No-Till Technology: Impacts on Farm Income, Energy Use and Groundwater Depletion in the Plains

The adoption of a no-till feedgrain production system in a crop rotation with irrigated wheat production increases farm income, reduces underground water depletion, conserves energy, and reduces labor needs. Simultaneous attainment of these items might be considered compatible multiple goals of Great Plains farmers facing rising production costs, a declining water table and narrowing profit margins.

Benefits from the no-till system are due to improved wheat residue management techniques and the increasing availability of no-till equipment. Chemical weed control in wheat stubble provides increased soil moisture retention, reduced soil exposure to wind and water erosion and, in some cases, a savings in total production costs when compared with conventional tillage practices. Variable production costs are reduced somewhat by the no-till system in irrigated feed grain production but are higher than conventional tillage for dryland sorghum production. Machinery depreciation costs are reduced significantly for both no-till irrigated and dryland feedgrain production.

Increased profitability of the no-till feedgrain production system over conventional tillage is due largely to three items: (1) increased yields, (2) reduced fuel and labor requirements of irrigating and tillage, and (3) savings in machinery depreciation costs. No-till practices, however, require larger expenditures for chemicals.

In addition, harvesting expenses are increased due to higher grain yields from the no-till system.

In summary, the discounted stream of profits (5 percent) are 50 percent higher with no-till using the average pumping lift of 353 feet and a constant natural gas price for the next 10 years. If gas prices rise in relation to all other inputs, profits increase by 67 percent with no-till practices. Profits can be doubled with no-till in the high lift, rising gas price situation at 5 or 10 percent discount rates. With gas prices held constant, 67 to 69 percent higher profits are realized with the respective discount rates. If the low pumping lift situation is considered, profits are increased at the five percent rate about 50 percent with rising gas prices. If gas prices remain constant, profits are 45 percent higher in the low pumping lift situation. Somewhat  smaller increases in profitability are realized at a 10 percent discount rate.

Both water use efficiency and energy use efficiency increase with no-till feedgrain production. Increased yields per acre from no-till coupled with lower irrigation requirements and diesel use for tillage increase resource use efficiency.

The implications of this analysis regarding increased profits, reduced energy and labor use, and conservation of scarce groundwater raise the question as to why producers are not rapidly adopting-no-till practices. Recent changes in the relationship of fuel costs versus herbicide costs are only now being realized by many producers. Availability of new herbicides is increasing each year supported by substantial research to indicate regional and crop specifications. Improved machinery, particularly planters and drills, is being developed to compensate for seeding in heavier residue. Producer acceptance of “trash” farming has been slow, however.

Clean-till attitudes and psychology are being gradually eroded by the current economic advantages of limited tillage practices in more arid regions (Stewart and Harman).

Reporting of on-farm results in recent years supporting research findings indicates the importance of continued public policy support of research and education programs. Economic analyses of this type provide the basis for evaluating ongoing research results. Evaluations of resource use, impacts on production efficiency and assessments of profitability can provide impetus for continued public support. In addition, if higher profits accrue to agriculture as a result of new and improved means of efficient resource use, the financial condition of commercial agriculture may also be improved.

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Erosion: soil at risk

While soil is a resource that can re-create itself, it is a very slow process. Unfortunately, soils have been and continue to be degraded at an alarming rate. Soil erosion is still the dominant cause of soil degradation. Other causes of soil degradation include: soil compaction, soil acidification, soil pollution, and salinization. Dramatic increases in the use of no-till systems by American farmers have led to many benefits, including reductions in erosion, and savings of time, labor, fuel, and machinery. Between 1990 and 2000, no-till farming acreage rose from 16 million acres to 52 million acres, an increase of 300 percent. Now that some fields have been under no-till production systems for many years, farmers and researchers have begun to notice additional. The erosion rate is often greater than the soil formation rate. For instance, the average soil erosion rate in Pennsylvania was 5.1 tons/acre in 1997, whereas the tolerable soil loss level is 3-4 tons /acre per year for most of the soils of this state. With the average loss of 5.1 tons/acre, you can see that the tolerable soil loss level was far exceeded on many fields. That means that our current rate of erosion is a threat to the future productivity of the soil.

