Farming’s cultivation methods, techniques and restrictions worldwide.

Principles of Organic Agriculture Organic Agriculture:  (Source: IFOAM)

  •  aims on best soil fertility based in natural processes,
  •  uses biological methods against insects, diseases, weeds,
  • practices crop rotation and co-cultivation of plants
  • uses “closed circle” methods of production where the residues from former cultivations or other recyclable influx from other sources are not thrown away, but they are incorporated, through recycling procedures, back in the cultivation (use of manure, leaves, compost mixtures, etc.),
  • avoids heavy machinery because of soil’s damages and destruction of useful soil’s microorganisms,
  • avoids using chemicals,  avoids using supplemental and biochemical substances in animal nourishing,
  •  needs 3-5 years to transit a conventional cultivated field to a organic farming system following the restrictions of Council Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91,
  • underlies in inspections from authorities approved by the national authorities of Agriculture.

An appropriate organic plot should be considered as the landscape where ecological perspectives and conservations activities should be necessary for effective sustainable nature resource management (Hobs, 1997). Considerable amounts of time and effort has been lost from oncoming organic farmers on finding the best locations for their plots. Spatial restrictions for placing an organic farm require further elaboration of variables that are affecting cultivation or even a unique plant, such as:

− Ground-climatic variables (e.g., ground texture, ph, slope, land fertility, history of former yields, existence of organic matter, rain frequency, water supply, air temperature levels, leachability, etc.),

− Adjacency with other vegetative species (plants, trees, forests) for propagation reasons or non-organic cultivations for better controlling movements through air streams or erosion streams (superficial or in the ground) of agrochemical wastes,

− Availability of organic fertilization source from neighbored agricultural exploitations,

− Quality of accessing road network for agricultural (better monitoring) and marketing (aggregated perspectives of product distribution to nearby or broadened market area) reasons.

A GIS is consisted of computerized tools and applications that are used to organize and display geo-information. Additionally it enables spatial and non-spatial analysis and correlation of geo-objects for alternative management elaborations and decision making procedures. This gives the ability to GIS users or organic farm-managers to conceive and implement alternative strategies in agricultural production and cultivation methodology.


The development of first concepts and ideas of a precision organic farming system in a microregion, demands a regional landscape qualitative and recovery master plan with thorough and comprehensive description of the territory (land-use, emission sources, land cover, microclimatic factors, market needs and other essential variables. Essential components on a successful and prospective organic GIS-based system should be:

− The time-schedule and task specification of the problems and needs assessments that the design-strategy is intended to solve and manage,

− Integrated monitoring of high risks for the cultivation (insects, diseases, water quality, water supply, weather disturbances (wind, temperature, rain, snow, etc.),

− Supply of organic fertilization because additional needs from plants in certain periods of cultivation could be not managed with fast implemented agrochemicals; instead they need natural fermentations and weather conditions to break down elements of additional fertilization,

− High level of communication capabilities with authorized organizations for better management of the cultivation and geodata manipulation, aiming on better promotional and economical results,

− Increased awareness of the sustainability of the surrounding environment (flora and fauna), enabling motivation for a healthy coexistence. For example, the conservation of nearby natural resources such as rare trees, small bushes and small streams, give nest places and water supply capabilities to birds and animals that help organic plants to deal with insect populations controls and monitoring of other plant enemies,

− Continual data capture about land variables, use of satellite images, georeference  sampling proccedures and spatial modelling of existed or former geospatial historical plot’s data could be used to establish a rational model which will enable experts and organic farmers to transform the data into supportive decision applications.

The combination and modeling of all necessary variables through any kind of methodological approach, could be achieved through GIS expressing the geographical sectors of land parcels either as a pattern of vector data, or as a pattern of raster data (Kalabokidis et al., 2000). Additionally, we could allocate the cultivation or the combination of cultivations1 and their units (plants, trees, etc.) so as to be confronted in relation with their location inside the field, as well as with the neighbored landscape. For this purpose the most essential tool would be a GPS (Global Positioning System) device with high standards of accuracy. Several statistical approaches and extensions have been developed for the elaboration of spatial variables through geostatistical analysis. The usefulness of these thematic maps lies upon the tracing and localization of spatial variability in the plot during the cultivated period, enabling the farmer to implement the proper interferences for better management and future orientation of the farm and of the surrounding area.

Specific geodata receivers and sensors inside the plot, in the neighbored area, as well as images from satellites, could establish a “temporal umbrella” of data sources of our farm which would submit in tracing of temporal variability factors in our field. The agricultural management framework that takes into account the spatial or temporal variability of different parameters in the farm is called Precision Agriculture (Karydas, et al., 2002). The implementation of IFOAM’s principles in such an agricultural model should be called Precision Organic Agriculture (POA).


The development of appropriate analytical techniques and models in a variety of rapidly changing fields using as cutting edge GIS technology, is a high-demanding procedure. The linkages to different applications of spatial analysis and research and the ability to promote functional and integrated geodatabases is a time consuming, well prepared and carefully executed procedure which combines spatial analytic approaches from different scientific angles: geostatistics, spatial statistics, time-space modeling, mathematics, visualization techniques, remote sensing, mathematics, geocomputational algorithms and software, social, physical and environmental sciences.

An approach of a Precision Organic Farming model, which uses as a structure basis the Precision Agriculture wheel (McBratney et al., 1999) and the introduction of organic practices for the sustainable development with the elaboration of any historical data about the plot. The basic components are:

− Spatial referencing: Gathering data on the pattern of variation in crop and soil parameters across a field. This requires an accurate knowledge of allocation of samples and the GPS network.

− Crop & soil monitoring: Influential factors effecting crop yield, must be monitored at a thoroughly. Measuring soil factors such as electric conductivity, pH etc., with sensors enabling real-time analysis in the field is under research worldwide with focusing on automation of results. Aerial or satellite photography in conjunction with crop scouting is becoming more available nowadays and helps greatly for maximizing data acquisition for the crop.

− Spatial prediction & mapping: The production of a map with thematic layers of variation in soil, crop or disease factors that represents an entire field it is necessary to estimate values for unsampled locations.

− Decision support: The degree of spatial variability found in a field with integrated data elaboration and quality of geodata inputs will determine, whether unique treatment is warranted in certain parts. Correlation analysis or other statistical approaches can be used to formulate agronomically suitable treatment strategies.

− Differential action: To deal with spatial variability, operations such as use of organic-“friendly”-fertilizers, water application, sowing rate, insect control with biological practices, etc. may be varied in real-time across a field. A treatment map can be constructed to guide rate control mechanisms in the field.

GIS systems from their beginning about than 30 years ago, step by step, started to progress from small applications of private companies’ needs to high demanding governmental applications. At the beginning, the significance and capabilities of GIS were focusing on digitizing data; today, we’ve reached the last period of GIS’s evolution of data sharing. Nowadays restrictions and difficulties are not upon the hardware constraints but they are on data dissemination. Several initiatives have been undertaken in order to provide basic standard protocols for overcoming these problem. The need of organisational and institutional cooperation and establishment of international agreement framework becomes even more important. Governments, scientific laboratories, local authorities, Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), private companies, international organizations, scientific societies and other scientific communities need to find substantial effort to broaden their horizons through horizontal or vertical standards of cooperation.

