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How can Precision Agriculture help smallholder farmers?

Precision Agriculture
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The role that small farms play in securing the food security of the globe today is immense and it is only obvious that with the rapidly increasing population as well as the exhaustion of farmland productivity, this role is expected to rise exponentially in the near future. A 2021 report by UNDP estimates that small farmers account for around 90% of all the farmers in the world. It also mentions that in areas with alarming food-security concerns like Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, a massive 80% of all the food grown comes from small farms. So, there is no denying that small farms are very important for global food security. However, large farms are way more efficient and productive than small farms because they are based on precision-farming techniques.

Precision farming is the utilization of information and technological tools to take wise farming decisions that are backed by accurate data and equipment. Precision farming has the main goal of identifying the optimum type and level of farm inputs. It also suggests the location and time for administering those inputs so as to increase the profitability as well as the environmental sustainability of the farms. The data mostly used in precision farming is the variety of factors within a field that influences farm yield within the farm like soil, topography, water content, weather, etc.

Whenever we read or hear about precision-farming, we’ll most likely see it being used in the case of large farms and the images will contain massive tractors fitted with GPS in large fields, big analytics screens, drones surveying the area, or even applying fertilizers. On the other hand, small farms aren’t often associated with those tools. However, technological progress in the field of precision farming has blurred that boundary and made precision farming affordable and applicable for small farms as well.

Uses of Precision Farming Technologies in Small Farms

Small farms are characterized by their low productivity and high labor inputs. They are also non-resilient against the changing patterns of the market and the climate. The adoption of precision-farming techniques attempts to solve all these problems for small farmers. Common technologies that are used by small farmers are:

Smartphones: The importance of smartphones in making precision farming accessible to small farmers cannot be stressed enough. Smartphones have become one of the most ubiquitous pieces of technology today and this fact has been used to penetrate the foundations of precision-farming in small farmers by making access to data and experts accessible to them. Cloud-based data analytics tools like GeoPard makes precise agronomic decisions accessible to farmers at the tip of their finger.

Satellites: A vital component of precision agriculture is the identification of factors affecting the production of farms along with their variability and we know that satellite imageries provide just that. Small farmers can largely benefit from accessible and reliable agri-solutions like VRA Mapping, Topography analytics, and Crop Monitoring to understand their farms better and make better decisions backed by accurate data.

UAVs: UAVs stand for Unmanned-Aerial-Vehicles and offer one of the most precise data as well as application methods of inputs in precision agriculture. Sensors fitted into the drones obtain real-time imaging of the farm while pay-loads fitted in drones can administer fertilizers precisely across the farm and reduces labor. However, their affordability for small farms is questionable but different incentives and innovative measures are emerging to make their application in small farms economic and viable.

Internet of Things: The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of sensors, data, and objects that are connected and allow for the sharing of information to make informed decisions everywhere. In precision farming for small farmers, the IoT has advanced with the advancement of sensors and their affordability. For example, sensors used to study the soil properties, plant health, weather conditions, and water status all are vital for making small farms productive and sustainable.

How precision farming can help small farms

Precision farming for small farms needs a proper planning before its implementation. A complicated system of precision agriculture can be overwhelming and expensive for small farmers. So application of precision agriculture in small farms should follow an approach that starts with the accumulation and analysis of data to create a site-specific model of precision farming. The several steps to an ideal precision-farming approach in small farms are as follows:

Understand your soil first

Soil is considered the most important factor influencing crop production. So it is only fitting that applying precision farming on small farms should first include understanding the soil of your farm better.

Generally, the physical and chemical properties of the soil are analyzed by sampling and most small farmers take only one sample of their soil by treating their farmland as homogenous. This is one of the key problems that precision farming addresses which is the intra-farm variability of soil.

By using precision-agriculture solutions like Soil data Analytics, even small farmers can conduct grid or systematic sampling by easily obtaining precise sample points. The grids themselves can be layered according to the information obtained from the site. For instance, the size of the grids can be varied according to the value of the crop. Finally, based on the information obtained from the chemical analysis of the soil, small farmers can obtain easily readable visualizations of the soil attributes, and to make it even easier, they can apply different rates of fertilizers on different patches of their land.

Choosing soil sampling and analysis in the initial stages of precision-agriculture adoption by small farmers is important because it is relatively easy and affordable and doesn’t require much knowledge and experience, which is clearly a problem in small farmers of developing countries. Moreover, the results from soil analytics are always promising and make small farmers more welcoming of more precision-farming interventions.

Choosing Small machines for small farm

As the demand for precision-farming tools and equipment is rising, manufacturers are making machines and tools that are designed for small farmers. Small farmers can now find highly specialized tractors, seeders, and weeding machines that are scaled-down, both in size and in cost, to fit the needs of small farmers.

Rely on expert Agri-solution providers

One of the major barriers of precision farming to small farmers is that its cost may not justify its benefits. Large farms, on the other hand, have their own team of experts, tools, machines, and systems to properly implement precision farming. To solve this problem, small farmers can get affordable integrated packages of precision ag solutions tailored for small farmers. Hiring or renting machines and technologies is also a great way to make precision farming more affordable and profitable for small farmers.

Prioritize Sustainability and Environmental-friendliness

Environmental friendliness and sustainability are major goals of using precision agriculture. It is even more so in the case of small farms since most small farms since can increase the market value of the crops, help reach a wider market and increase profitability. The amount of harmful chemical inputs in the form of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides is drastically reduced by applying VRA technologies. For small farms, organic manures can be an excellent option to further amplify the effects.

Consider crop-value and Input-value

The value of your crop as well the value of your input should drive the type and intensity of precision-agriculture application on your farm. Oftentimes, even if the size of your farm is small, the crop that you are producing can be of very high value or the cost of your farm inputs can be very high. In these cases, the size of the farm should not be a barrier to applying precision agriculture since it can make your agribusiness profitable and efficient by either increasing yield or reducing costs.

For example, if you have a small farm that has a high input value in the form of irrigation, applying soil-moisture sensors on your farm or analyzing your soil through soil analytics can translate into a considerable saving in irrigation costs for your farm. This benefit, compounded over time can yield greater profitability.

High crop value in the form of specialty crops like orchard crops or vegetables will have a high-crop value and even if your orchard or your garden is small in size, the cost of precision agriculture can be easily justifiable with the increased yield in those crops.

Small farms around the world are facing the consequences of the changing economy, changing climate, and unsustainable patterns of farming over the years. The application of precision farming in small farms can be a viable solution to these problems. The barriers to precision farming for small farmers include affordability, data availability, technological complexity, and lack of inputs. These barriers are being torn down by the rapid technological advancements in the field of precision agriculture and also by the accessibility to integrated, holistic, and easy-to-use agri-tech solutions like GeoPard.

To conclude, the implementation of precision agriculture in small farms should follow a designated and site-specific approach like the one mentioned above and should be targeted towards small farms’ profitability as well as environmental friendliness and sustainability. The resources of small farms are limited and precision farming ensures that their use is optimized to obtain the maximum yield.

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