Soil erosion removes the best portion of the soil—the part that contains most of the plant nutrients and soil organic matter. In many cases, the topsoil has more favorable soil texture for crop growth than the subsoil. When the topsoil is gone, the farmer is left with less productive subsoil. In addition, eroded soil becomes an environmental threat; polluting streams, lakes, and estuaries. In Pennsylvania, sediment is still the number one pollutant of streams and other bodies of water.


The process of planting, growing and harvesting brings about a certain amount of expected erosion that is considered acceptable to bring a crop to the table. The tolerable soil loss level is called “T” by soil conservationists. The major soil management practice that causes soil erosion is tillage, the process of preparing a field for seeding. Erosion due to tillage can be kept in check through methods such as contour farming, contour stripcropping, conservation buffers, grassed waterways, terraces and diversions to meet soil loss tolerance levels.  You will find that soil can still move within a field––for example, in a strip cropping system where sediment from unprotected soil is trapped by a down-slope strip with high residue or permanent cover. In fact, average soil loss on this entire field or system may be at, or below T, where it exceeds T on the tilled strips. But, if soil can be kept covered, erosion can be stopped before it starts and T can be met on the entire field every year.

The way to dramatically reduce soil erosion is the no-till systems approach. This method keeps the soil covered with crop residue, reduces soil disturbance to almost zero, and attempts to maximize the number of days in the year when living roots grow in the soil.

Farmers and researchers have demonstrated that there are many other benefits to the no-till system besides soil savings. For example, a farmer can save significant amounts of time not working the fields prior to planting. That can result in more timely planting as well as increased acreage that can be managed with the same equipment and labor force. The efficiency of field operations will also increase because the farmer can often meet soil conservation requirements in a no-till system without adding as many conservation practices. Finally, the costs of producing a crop are ,decreased by excluding tillage machinery expenses.

Soil will improve over time in a no-till system through increased organic matter. Soil structure and water infiltration will improve in a no-till system through the slow, but continuous decomposition of crop residue and roots and the high activity of living organisms creating a permanent macro-pore system in the soil. Due to this high biological activity in  no-till, soil compaction can be minimized.Finally, there are other environmental benefits of a no-till system that extend beyond the farm––cleaner air and streams and increased groundwater recharge.

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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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GPS Guidance and Automated Steering Renew Interest In Precision Farming Techniques

Since the mid-1990s, the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation of 24 satellites orbiting 10,800 miles (17,500km) above Earth has caught the attention of farmers and urban dwellers worldwide.  GPS technology delivers a range of benefits to growers. As global markets become  more competitive and an increasingly populated world  reduces available farm land, GPS guidance is now  being relied upon to drive productivity and efficiencies  in agriculture—from ground preparation to fertilizer application, planting, spraying and harvesting.

The round-about path of precision agriculture

Widespread commercial trials of GPS-based precision  farming began in the mid-1900s. Initially, the focus was on site-specific techniques, where definite locations in the field were mapped for yield and then treated variably with farm inputs such as seed, fertilizer, lime and crop protection treatment. The initial aim of precision farming was to increase farm profitability by using variable rates of farm inputs to increase yield and lower input costs. But with complex biological systems, widely differing farm management practices and erratic weather—among many other variables—this goal was difficult to achieve. Although some growers could show measurable benefits, many others were unable to realize any such gains that could be detected by their agronomic systems and management style.

This lack of predictability greatly hindered the adoption of site-specific precision agriculture, which had made its debut in the late 1980s.

Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) data. For example, in the late 1990s, variable rate technology (VRT) was used to manage soil fertility—mainly N, P, K and lime—on nearly 18 percent of U.S. planted corn area. However, ARMS data indicate that this rate was less than 10 percent of corn planted in 2001, and even lower on soybeans.

As the definitive 2005 Purdue University study cited above notes: “Worldwide, the adoption of precision agriculture technology has been slower and more localized than many analysts in the 1990s expected. In addition, the study includes these relevant facts:

• Yield monitor adoption: In 2000, the U.S. had about 134 yield monitors per million acres (417,500 hectares) of grain or oilseed crops—or about one yield monitor per 7,500 acres (3,000 hectares).  About 37 percent of these yield monitors were being used in conjunction with GPS.