Any GIS laboratory specialized in monitoring a specific field could give additional knowledge to a coherent laboratory which focus to an other field in the same area. As a result, especially in governmental level, each agency performs its own analysis on its own areas, and with minimal effort cross-agency interactions could increase the efficiency of projects that help the framework of the society.

Such a data-sharing framework was not capable in earlier years, where technological evolution was trying specific restrictions of earlier operational computerised disabilities. Hardly managed and high demanding knowledge in programming applications, unfriendly scheme of computer operating systems over large and expensive programs, and restricted knowledge on Internet applications now belong to the past. User friendly computer operation systems, high storage capacity, fast CPUs (Central Processing Units) sound overwhelming even in relation with PCs before ten years. Powerful notebooks, flexible and strong PDAs, super-computers of enormous capabilities in data storage, true-colour high resolution monitors and other supplementary portable or stable devices, created an outburst in the applications of Information Technology (IT). Additionally, the expansion of Internet in the ‘90s worldwide, contributed (and is still keeping on doing this) on redesigning specific applications for data mining procedures through WWW (World Wide Web), as well as for data exporting capabilities and maps distribution through Internet. The evolution in computer software derived new versions of even friendlier GIS packages.


The Internet as a system followed an explosive development during the past decade. The modern Internet functions are based on three principles (Castells, 2001):

 − Decentralized network structure where there is no single basic core that controls the whole system.

− Distributed computing power throughout many nodes of the network.

− Redundancy of control keys, functions and applications of the network to minimize risk of disruption during the service.

Internet is a network that connects local or regional computer networks (LAN or RAN) by using a set of communication protocols called TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). Internet technology enables its users to get fast and easy access to a variety of resources and services, software, data archives, library catalogs, bulletin boards, directory services, etc. Among the most popular functions of the Internet is the World Wide Web (WWW). World Wide Web is very easy to navigate by using software called browser, which searches through internet to retrieve files, images, documents or other available data.

The important issue here is that the user does not need to know any software language but all it needs is a simple “click” with mouse over highlighted features called Hyperlinks, giving  increased expansion on growth of WWW globally.

GIS data related files (Remote Sensing data, GPS data, etc) can benefit from globalization of World Wide Web:

− An enormous amount of these data are already in PC-format.

− GIS users are already familiar by using software menus.

− Large files could be easily transmitted through Internet and FTPs and software about compression.

− The Web offers user interaction, so that a distant user can access, manipulate, and display geographic databases from a GIS server computer.

− It enables tutorials modules and access on educational articles.

− It enables access on latest achievements in research of GIS through on-line proceedings of seminars, conferences, etc.

− Through Open Source GIS, it enables latest implementations of GIS programming and data sharing by minimum cost.

− Finally through online viewers, it gives the capability of someone with minimum  knowledge on GIS to get geospatial information by imaging display. (Aber, 2003)

The importance of World Wide Web could become more crucial through wireless Internet access. For a GIS user who works on the street, or in our case, on the field of an organic farm and uses wireless access to the web, a GIS package through a portable device, data transmission is an important issue. This is more important especially if the data are temporalaffected (e.g., meteorological data). To overcome this problem, new data transmission methods need to be elaborated and used in web-based GIS systems to efficiently transmit spatial and temporal data and make them available over the web. Open Source GIS through Internet represents a cross-platform development environment for building spatially enabled functions through Internet applications. Combinations of freely available software through WWW (e.g., image creation, raster to vector, coordinates conversion, etc), with a  combination of programming tools available for development of GIS-based applications could provide standardized geodata access and analytical geostatistical tools with great diplay efficiency. Under this framework, several geospatial applications can be developed using existing spatial data that are available through regional initiatives without costing anything to the end user of this Open GIS System (Chakrabarti et al., 1999).


As the World Wide Web grew rapidly, sophisticated and specialized methods for seeking and organizing data information have been developed. Powerful search engines can be searched by key words or text phrases. New searching strategies are under development where web links are analyzed in combination with key words or phrases. This improves the effectiveness at seeking out authoritative sources on particular subjects. (Chakrabarti et al., 1999) Digital certification under international cooperatives and standards is fundamental for the development of organic agriculture in general and particularly in the market framework. Based on the theory of “dot per plot” different functional IDs could be created under password protected properties through algorithm modules. This way, a code bar (like those on products in supermarkets) could be related through GIS by farmers ID, locations ID, product ID, parcel ID and could follow this product from organic plot to market places giving all the details about it. Even more, authorization ID could be established this way for controlling even the farmer for cultivated methods undertaken in the field that are underlie EUs’ legislations and directives.

 In many cases the only way to create or maintain a separate “organic market” is through certification which provides several benefits (Raghavan, et al., 2002):

− Production planning is facilitated through indispensable documentation, schedules, cultivation methods and their development, data acquisition (e.g., lab results on soil’s pH, electrical conductivity, organic conciseness, etc.) and general production planning of the farm − Facilitation of marketing, extension and GIS analysis, while the data collected in the process of certification can be very useful as feedback, either for market planning, or for extension, research and further geospatial analysis.

− Certification can facilitate the introduction of special support schemes and management scenarios for organic agriculture, since it defines a group of producers to support.

− Certification tickets on products under international standards improve the image of organic agriculture in the society as a whole and increases the creditability of the organic movement.

Because a certification ticket is not recognised as a guarantee standard by itself, the level of control system in biological farming is quite low. In Greece, we are familiar with farmers having a bench by the road and using hand made tickets for their products, they call them “biologic” aiming in higher prices. Marketing opportunities for real organic farmers are eliminating while at the same time EU is trying to organize the directives for future expansion of organic agriculture.

Designing a functional infrastructure of a Geodatabase, fully related with Internet applications, requires accumulative levels of modular mainframes that could be imported, managed and distributed through WWW applications. The security and reliability of main GIS databases have to be established and confirmed through international standards (ISOs) and authorized GIS packages and users as well as in relation with governmental agencies. On the next level, additional analysis of geodata files and agricultural related information data should be combined and further elaborated. For the base level, fundamental GIS functions and geodata digitization should be implemented through internetic report applications (HTML reports, site-enabled GIS, wireless GIS applications, etc.). By this framework we could create a data base where using any ID number (farmer, product, field, etc) will be easy to recognize the history of any specific item involved in the life cycle of the organic farming through a data-related link over thematic maps by GIS viewers in the Internet. Although this framework is supported by multifunctional operations, we could distinguish sectors with homogeneity features:

In the first level of accessing an Open GIS Web system, the users should be first able to access the system through a Web browser. Free access should be available here for users who want to retrieve information, as well for users who want to login for further, more advanced queries. Fundamental GIS functions and geodata digitization should be implemented through internetic report applications (HTML reports, site-enabled GIS, wireless GIS applications, etc.). In this level public participation is enabled through importing additional geodata sets and any other kind of information resources (for example, latest weather information, market demands, research accomplishments, latest equipment facilities, personal extensions for GIS packages, etc.). The eligibility of these data should be applied after studying standards criteria in the next level by experts. Technological advances are also providing the tools needed to disseminate real-time data from their source to the web mapping services, available to the users through the Internet, portable devices, cellular telephones, etc. Basic field work for agricultural and Remote Sensing purposes, as well as data gathering for further statistical analysis should be implemented. By this level, the user could access the system through browsing commands or hyperlinks and through GIS queries. The significant point here is that the access is completely free for anyone who wants to retrieve information but classified to everyone who wants to submit any kind of information by the meaning that he has to give either a user’s ID or personal details.

The second level of accessing the system , is the authorized expert’s level. Here additional analysis of geodata files and agricultural related information data should be combined and further elaborated. Expert analysts from different scientific fields (GIS, economists, topographers, agriculturists, ecologists, biologists, research, etc.) are “bridging” the two levels of the system by using high sophisticated computer tools and GIS packages to facilitate data transportation through WWW channels between clients and servers. In the database file an identity code (IdC) or feature code (FC) is distributed, following the geodata file from main Geodatabase server to the final user. By this framework we could create a data base where using any ID number (farmer, product, field, etc) will be easy to recognize the history of any specific item involved in the life cycle of the organic farming through a data-related link over thematic maps by GIS viewers in the Internet. Additional demand on this level should be considered to be indispensable a background in Web functions with further support by Web experts for adequate Web System Administration.

In the third level of this Web based GIS system,  the success is relying on cooperation between authorized users only. This partnership should be established between geographic information data providers and data management authorities at a governmental, local or private level by authorized personnel. International collaboration could provide even better results in data quality and quantity but requires additional data storage capabilities and special awareness on data interoperability and standards interchange eligibility confirmed through international standards (ISOs). The security of personal details must be followed enriching this level with further authorization controlling tools. The significance of designing successful strategies for case management, using authorized, legitimate GIS packages should also be supported through Web applications and algorithms available for GIS-Web users on global based patterns .


The generally accepted purpose of organic agriculture is to meet the needs of the population and environment of the present while leaving equal or better opportunities for those of the future. Development of this sector is increasing through coordinated activities worldwide by international organizations (EU, UN, FAO, etc.) with long-lasting master plans. The dynamic factor of organic agriculture should not be kept without support. Political initiatives should stand side by side with organic farmers helping them to increase the quality of products and to multiply the number of producers and of the cultivated area.

The accumulative development of Organic Agriculture in Europe needs to be followed by additional development of management activities and strategies in national, binational and international level. Combined actions should be undertaken in fields like telecommunications standards, computer software and hardware development, research projects on agricultural management through GIS, additional educative sectors in universities.

The restrictions that accompany organic farming should help in establishing international agreements that will help to increase the number of qualitative standards, allowing better perspectives for developing future GIS based management strategies. The implementation of an Internet Based Precision Organic Agricultural System requires committed research from the agricultural industry and improvements in geoanalysis, agricultural and information technology. GIS based systems will become more essential as a tool to monitor agricultural exchanges between inputs and outputs and in relation with adjacent regions at an increasingly detailed level. The results will enhance the role of Geographic Information as a functional and economic necessity for any productive community.

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Precision Farming Tools

GPS: Its Uses and Potential Are Growing

Global positioning systems (GPS) are widely available in the agricultural community. Farm uses include:

•mapping yields(GPS + combine yield monitor),

• variable rate planting (GPS + variable rate planting system),

•variable rate lime and fertilizer application (GPS + variable rate controller),

•field mapping for records and insurance purposes (GPS + mapping software), and

•parallel swathing (GPS + navigation tool).

For a review of the principles of GPS to locate specific field points, refer to this GPS Tutorial (Trimble Navigation Limited, 2008). GPS and associated navigation systems are used in many types of agricultural operations. These systems are useful particularly in applying pesticides, lime, and fertilizers and in tracking wide planters/drills or large grain-harvesting platforms.

GPS navigation tools can replace foam for sprayers and planter/drill-disk markers for making parallel swaths across a field. Navigation systems help operators reduce skips and overlaps, especially when using methods that rely on visual estimation of swath distance and/ or counting rows. This technology reduces the chance  of misapplication of agrochemicals and has the potential to safeguard water quality. Also, GPS navigation can be used to keep implements in the same traffic pattern year-to-year (controlled traffic), thus minimizing adverse effects of implement traffic.

Use of GPS navigation in agrochemical application with ground equipment has grown rapidly, and commercial applicators are quickly adopting the tool. According to a 2007 survey of those who offered custom application (Whipker and Akridge, 2007), 82 percent applied at least some of the fertilizer/chemicals using a GPS navigation system with a manual-control/light bar  guidance system. Twenty-nine percent said they used a  GPS navigation system with an auto-control/auto-steer guidance system for at least some of their custom application. On average, for all custom applied materials, percent was applied with GPS light bar, and 12 percent was applied with auto-steer GPS. GPS navigation has  become standard practice for U.S. aerial applicators. Crop producers are also starting to adopt these systems, because GPS navigation is an excellent way to improve accuracy, speed, and uniformity of application.

Why are navigation systems important to field operations?

Automated guidance of agricultural vehicles (tractors, combines, sprayers, spreaders) has been motivated by a number of factors—most important is to relieve the operator from continuously making steering adjustments while striving to maintain field equipment or implement performance at an acceptable level. This is not surprising, considering the many functions an operator must monitor, perform, and/or control while operating the vehicle.

The requirements placed on farm-equipment operators have changed drastically with increases in equipment size, power, multiple equipment functions, and speed—as well as monitors reporting on specific system performance. These increasing demands on the operator can result in increased errors in function, costs, environmental problems, and operator fatigue.

Foam markers, a widely used technology

Foam markers are the most common form of navigation aid used during fertilizer and pesticide application. The foam is dropped and used to align the applicator during the return pass. Foam markers utilize an air pump to pressurize a tank containing the foaming agent. The pressurized fluid causes the foaming agent to flow into an accumulating chamber. The foam collects in this chamber until the accumulated mass overcomes surface tension, causing a foam blob to fall to the ground.

Most often the foam accumulators are placed at the ends of the applicator boom or, alternately, at the center of the applicator when booms were not utilized, as in the case with spinner-disk granular applicators. Equipment operators use the foam blobs left on the field surface as a navigation aid to know where the applicator has passed.

GPS + Navigation Aids

Relatively inexpensive navigation aids known as parallel-tracking devices assist the operators to visualize their position with respect to previous passes and to  recognize the need for steering adjustments. These aids are commercially available in several configurations. One system is a light bar, which consists of a horizontal series of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) in a plastic case 12 inches to 18 inches long. This system is linked to a GPS receiver and a microprocessor. The light bar is usually positioned in front of the operator, so he or she can see the accuracy indicator display without taking their eyes off the field. The light bar can be mounted inside or outside of the cab, and the operator watches the “bar of light.” If the light is on the centerline, the machine is on target. If a bar of light extends to the left, the machine is off the path to the left and needs to be corrected. In like manner, if a bar of light extends to the right, the machine is off to the right.

Software allows the operator to specify the sensitivity to and distance between the swaths. Similar GPS  navigation systems have been used for aerial application since the early 1990s. Also, the GPS system gives the current location of the implement and, with past traffic patterns, the computer interface provides the operator directions to maintain proper swath width to  match adjacent traffic paths. If an operator leaves the field to refill the applicator or is forced out of the field due to weather, upon return, the operator can resume and maintain accurate swath widths, and over-spraying on previous sprayed areas is eliminated. More advanced systems have a screen showing the swath of the machine a sit moves through the field (Figure 2). Early models only allowed straight-line parallel swaths, but current models are available for any contour traffic pattern. Areas covered with previous swaths are indicated on the screen. The advanced navigation system coupled with a variable rate spreader drive and  software has the capacity to generate “as-applied” maps showing previous coverage and the application  pattern. This provides an excellent record of the pattern and timing while operating in the field. Portions of the field that are not treated, such as wet areas, can be marked in the computer and stored for later operations when conditions permit application. All of this is done without having to physically mark the field area with flags.