• Precision agriculture usage: In 2001 (the latest year for which these types of ARMS data are  available), the percentage of U.S. corn on which precision agriculture technologies were used  included: Yield monitor – 36.5%,  Yield map (yield monitor w/GPS) – 13.7%, Geo-referenced soil map – 25.0 %, Remotely-sensed (e.g. satellite) 3.4%.

• Pesticide VRT increasing: Variable rate  technology for crop protection chemicals appears  to be on the upswing, although overall adoption  rates are still low (1–3 percent of acres treated), based on most-recent ARMS data.

• Nitrogen VRT promising: The most commercially viable on-the-go technologies for crop production at present focus largely on varying nitrogen fertilizer application rates within fields (as opposed  to phosphorus or potash).

• Economic returns from GPS systems are being measured and proved: A separate 2002 study of GPS auto guidance concludes, in part, “ DGPS auto guidance will be profitable for a substantial group of Corn Belt farmers in the next few years. This will primarily be growers who are now farming as many acres as they can with a given set of equipment. The initial benefit for many growers will come from being able to expand farm size with the same equipment set. A $15,000 investment in DGPS auto guidance is a relatively inexpensive way to expand equipment capacity by several hundred acres.”

• Especially significant: Overall, the costs of information technology hardware and software are continually declining as the productivity of such technology is increasing.

Rapid Adoption of GPS Guidance and Automated Steering

In contrast to variable rate technology, between 1999  and 2006 extremely rapid GPS-driven technology  adoption took hold as demand soared for GPS-based  guidance and equipment automation (or automated steering) systems. Massive adoptionof various GPS  systems to help guide and automatically steer farm  machinery and implements—often to sub-inch  levels—is becoming a technological and social  phenomenon.

The rapid adoption of these GPS systems is being driven by various factors, including the following:

• Tangible payback that customers receive from  their GPS-based guidance systems, including  improved in-field productivity, reduced crop inputs such as fuel, fertilizer and chemicals, reduced  operator fatigue, and the ability to operate machinery longer hours.

• Simple installation and operation.

• Lower cost of guidance technology—noted previously. As with most new technology, especially electronics, the cost of GPS systems continues to decrease.

Thousands of growers operating GPS guidance systems often report tangible benefits after the first few days of using their systems. As a result, more users are indicating interest in trying other aspects of precision agriculture. This phenomenon is generating a surge of interest in site-specific technologies such as yield monitoring and mapping, precision placement and rate control of crop inputs. Top managers and commercial applicators are also adopting data management systems that provide improved field record keeping with the aid of in-cab computers and data loggers. Such systems also fill a significant need for application mapping, accompanied by “proof of performance” data to meet increasingly stringent legal and environmental demands.

As a result, it now appears that the greatest opportunity to expand precision agriculture as originally conceived is to better inform and educate growers on the benefits of GPS-guidance systems.

Once growers can actually measure the value returned by their GPS guidance or automated steering systems—in gallons of fuel saved, hours of reduced labor, additional acres covered per day, or dollars of additional grain, cotton, potatoes or peanuts sold—they feel comfortable about using these systems to further reduce costs and increase income. In other words, the satisfaction and confidence gained from a GPS-based guidance system makes it relatively easy for many growers to upgrade hardware and/or software in order to achieve more automation of their farming operation—all from within the cab.

Interestingly, GPS-based guidance systems often elicit multi-sensory responses from those who purchase and/or operate them: Such systems not only make it possible for managers to see economic returns on their equipment investment, they also make many growers feel as if they are in better operational and economic control of their operation than ever before.

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From GPS to GNSS


Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are satellite-based  navigation systems that utilize a network of earth orbiting satellites. GPS operates well under any weather condition  and does not require a subscription fee. GPS is a crucial component of precision agriculture by providing precise  location information with very high repeatability. In recent years, GPS have improved in their level of  performance and functionality in part because new GPS receivers can track satellites not only from the 32 NAVSTAR  satellites of the United States but also from the Russian  GLONASS (approximately 24 satellites) systems. These high-accuracy navigation and positioning technologies are  categorized as a GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System).