GPS + Auto-Steer Navigation

More advanced navigation systems (auto-steer systems) possess similar capabilities as the navigation aids and also have the additional option to automatically steer the vehicle. Auto-steering is accomplished with a device mounted to the steering column or through the electro-hydraulic steering system. The accuracy level of these system is based on the quality of differential correction and internal data processing: as the accuracy improves, the corresponding cost increases. These navigation systems are classified in three categories:

Submeter accuracy usually means approximately  two feet to four feet year-to-year, and less than one foot pass-to-pass errors. The differential correction source could be from a Coast Guard beacon, WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System), or satellite providers. These systems are relatively inexpensive (about  $6,000 to $15,000) and can be used while performing tillage, some types of fertilizer and chemical applications, seeding, and harvesting. These devices can be easily transferred between vehicles, so the same steering system can be used on different vehicles. However, operations requiring highly accurate guidance are not feasible with submeter level equipment.

Decimeter accuracy provides approximately four inches to eight inches year-to-year and three inches to  five inches pass-to-pass errors. This can be achieved using either a local base station or dual frequency receivers with private satellite differential correction subscription. With the increased performance, operators can use auto-steering during most of the conventional field practices. Prices range from $15,000 to $25,000 plus the satellite subscription (up to $1,500 annually).

Centimeter accuracy can be obtained by using a local  base station with the real-time kinematic (RTK) differential correction. Both long-term and short-term errors (of approximately one inch) have been reported for these systems. Vehicles equipped with this high level equipment can be used to conduct strip tilling, drip-tape placement, land leveling and other operations requiring superior performance—as well as virtually any other task. In addition to the ability to accurately determine geographic location, auto-guidance systems usually measure vehicle orientation in space and compensate for unusual attitude, including roll, pitch, and yaw (see “Additional Features” for definitions). The price ranges from $40,000 to $50,000 with no annual subscription fees.

GPS Navigation vs. Foam Markers

Potential advantages of GPS Navigation (GN) relative to foam markers for agricultural applications include:

• GN is more reliable and more accurate than foam  markers. Using foam markers could cause about 10 percent of the field to be skipped or overlapped. With the GN, the skip and overlap rate drops to about 5 percent. Some tests have shown that with an experienced operator, the skip and overlap rate can be as low as 1.5 percent.

• GN allows accuracy at higher speeds. GPS navigation can attain a 13 percent to 20 percent higher speed than a foam marker (Buick and White, 1999). Naturally, an increase of speed is terrain dependent. If field conditions limit speed, then a GN benefit is unlikely.

• GN is a possibility with spinner spreaders. Foam markers are not generally used with spinner spreaders. The spreaders have no boom on  which the foam equipment can be installed. Due to the spread width, a foam marker in the center of the machine path is difficult to see from the next swath, and the driver would still be using a visual estimate  for the spreader swath.

• GN is easy to use. Anybody can learn to use GPS navigation systems, regardless of computer skills. The systems require only a little practice—typically about 30 minutes.

• GN provides effective guidance over growing crops. With solid-seeded crops, foam tends to fall through the canopy to the ground where it is almost invisible, contributing to skipping or overlapping. Crop height does not affect GPS.

•  GN allows operation when visibility is poor. GN works at night, in dust, or in fog. This lengthens working time during critical planting and spraying periods. In many areas, nighttime is best for spraying because of low wind speed. Leaf orientation changes at night and herbicide may or may not be as  effective as during daylight(check with local Extension specialists). Nighttime spraying of insecticides can protect sensitive bee colonies.

• GN is less affected by weather. In certain conditions such as low humidity, heat, and large fields, foam markers can be rendered ineffective. The foam can evaporate before the operator makes the return swath. GN works at any temperature, including low temperatures when foam systems freeze.

• GN has lower recurring costs. GN has no moving  parts or tubes to clog. Depending on the manufacturer, software updates are usually free to system owners. Foam-marker systems require foam, dye, and tank cleaner.

The primary recurring cost for GPS navigation is satellite differential correction. Typically, the subscription costs $600 to $1,500 per year for each GPS unit. Many producers already have GPS for yield monitoring and may subscribe for differential correction. For them, GN has almost no recurring costs. In many areas of Virginia, it is possible to use the Coast Guard beacon or WAAS for GPS differential correction. These services are free and may be adequate for some applications, including dry fertilizer with a spinner spreader.

Accuracy for spraying should be within six inches(10 centimeters); the GPS equipment supplier can provide information regarding the differential correction needs for a specific location. For more on GPS systems, review Precision Farming Tools: Global Positioning  System (GPS), Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE).

•  GN reduces operator fatigue and eye strain. With  the light bar mounted directly in front, GN operators do not need to look backward or sideways. They can drive accurate swaths while looking straight ahead.

• GN has lower setup time. Foam markers require that tanks be filled and dyes be changed. GN begins workingapproximately30secondsafterthemachine is switched on.

• GN is not affected by wind or boom bounce.  Blowing foam or a foam system bouncing over rough ground at the end of a long boom may introduce substantial error. GPS systems are not affected by rough terrain or wind.

• GN reduces pesticide use by reducing overlaps.  If a 10 percent overlap is reduced to 5 percent, pesticide use also is reduced by 5 percent. The same is true for fertilizer and seed, so using GN is better for the environment and good for the bottom line.

• GN reduces the need for people to enter already  sprayed areas. The operator can mark where spraying stopped without dismounting.

Additional Features

Decisions about adapting GPS navigation should be based on particular farm needs, farm operation procedures, and understanding of positioning errors. Such issues as vehicle dynamics, tracking of trailed implements, and field terrain also need to be considered. Proper alignment and installation of the GPS navigation system is required for effective field operation. Poor quality of the steering-control systems, a sloped terrain, or misaligned implements will cause the field performance of GPS navigation to suffer. An important feature of GPS navigation systems is the ability to follow particular traffic patterns and provide effective feedback so that the operator or auto-steer system can appropriately respond. Most systems can  effectively perform straight-line patterns(linear swathing), and many can follow contours and other field features.

Although most GPS navigation systems are designed specifically for the task of vehicle steering, some systems have features to collect spatial data (such as application maps and yield maps) or to operate variable-rate  controllers. Additional features spread the cost of the system among several tasks while increasing efficiency in multiple areas of the crop production program. The documentation provided by a GPS system could be  used to show that the product or field work was applied in specific locations at a specific time. Setbacks specified by regulatory agencies and other sensitive areas (such as ornamental crops, nurseries, gardens, schools, and residential areas) may be defined as “no-apply zones.” The “as-applied” map includes areas in which  application occurred and rates can be recorded. It is possible to include not only position, but time and date information in an application record as well. Such documentation could be used for accurate recordkeeping for agrochemical application and machine operation and, potentially, for regulatory and legal defense purposes.

GPS navigation products are distinguished by the compactness of their components and user interfaces. Some systems cause technical challenges during installation  and calibration, while others may be functional in less than an hour. User interfaces range from intuitive, colorful, graphic touch-screen displays to hard-key menus with limited graphics feedback.

A sloped terrain makes control of vehicle dynamics challenging. Roll (tilt from side-to-side), pitch (movement from front-to-rear), and yaw (rotation around the vertical axis) alter the GPS antenna location with the  projected center of the vehicle . For example, when driving across a slope, the horizontal position of the GPS antenna is downhill with respect of the center of the vehicle, and the guidance will be in error down the slope. To compensate, some systems include gyroscopes, accelerometers, or additional GPS antennas. Less advanced terrain-compensation modules deal with only roll and pitch angles of the vehicle, while others can measure total dynamic attitude in six  degrees of freedom and enable the system to compensate for variable terrain.

Several manufacturers have add-on implement steering systems for proper implement tracking. Compensating for known geometry of the tracking from implements can be adjusted with the vehicle’s trajectory to keep the implement aligned. Optical and crop-based tracking systems can be useful when positioning implements with respect to established rows.

Bottom Line

GPS navigation has many advantages over conventional marking devices such as foam markers, and especially over the visual-estimation method for spinner spreaders. With an existing GPS being used for yield monitoring or field mapping and soil sampling, the GPS navigation system can increase the efficiency of the farm or agribusiness while minimizing adverse environmental impacts associated with overlapping  applications. The system can also reduce operator  fatigue and anxiety regarding fertilizer and pesticide application. Finally, use of this technology can demonstrate to the nonagricultural community that advanced  technology is being used to farm efficiently and safely.

The advantage of “as-applied” maps, provided by some systems, is documentation that applications were made at the appropriate location and rate.

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Humic substances are a good source of energy for beneficial soil organisms. Humic substances and non-humic (organic)  compounds provides the energy and many of the mineral requirements for soil microorganisms and soil animals. Beneficial  soil organisms lack the photo synthetic apparatus to capture energy from the sun thus must survive on residual carbon containing substances on or in the soil. Energy stored within the carbon bonds function to provide energy for various  metabolic reactions within these organisms. Beneficial soil organisms (algae, yeast, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, mycorrhizae, and small animals) perform many beneficial functions which influence soil fertility and plant health. For  example the bacteria release organic acids which aid in the solubilization of mineral elements bound in soil. Bacteria also release complex polysacharides (sugar based compounds) that help create soil crumbs (aggregates). Soil crumbs give soil a desirable structure. Other beneficial soil microorganisms such as the Actinomyces release antibiotics into the soil. These antibiotics are taken up by the plant to protect it against pests. Antibiotics also function to create desirable ecological balances of soil organisms on the root surface (rhizoplane) and in soil near the root (rhizosphere). Fungi also perform many beneficial functions in soils. For example, micorrhizae aid plant roots in the uptake of water and trace elements. Other fungi decompose crop residues and vegetative matter releasing bound nutrients for other organisms. Many of the organic compounds released by fungi aid in forming humus and soil crumbs. Beneficial soil animals create tunnel-like channels in the soil. The channels allow the soil to breath, and exchange gases with the atmosphere. Soil animals also aid in the formation of humus, and help balance the concentration of soil microorganisms. A healthy fertile soil must contain sufficient carbon containing compounds to sustain the billions of microscopic life forms required for a fertile and a healthy plant. A living soil is a fertile healthy soil.

Humus functions to improve the soil’s water holding capacity. The most important function of humic substances within the soil is their ability to hold water. From a quantitative standpoint water is the most important substance derived by plants from the soil. Humic substances help create a desirable soil structure that facilitates water infiltration and helps hold water within the root zone. Because of their large surface area and internal electrical charges, humic substances function as water sponges. These sponge like substances have the ability to hold seven times their volume in water, a greater water holding capacity than soil clays. Water stored within the top-soil, when needed, provides a carrier medium for nutrients required by soil organisms and plant roots.

Available water is without doubt the most important component of a fertile soil. Soils which contain high concentrations of humic substances hold water for crop use during periods of drought. This is why growers who apply humate-based fertilizers and integrate production practices which preserve humic substances, can frequently harvest a crop during periods of dry weather.

Humic substances are key components of a friable (loose) soil structure. Various carbon containing humic substances are key components of soil crumbs (aggregates). Complex carbohydrates synthesized by bacteria and humic substances function together with clay and silt to form soil aggregate. As the humic substances become intimately associated with the mineral fraction of the soil, colloidal complexes of humus-clay and humus-silt aggregates are formed. These aggregates are formed by electrical processes which increase the cohesive forces that cause very fine soil particles and clay components to attract each other. Once formed these aggregates help create a desirable crumb structure in the top soil, making it more friable. Soils with good crumb structure have improved tilth, and more porous openings (open spaces). These pores allow for gaseous interchange with the atmosphere, and for greater water infiltration.

The mean residence times of these organo-mineral complex aggregates varies with different humic substances. The mean residence time of humic substances within these aggregates, based on radiocarbon dating, using extracts from nondisturbed soil, is as follows: humin, 1140 years; humic acid, 1235 years; and fulvic acid, 870 years. Man has shortened the residence time of humic substances by excessive fertilizing and by using tilling practices that cause excessive weathering of soils. Soils abused by applications of anhydrous ammonia and by other destructive practices (those which destroy humic substances) can shorten residence times by several hundred years. The turnover time of organic carbon added each year from plant and animal residues averages approximately 30 years, under ideal conditions. In order to retain humic substances within the soil growers need to implement production practices which prevent their decomposition. Growers need to develop practices which retain the residence time of humic substances. It is essential to avoid destructive fertilization practices, rotate crops, minimize pesticides usage, deep plowing, and mix crop residues in the top soil by using minimum tillage practices. Soils which contain adequate humic substances have improved tilth (work ability) and are thus more efficiently maintained for crop production.

Degradation or inactivation of toxic substances is mediated by humic substances. Soil humic substances function to either stabilize or assist in the degradation of toxic substances such as: nicotine, aflatoxin, antibiotics, phenols, and most organic pesticides. In the microbial degradation process not all of the carbon contained within these toxins is released as CO2. A portion of these toxic molecules, primarily the aromatic ring compounds are stabilized and integrated within the complex polymers of humic substances. Humic substances have electrically charged sites on their surfaces which function to attract and inactivate pesticides and other toxic substances. For this reason the Environmental Protection Agency recommends the use of humates for clean up of toxic waste sites. Many bioremediation companies apply humate based compounds to toxic waste sites as a part of their clean up program. Growers interested in cleaning up their soils (destroying various toxic pesticides) can accelerate the degradation of poisons (toxins) by applying humic substances. Growers who farm soils lowin humus need to include the purchase of humic substances in their fertilizer budget. The cost of humic substances can bemore than offset by reduced costs of other fertilizer ingredients.

Humic substances buffer (neutralize) the soil pH and liberate carbon dioxide. Humic substances function to buffer the hydrogen ion (pH) concentration of the soil. Repeated field studies have provided experimental evidence that the additionof humic substances to soils helps to neutralize the pH of those soils. Both acidic and alkaline soils are neutralized. Oncethe soil is neutralized, then many trace elements formerly bound in the soil and unavailable to plant roots, because of alkaline or acidic conditions, become available to the plant roots. Humic substances also liberate carbon dioxide (CO2) from calcium carbonates present within the soil. The released CO2 may be taken up by the plant or it may form carbonic acids. The carbonic acids act on soil minerals to release plant nutrients.