We anticipate that even higher levels of performance will be  achieved when the Galileo satellite constellation (European Union) becomes available in 2014 with an initial operating  capacity of 18 satellites and expanding to 30 satellites by the year 2020. The changing technology motivates the need for  precise definitions.

It is clear that GPS will continue to have a remarkable impact on production agriculture. Vehicle guidance or automatic steering control has been the most commonly adopted GPS technology among growers in the last five years. Every year new and improved navigation systems become available with a range of precision capacities to fit most mechanical operations and with new functional capabilities. This publication describes the latest trends in GPS technology and elaborates on topics of extra functionality such as variable rate application, land leveling, and yield monitoring; all are now available from the cab mounted display interface. Key operational parameters of GPS receivers

Important operational parameters of GPS receivers include accuracy, correction service, and hardware selection. These technical aspects are explained in detail by our earlier publications (Andrade-Sanchez and Heun (2010 and 2011)) AZ1558 January 2012 with particular emphasis in application in Arizona. The user must carefully select between multiple options in order to obtain satisfactory performance when implementing this technology in mechanized operations.

Accuracy. GPS receivers are built to achieve certain accuracy levels depending on their internal components, enabled communication protocols, and unlocked capabilities in firmware. Accuracy is perhaps the single most important factor; therefore it is worth checking the manufacturer’s claims on pass-to-pass and year-to-year accuracy. Remember that GPS costs are related to their accuracy levels, so it pays to do a careful analysis of accuracy needs in your farm.

Differential Correction. This is an essential function of modern GPS receivers that is needed to obtain adequate levels of accuracy for machine applications. Most agricultural applications require sub-meter (less than 3 ft) pass-to-pass accuracy, but very often accuracy is needed as close as a few inches and even at sub-inch level. Correction services in the U.S. such as Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) are available free of charge. Private firms such as OMNI-Star and John Deere provide excellent services to subscribing clients by charging fees according to the accuracy levels.

When selecting a particular GPS receiver, it is important to consider whether it comes loaded with WAAS or OMNIStar capabilities, and to confirm that the receiver can be upgraded to perform at higher levels of accuracy (RTK).

Real-time kinematics (RTK) is the most accurate GPS  correction system used in agricultural applications. Growers using RTK GPS need access to a ground base station through radio link. Users can choose to buy their own base station or subscribe to a local network of RTK signal correction stations. Subscribing to an existing station makes good economic sense if it is available in the area. Both options are very common in Arizona and in the near future we expect that more will become available. The Department of

Transportation (DOT) is currently working in some states to provide wide-range coverage of RTK-level correction signals  through their Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) system. There is much potential of widespread use of RTK correction under the CORS infrastructure. A model of application of CORS to agriculture has been tested in the  state of Alabama (Winstead et al., 2009). Private providers are testing the delivery of correction signals through cellphone modems.Hardware Selection. One aspect often ignored is the selection of the external antenna that has to match the capabilities of the receiver. Newly released integrated GPS systems require dual-frequency antennas to track L1 and L2C satellite signals.

Enhanced GNSS systems

One way to present the improvement of these GNSS systems over GPS alone is to compare the level of dilution of precision (DOP) over the course of a day between the systems. DOP is a dynamic parameter that is affected by changes in satellite number and geometry with major implications for vehicle navigation. Higher DOP values translate to higher uncertainty of positioning and can result in agricultural operation down-time and lower productivity when auto-guidance is required for an operation.

Integrated Systems

The advances in computer hardware/software of the last two decades are evident in the design of new agricultural machines in which some mechanical controls have been replaced with computer-controlled systems of enhanced functionality. Electronic systems and computer displays are now a common scene in the cab of the tractor/sprayer or other power unit used in agriculture. Earlier versions of these displays were designed as to perform a single operation or series of operations of the same kind; this is the case for rate controllers for spraying systems, and early auto-steer displays. New versions of computer displays are capable of performing multiple functions from the same interface and reduces cab clutter. These integrated systems are the latest in off-the-shelf technology for precision agriculture.

Multiple active windows enhance operation. Video cameras can be connected for better view and safe monitoring of equipment operation through live video. Active screens can be recorded and saved as screen-shots in electronic image formats such as PNG (portable network graphics).

Operating system. Upgradeable. Menu interface is available in multiple languages.