Soil enzymes are stabilized and inactivated by humic substances. Soil enzymes (complex proteins) are stabilized by humicsubstances within the soil by covalent bonding. Stabilization renders these enzymes less subject to microbial degradation. Once stabilized and bound to the humic substances enzyme activity is greatly reduced or ceases to function. However many of these bonds are relatively weak. During periods of pH change within the soil, these enzymes can be released.When some components of humic substance react with soil enzymes they are more tightly bound. For example, phenolicenzyme complexes are frequently attached to clays, further stabilizing the enzymes. These enzyme stabilization processes help to restrict the activity of potential plant pathogens. As the potential plant pathogen release enzymes designed to break down the plant’s defenses, the pathogens enzymes become bound to humic substances. As a result the pathogens are unable to invade potential host plants.

Soil temperatures and water evaporation rate are stabilized by humic substances. Humic substances function to help stabilize soil temperatures and slow the rate of water evaporation. The insulating properties of humic substances help maintain a more uniform soil temperature, especially during periods of rapid climate changes, such as cold spell or heat waves. Because water is bound within the humic substances and humic substances reduce temperature fluctuations, soil moisture is less likely to be released into the atmosphere.

The electrical features of humic substances influence known chemical reactions. Both groups of complex organic acids, humic acids (HAs) and fulvic acids (FAs) have been proven to be involved in three specific chemical reactions. These reactions are commonly termed: (1) electrostatic (columbic) attraction, (2) complex formation or chelation, and (3) water bridging. Electrostatic attraction of trace minerals reduces leaching into subsoil. Electrostatic attraction of metal cations to anionic sites on the humic substance keeps these ions from leaching into the subsoil. The metal cation is loosely attached, thus can be released when attracted to another stronger electrical charge. The cation is readily available in the soil environment for transport into the plant roots or exchanged for another metal cation Electrically charged sites on humic substances function to dissolve and bind trace minerals. When a complex reaction with metal cations occurs on the humic substance surface it is termed chelation. Two negatively charged sites on the humic substance attract metal cations with two negative charges. As a result the cation binds itself to more than one charged anionic site. By forming organo-metal chelates, these organic acids bring about the dissolution of primary and secondary minerals within the soil. These minerals then become available for uptake by plant roots. The greater the affinity of the metal cation for humic acid (HA) or fulvic acid (FA), the easier the dissolution of the cation from various mineral surfaces.

Both the acidic effects and the chelation effects appear to be involved in dissolution of minerals and binding processes. Evidence for the dissolution of minerals can be supported by x-ray diffraction and infrared analysis. Chelation of plant nutrients such as iron (Fe), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), and calcium (Ca) reduces their toxicity as cations, prevents their leaching, and increases their uptake rate by plant roots.

The chelation exchange reaction involves a transition element. The release of these trace minerals into the plant is quite different from the classical cation exchange system. The cation with a plus two charge, present in the chelate, cannot be replaced by a singly charged cation such as H+, K+ or Na+. Cations with one positive charge are unable to replace a metal ion, such as Cu++, with two positive charges. The chelated metal ion can be exchanged by another transitional ion that has two positive charges. The chelates provide the carrier mechanism by which depleted nutrient elements are replenished at the root surface. The chelation process also increases the mass flow of micro nutrient mineral elements of the root. The chelation of heavy toxic metallic elements present within the soil is also influenced by humic substances present. When toxic heavy metals such as mercury (Hg), lead (Pb), and cadmium (Cd) are chelated these organo-metal complexes become less available for plant uptake. Detailed studies of chelation of heavy metals in industrial sludge has illustrated the value of humic substances in preventing uptake of these toxic metals. Keep in mind that free metal cations such as Fe+2, Cu+2, and Zu+2 are incompatible with plant cells. Direct applications of metallic salts, such as iron sulfate, copper sulfate, and zinc sulfate, to correct trace element deficiencies, can cause serious problems when the soils lack sufficient humic substances for buffering. Trace minerals should be applied in an organic chelate, preferably by humic acids (HAs) and fulvic acids (FAs). Many scientific studies have shown that humic substances [humic acids (HAs) fulvic acids (FAs)] present in the root zone reduce the toxicity of metal cations. Water bridging is an important function of humic and fulvic acids. Water bridging by humic substances involves the attraction of a water molecule followed by the attraction of a mineral element cation (Simply illustrated by (-COO – H2O -Fe+) at an anionic site on the humic (HA) or fulvic acid (FA) polymers. The water holding capacity of humic substances and their ability to bind trace mineral elements function together in water bridging. Water bridging is believed to improve the mobility of nutrient ions through the soil solution to the root. These mechanisms also help reduce leaching of plant nutrients into the subsoil. Recent experiments indicate that water bridging may be more common in humic substances than originally believed.

Humic substances aid in the decomposition of soil minerals by forming metal-organic-clay complexes, a process termed soil genesis. Soil formation (soil genesis) involves a complexing of transition mineral elements, such as copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), iron (Fe), and manganese (Mn) from soil minerals with humic acids (HAs), fulvic acids (FAs) and clays. This complexing process inhibits crystallization of these mineral elements. The complexing process is in part controlled by the acidity of these weak acids and the chelating ability of humic substances. In the absence of humic substances trace minerals elements are converted to insoluble precipitates such as metal carbonates, oxides, sulfides, and hydroxides. Thus the presence of humic acids (HAs) and fulvic acids (FAs) within soil inhibit the development of new soil minerals. For example, crystallization of iron to form iron oxides is inhibited by the presence of humic acids (HAs) and fulvic acids (FAs). Soils deficient in humic substances may contain adequate iron, however the iron present is frequently bound in forms which render it unavailable to plant roots. As the concentration of fulvic acids (FAs) increases within a soil.

Transition metal crystallization is first delayed and then inhibited at high fulvic acid (FA) concentrations. Cations of these transition metals (e.g. Cu++, Zn++ and Fe++) are held in large humic polymers by chelation, for future release to soil organisms on plant roots. These physical and chemical processes prevent leaching of plant nutrients into the subsoil.

Stored energy and trace mineral content of humic substances helps sustain soil organisms involved in transmutation. The presence of humic substances within saline soils (those soils which contain high salt concentrations, e.g. sodium chloride) aid in the transmutation of the sodium ions. The transmutation reactions, a biological process that occurs within living organisms, result in the combining of sodium with a second element, such as oxygen, to form a new element. Although the theory of transmutation has met considerable opposition by some traditional physicists and chemists, biologist have recorded convincing data to prove that transmutation occurs in living organisms. Application of humins, humic acids, and fulvic acids to saline soils, in combination with specific soil organisms, results in a reduction in the concentration of sodium salts (e.g. NaCl). The reduction is not correlated with a leaching of the salt, rather with an increase in concentration of further elements. The addition of humic substances to soils containing excessive salts can help reduce the concentration of those salts. By reducing the salt content of a soil its fertility and health can be “brought back” to provide a more desirable environment for plant root growth.

(Source –

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Satellite Crop Monitoring: Vegetation Control

Now, agricultural sector shows raising numbers of M&A  transactions which are successful in terms of fundraising for  their  projects. It gives grounds for assuming that amount of the companies involved in agriculture would be reducing within the next few years, while the volume of assets of the remaining participants would be growing up.

In terms of competitiveness, it is justified tendency: according to statistics data and private agriculture holdings reports, only farmers with large land bank are able to reach crop yield level  which at least approximates the European or global peers level, largely due to more available financing.

Agricultural holdings enter new stage of development, they have to change the degree of innovation in their field, whereas now it is one of the lowest among sectors of economy. In particular, this will bring improved crop cultivation, modern agricultural machinery and precision farming technologies – operational satellite monitoring of the farmland in order to spot significant deterioration of plants vegetation and consequent complex of measures to eliminate them (vegetation control).

Spectral characteristics of fields, results of texture analysis and changes in dynamics of colors brightness are being used to build indices and functions for harvest assessment and control. Processing of the satellite images in the red and infrared spectral range gives an opportunity not only to observe the fields in a real time mode, but also to generate database on the soil temperature and changes in its condition, rainfall, vegetation indexes for  different crops, with a time horizon of 10 and more years.

1.Fertilizing.  Rational fertilizing is extremely important for countries, whose chemical industry depends on imported raw materials and high gas prices. In particular this type of expenditures takes on average 17% in total crop cultivation cost. It is worth noticing that without using any additional options the satellite monitoring system enables to adequately measure only the level of required nitrogen content, nevertheless, the N-group fertilizers (mostly ammonium nitrate and urea) are the main types of minerals that are used by farmers. 

Due to the satellite crop monitoring  usage savings on fertilizers constitute more than 10% of annual expenditures on them. Thus for wheat the amount of savings in fertilizer can be from $8 to $40 per ha.

2.Wage costs. According to the results of our  studies, every 1,500 hectares of farmland additionally require from 3 to 5 agronomists being employed, whose salary starts from $625 per month (developing countries). Satellite crop monitoring reduces human capital needs by 1-2 employees. Savings on vegetation control from staff optimization is $0.5-$1 per month per ha.

3.Accuracy costs. Because of the outdated methods of determining fields boundaries and absence of the operational data on their shape and area changes, resulting from erosion, anthropogenic, climatic and other factors, each year actual processing cost is overstated by at least 1-3% per hectare of crops. Satellite crop monitoring effectively utilizes mentioned inefficiency. 

High quality satellite images with regular updates make it possible to avoid such losses. The average cost of 1 centner of wheat in developing counties amounts to $14.2/centner, the average yield – 33.5 centners/ha, therefore, due to modern technology use, you can save more than $9.4/ha.

4.Expenditures on fuel. It is recommended to do not less than 7 detours around the field per year in order to control crops development, including vegetation control. This requires approximately 0.4 l of diesel fuel (about $0.5) per hectare, while infrequent visits due  to satellite  monitoring give opportunity to save up to 40% of fuel per hectare ($0.2).

5.Expenditures on measurement of nitrogen level. Cost of a  laboratory analysis of a soil, which is recommended to undergo at least once every three years, is around $0.9-$1.2 per ha. Satellite crop monitoring gives information about the level of nitrogen in the soil, analyzing vegetation indices and its deviation for a particular field, saving annually $0.4 per hectare. 

In the developed countries, annual satellite crop monitoring service price of the crops starts from $1.5 per one hectare per year. Already  listed factors provide savings circa $27/ha per year. It is not possible to take into account all specific conditions for every particular case, but lets bear in mind that, sources of savings, mentioned  above, does not include the direct effect of technology – timely identification of deteriorations and precise preventive measures to save the crops while using satellite crop monitoring for vegetation control.

There are private satellite crop monitoring service providers: Monitoring Agricultural Resources (Italy), Cropio (USA/Germany), MapExpert (Ukraine), PrecisionAgriculture (Australia), Vega (Russia), eLeaf (Holland), Astrium-Geo (France).

In order to become a client of satellite crop monitoring service an agricultural company should sign a contract, pay fees, send shape-files with GPS-coordinates and Excel-file with cultivation history of the field.

Thereafter company’s manager (from the director of the group to agronomist of a single cluster) can  monitor, in the real time mode,  current soil temperature dynamics, weather conditions, vegetation index, precipitations and  field development deviations, compare them with historical values, using any stationary or tablet computer. Moreover, the obtained data can be passed on to other staff members or investors, be printed or uploaded into board computers of the agricultural machinery.

Long-term cooperation with farmers suggests that the use of satellite crop monitoring technology (including vegetation control) is spreading gradually but steadily among agricultural companies. In our opinion, this process would naturally correlate with increasing prestige, wages and labor efficiency of modern agronomists. Another reason is rising competition in world food markets and increasing costs of production components that are forcing agricultural companies to work more efficiently. So, those who will fail in efficiency improvements will be bought by those who succeed in it.

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The Rice-Wheat Consortium’s Example

The Indo-Gangetic Plains of Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh are endowed with plentiful natural resources, deep productive soils, sufficient good quality water, climatic conditions that permit multiple cropping, high population densities and relatively good infrastructure. The Green Revolution (GR) of the 1970s and 1980s radically changed the traditional agricultural system of this region. Now, about 13.5 million hectares of land are in continuous rotation of irrigated rice and wheat, providing food and livelihoods for many millions. Between 1960 and 1995 rice yields increased from 1.55 to 2.66 tonnes/ha and wheat yields from 0.84 to 2.34 tonnes/ha.

The majority of the farm households have less than 5 ha of land, whilst a minority have more than 20 ha. All farmers use improved varieties of wheat with fertiliser. In rice, some farmers still grow traditional, fine quality varieties like Basmati as they fetch higher market prices. Mechanisation levels are high, especially in the western regions, with resource-poor farmers renting tractors and threshers for tilling and harvesting. Animal power is still common in the eastern regions, but farmers complain of the increasing costs of maintaining draught bullocks. Many farmers are moving to contract ploughing with tractors; dairy cows are acquired in place of draught bullocks.

The main factors for the initial success of the GR and the emergence of the ricewheat system were the introduction of high-yielding, semi-dwarf varieties and chemical fertilisers. Pesticides, investments in irrigation infrastructure, political commitment and policy support played a lesser role. Free irrigation water, cheap agrochemicals, subsidised power supply and low-interest farm credit were some of the crucial supports provided by South Asian governments that made intensive ricewheat production profitable and a safe system for farmers.

However, in the past several years the productivity growth of wheat and rice has declined and the expansion of rice and wheat area has halted due to many reasons (Hobbs and Morris, 1996). Ecological degradation of the natural resource base has occurred as farmers using conventional technologies harvest up to 10 tonnes of cereal per year. Long-term rice-wheat experiments have shown that yield growth declines at constant input levels. Unbalanced use of fertiliser and delayed planting of crops are cited as major factors. Profitability has dropped as more inputs are needed to get the same yield. Input subsidies that favoured the GR have lacked farmlevel incentives for efficient input use. The price of rice and wheat has declined steadily over the last 30 years. Partial removal of subsidies and ecological problems have put stress on the economy of farmers.