Multi-function. State-of-the-art computer processors allow these displays to handle all levels of navigation (steering control); application of multiple products and variable-rate of a single product; seeding rate control; yield monitoring; vertical position control for bucket blades performing landleveling, etc. Input/Output serial ports allow connection with the hardware required in each application. After the job is completed, these systems can generate job reports and export them in pdf format to maintain records of input utilization, field productivity, etc.

Integrated GPS receivers. These GPS receivers use double frequency antennae to link LANDSAT and GLONASS satellites. Some of them have dual receivers to activate position monitoring of the implement.

USB. For uploading of operating system upgrades, and shape files (SHP) for navigation A-B lines and input prescription files. These ports allow downloading of yield, machine performance data, maps of as-applied inputs, error messages, screen-shots, etc.

External communications. Through radio and/or modem, this enables over-the-air data transmission and GPS signal correction. These systems can function as nodes in wireless networks. These displays are ISO-ready, which means that they can function in Virtual Terminal (VT) mode through ISO-11783 (ISO-bus) standard communication protocol to enable universal communication with implements, in particular, planter and sprayer controllers.

Functionality of these integrated systems

Steering control

The level of steering control applicable will depend on the level of work to be done and the machine itself. Light-bar type guidance systems use differential correction level GPS to track the vehicle position and then send signals to arrays of LED’s to help the driver find the track to follow for the particular application. These devices are inexpensive and helpful in some applications where sub-meter accuracy is acceptable. However, they can require just as much of a driver’s attention as traditional methods when a high level of precision positioning is required. If a higher level of accuracy (< 3ft) is needed, a hands-free steering system is in general a better way to go.

Hands-free auto-steering systems are guidance and control systems that take over a machine’s steering system. They allow the driver to place more attention on vehicle/implement performance rather than to driving a straight line. Less expensive systems typically consist of an electric servomotor connected directly to the steering wheel.

Although these steering wheel motor systems work well, they can take up a lot of space on smaller tractors but are often the only choice. If the tractor has a hydraulic steering system (no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and front axle), a solenoid valve can be installed in the hydraulic lines outside of the cab. This tends to be a much cleaner way of tapping into the steering system and works well with the more complex guidance systems. In addition to RTK level GPS, these auto-pilot systems need positioning sensors such as gyroscopes and accelerometers to achieve the highest level of navigation performance. These systems are connected to the computer display to perform their navigation functions.

Variable rate and section control for chemical applications and seed planting

Variable rate technology is at the heart of precision farming technologies because, in contrast to the uniform application, variable-rate functions set the stage for implementation of site-specific management of production inputs. All integrated displays have variable-rate functions based on prescriptions previously loaded. In order to perform variable-rate application functions, these systems need to interpret prescription maps that contain information on the field distribution of application rates. GPS information is used to find the tractor/sprayer location in the field and then a signal is sent to the rate controller,  setting a particular rate. It is important to mention that at this level of hardware integration, these displays send GPS based speed information to the rate controller to adjust the flow of chemical according to travel speed.

Another mode of operation available in some of these integrated displays is variable rate application based on real-time data acquisition of crop conditions. This mode of operation requires serial communication with spectral crop sensors and is particularly challenging because the system needs an algorithm to convert the sensor signal into an application rate. Significant advances have been achieved in this area but crop algorithms are still being developed and tested by the scientific community engaged in sensor-based management.

 Along with variable rate solutions comes section control that is applied to planting and chemical application operations. Detailed information on the use of automatic section control for spinner-spreaders, sprayers, and planters has been described by researchers from Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities (see Fulton et. al., 2010, 2011-a, 2011-b).

In the context of seed planting, section controllers are used to shutoff the delivery of seeds in areas of the field already planted. This section control can be implemented at the level of each individual planter unit or by whole sections by installing electrical or pneumatic clutches on the drive shaft of the planter. On the other hand, section control in applications of liquid chemicals, either sprayed or injected, refers to the ability of the system to shut-off sections of the spraying boom or injection-knife sections in order to avoid overlapping applications. The red line in the map indicates the autopilot function; the input rates on the right indicate the ability of the system to handle this information. In terms of section control, the icon representing the tractor/sprayer shows with green color that only the right section has been enabled while the middle and left sections (in red) are disabled). These functions are simultaneously implemented in the field at  the time of application.