Resource degradation in the rice-wheat system can take many forms: loss of organic matter; mining of soil nutrients; build-up of weeds, diseases and pests; waterlogging, salinity and sodicity. Additional problems that reduce system productivity are: low nutrient and water use efficiency associated with delayed crop establishment, driven in turn by inappropriate tillage practices  (delays in sowing wheat after rice can reduce yields as much as 1.5% per day); flat sowing and flood irrigation causing nutrient leaching; puddling leading to formation of a ploughpan, reduced soil permeability and enhanced soil cracking; and restriction of plant root and shoot growth and chlorosis due to temporary water stagnation. To compound these problems, Phalaris minor, the major weed in wheat has developed strong resistance to the commonly used herbicides and farmers have had to shift to new, more expensive herbicides. Excessive pumping from wells is leading to declining water tables in fresh water aquifer zones, while inadequate drainage is causing waterlogging and salinity in others… <more>


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The Biology and Ecology of Canola

The Brasscicaceae family (formerly Cruciferae) consists of approximately 375 genera and 3200 species of plants, of which about 52 genera and 160 species are present in Australia (Jessop & Toelken 1986). Of the 160 species of Brassicaceae present in Australia, several species are important weeds of the southern Australian cropping zone. Genera of economic importance in Australia are Brassica as a crop and Raphanus, Sinapis, and Brassica as weeds. In Australia, other important cropping weeds from the Brassicaceae family include Hirschfeldia incana, Diplotaxis spp. and Sisymbrium spp. 

The Brassica genus consists of approximately 100 species, including species Brassica napus L., spp. oleifera, commonly known as oilseed rape, rapeseed or canola. B. napus is not native to Australia, and originated in either the Mediterranean area or Northern Europe. It is thought to have originated from a cross where the maternal donor was closely related to two diploid species, B. oleracea and B. rapa.

Canola was cultivated by ancient civilisations in Asia and the Mediterranean. Its use has been recorded as early as 2000BC in India and has been grown in Europe since the 13th century, primarily for its use as oil for lamps. Canola was first grown commercially in Canada in 1942 as a lubricant for use in war ships. Canola was first grown commercially in Australia in 1969.

Traditionally, B. napus is unsuitable as a source of food for either humans or animals due to the presence of two naturally occurring toxicants, erucic acid and glucosinolates. However, in the 1970s, very intensive breeding programs in several countries including Australia produced high quality varieties that were significantly lower in these two toxicants. The term ‘canola’ refers to those varieties of B. napus that meet specific standards on the levels of erucic acid and glucosinolates. Those cultivars must yield oil low in erucic acid (below 2 %) and meal low in glucosinolates (total glucosinolates of 30 µmoles/g toasted oil free meal), and are often referred to as “double low” varieties.

Canola lines have become more important to the western world, through breeding for better oil quality and improved processing techniques (OECD Paris 1997). Edible oil was first extracted in Canada in 1956 (Colton & Potter 1999). Canola is now grown primarily for its seeds which yield between 35 % to over 45 % oil. Cooking oil is the main use but it is also commonly used in margarine. After oil is extracted from the seed, the remaining by-product, canola seed meal is used as a high protein animal feed… <more>


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Energy Consumption for Row Crop Production

Each year, Iowa farmers plant approximately 24 million of Iowa’s 31 million acres of farmland to corn and soybeans. Energy prices vary over time, but Iowa agriculture spends nearly one billion dollars annually on direct energy purchases. Due to the fact that so many Iowa farmers raise corn and soybeans, a basic understanding of energy used in row-crop corn and soybean production is helpful for managing farm energy expenses.

Annual energy consumption for corn and soybean production is in three major areas: field operations, artificial drying (typically corn only), and fertilizer/pesticides (agricultural chemicals). Agricultural chemicals are not a direct energy purchase by farmers. However, the thermal and chemical processes  used in their manufacture can be significant and are often considered in farm energy budgets.

Energy is also used in other production steps which are less significant to farm budgets. Some vary with location, for example:

  • Energy used for transportation from the farm to the final destination can be significant depending upon shipping distances. However, much of this energy cost is borne by off-farm grain marketers.
  • Transportation energy costs for hauling from the field to farmstead bin or to the local market vary with distance.

Additionally, energy required to manufacture machinery and other larger capital equipment such as grain bins can be significant at the time, but can be paid off over several years. Solar photosynthetic (renewable) energy required to grow and dry crop, also significant, is not considered a direct cost to the farmer.

Diesel fuel used for field operations varies with management practices. A range of 4 to 6 gallons per acre is common, particularly if one primary and one or more secondary tillage operations are used. Seeds must be planted, grain harvested, and weeds controlled (typically with spraying). Fuel used for these operations is typically 2 to 2.5 gallons per acre, which represents fuel consumption for a no-till system. The energy required for tilling soil can be an additional 2 gallons of fuel per acre or more.

The amount of fuel required for tillage depends on both the type and number of tillage operations (PM 709 Fuel Required for Field Operations). Primary tillage refers to initial tillage on untilled soil. One single primary tillage operation that covers the entire soil surface, such as chisel plowing, usually requires at least one gallon of fuel per acre when tilling at a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Fuel consumption may be two gallons per acre or more depending on tillage depth and/or the number of different soil manipulations that occur (e.g., subsoiling and disking with a combination disk-ripper). Individual secondary tillage operations often require 0.6 to 0.7 gallons of fuel per acre. However, fuel consumption may be greater for large ‘combination’ implements with several operations (e.g. discs, sweeps, harrow, etc.).

Soybeans typically dry to a moisture content of about 12% in the field prior to harvest and don’t usually need to be dried. Corn, on the other hand, may need to be dried if it does not dry adequately in the field. The need for drying depends on the planting date, the weather during the growing season and harvest, and the adapted maturity level for the growing location.

If corn needs to be dried in the fall, the amount of moisture to be removed can vary widely, sometimes by as much as 10 percentage points or more. To remove 5 percentage points of moisture content from an acre of corn yielding 175 bu, a conventional high-temperature dryer uses about 16 gal of LP and 18 kWh of electricity. Fan use for electricity in a natural-air dryer used to remove the same amount of moisture would require about 280 kWh of electricity (about 2⁄3 of the energy used by the high- temperature dryer). Actual energy consumed by a grain dryer to remove a specific amount of moisture depends on  several factors including grain depth, drying times, and heat recovery.

Even though they are not considered a ‘direct’ energy purchase for the farm, fossil fuels are used in the manufacture and transportation of fertilizers and pesticides. The cost of the energy to produce these inputs is incorporated into their purchase price each year. When considering the three primary fertilizer inputs—nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium—the energy needed to create nitrogen fertilizer is by far the greatest.

Energy required to manufacture nitrogen (N) fertilizer is approximately 13 – 18 times greater than phosphate or potassium on a pound-for-pound basis. When anhydrous ammonia, a more energy efficient nitrogen source, is applied to soil, it is equivalent to 15 gallons of diesel per acre at an application rate of 125 lb/N acre. This application rate is typically used in a corn-after-soybean rotation. Similarly, an  anhydrous ammonia application rate of 175 lb N/acre is equivalent to 21 gallons of diesel per acre. This  application rate is typically used for corn-after-corn.

The energy used to manufacture pesticides varies depending on the product. In general, an equivalent of one gallon of diesel energy is used to produce approximately one pound of active ingredient. Using this value, two pints of glyphosate with one pound of active ingredient applied per acre would be equivalent to approximately one gallon of diesel fuel energy per acre.

Due to the fact that adjusting the nitrogen application rate by ten pounds per acre equates to more energy consumption than the amount commonly used for phosphorous, potassium or pesticide, most fertilizer and pesticide energy consumption is attributed to nitrogen fertilization for corn. Nitrogen is not usually applied for soybean production, and only about one to two gallons per acre (diesel fuel equivalent energy) would be used for phosphorous, potassium and pesticides combined… <more>


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