Yield Monitoring

All of the multifunction displays can handle yield monitoring functions. The benefits of system portability become evident since harvest is carried out at the end of the season. In Arizona, the crops with the highest potential for the implementation of yield monitoring technology are cotton and small grains. There are commercially available yield monitoring systems that can be used to retrofit harvest machines. In the case of cotton, yield is determined by measuring the mass flow rate of seed cotton as it travels from the headers to the rear basket. The sensors used for these measurements can be of two types: optical sensors that measure light attenuation caused by the flow of seed cotton, and microwave sensors that use the Doppler effect principle when the energy emitted by these sensors is reflected by the flow of cotton. In the case of small grains, yield monitors measure the impact force of the flow of grain in the grain elevator over a plate instrumented with a force transducer. There is a proportional relationship between the force of impact and the flow of grain.

To obtain yield data of absolute quality, careful calibration of flow sensors should be repeated at least three times during the harvest season. Yield information within the field allows growers to grasp the extent of variability and stimulates a process of determining the factors driving field variability. Based on the analysis of yield data, growers can develop their own improved management strategies to adjust practices that could potentially sustain or increase yield levels and product quality with reduced input.

Land leveling

Now that we have sub-inch accuracy and control in the horizontal plane, what about the vertical plane? With the addition of the GLONASS constellation to the RTK system, elevation positioning is better than ever. Manufacturers such as Trimble, Topcon, and John Deere have integrated land leveling functions into their new tractor displays. Fields can be surveyed, mapped, designed, and leveled entirely from inside the tractor. RTK GPS equipment replaces the external laser leveling systems normally used. A dual antenna system is used to monitor the height of the scraper blade and hydraulic modules are added to control the flow of fluid that sets the blade’s position. This added functionality can eliminate problems associated with gusting winds moving the laser tower.


The integrated systems described in this publication represent the newest development in advanced systems for enhanced functionality of machines in production agriculture. As expected, these systems will keep evolving to improve their performance. Active competition between manufacturers will also result in affordable quality products that will benefit growers in their transition from conventional to more advanced systems. Two operational elements of these computer-display systems that are worth analyzing are their portability, which can be a money-saving attribute when many power units can share at least part of the new components. The other element is that the use of these new displays requires computer skills and therefore workforce training is an essential element of modern farm management systems to enable full utilization of this technology.

This extension bulletin is designed to be of an informative nature, and along with other publications in this series prepared by the Research and Extension Program in Precision Agriculture at the University of Arizona, we expect to help growers make informed decisions as they embark in the implementation of precision farming solutions. It is recommended that growers consult with equipment dealers to obtain specific information on system compatibility, upgrade options, and service.

( Source

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Map- and sensor-based variable-rate application systems: pros and cons

Both map- and sensor-based variable-rate application systems are available to the sitespecific farmer. There are also VRA strategies that incorporate aspects of both sensing and mapping. Each variable-rate application method holds advantages and disadvantages. Strong points of each system are summarized below:

Advantages of Map-Based Variable-Rate Application

• systems are already available for most crop production inputs

• the user has a database that can be useful for a number of management-related activities

• the user can employ multiple sources of information in the process of formulating a  variable-rate application plan

• the user has significant control regarding the function of such systems because of the  involvement in application rate planning

• field travel speeds need not be reduced

Advantages of Sensor-Based Variable Rate Application

• pre-application data analysis time requirements can be eliminated

• sensors produce far higher data resolution than traditional sampling methods

• no time delay between measurement and application with real-time systems

• systems are self-contained

It is important to match the application system with the objectives of the overall site-specific management program in which it will be used. Producers should expect an increasing number of options for both map-based and sensor-based site-specific operations as research and development efforts continue.

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100 Years of CLAAS

Today CLAAS, one of the world’s agricultural machinery manufacturer, celebrates its 100 anniversary. On behalf of our IEASSA team I’d like to congratulate this splendid innovative company and to wish them another 100 years of success and ever-burning inspiration to support agriculture business with the new state-of-art solutions all the world!

You can make a small tour through the company’s history by following this link.


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