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Yield monitoring in Precision Agriculture: Importance and Basic Components

Yield monitoring and mapping
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Modern agriculture and farming systems are a result of thousands of years of traditional knowledge largely supported by the rapid advancements in science and technology in recent centuries. The demand for food from the ever-increasing human population keeps on rising every year while critical issues like global warming and climate change threaten the entire sustainability of the current agricultural system. Consequently, the role of technology has never been so bigger in optimizing agricultural production.
In such context, yield monitoring and mapping are considered by many as the most valuable invention that has happened in farming recently. In this article, we’re going to understand yield-mapping and yield-monitoring and their potential in making our farms more efficient and productive.

What is yield mapping?

Initially introduced in the early 1990s, yield mapping is a precision-agriculture tool that involves the process of collecting georeferenced data about the different levels of yield as well as the characteristics like moisture-content, in different parts of the same field. During harvesting, the harvester measures these parameters using several sensors, and the measurement along with the location where the measurement was taken is recorded using geo-spatial tools. This information is used to generate a map which makes it easier for visualization by the farmers.

Furthermore, the single measurements of yield characteristics are then classified on specific zones or ranges using different colors to produce a range map or a zone classified map. The number of such classifications can be set according to the needs of the farm. For example, for generating a yield map of a field of corn that has an average production of 250 bushels per acre, classifying the map into areas each having yield of 25 bushels per acre might be appropriate. However, this depends on the level of precision required and the technology available. Standard yield maps have 5-7 color zones, which increase with increasing requirements in precision.

What are the basic components of a yield mapping or yield monitoring system?

The application of yield mapping or yield monitoring in farmlands lets farmers optimize their production by directing inputs to specific areas within the farms that need them the most. However, the working mechanism behind yield mapping or yield-monitoring requires several essential components integrated into a combined system to generate real-time and highly accurate data and maps. While the components may vary depending upon the scale of the farm and the type of the crops being monitored, the basic components of the more common grain yield-mapping system include:

  • Grain flow-sensor: A grain flow-sensor fitted on the harvester is used to determine the actual quantity of grain being harvested as the harvester moves across the field in real-time.
  • Grain moisture-sensor: Grain moisture-sensors are also included in the grain combines that measure the capacitance of the grain. This is done to offset the variations in grains caused by environmental factors like rain, temperature, etc.
  • Ground speed-sensor: It is important to measure the speed of the combined harvester for accurate results. This can be done by using either GPS-based information or an actual ground speed sensor that measures speed from wheel rotation.
  • GPS-receiver: For geo-coding the measurement made by other sensors, a GPS-receiver is fitted on the grain combine which constantly gives locations to each measurement taken.
  • Yield-monitor display: It is the component that is fitted inside the cab of the harvesters where the operator/farmer is located. This provides him/her with real-time processed data on a display screen that is being continuously generated by several sensors.

    What is the role of yield monitoring in precision agriculture?

Precision agriculture is the use of technology and data in farming operations so as to determine the type of farm inputs, the level/amount of those inputs, and the precise location within the farm where those inputs should be applied in order to reduce costs, increase productivity and maximize efficiency.

Although yield monitors are being used in agriculture for almost three decades, yield monitoring is only rapidly starting to form an important part of precision-agricultural applications today. Yield monitoring is used in precision agriculture because it helps to identify measure and describe the intra-field variability within a cropping system which is exactly what forms the basis of the concept of precision agriculture.

The role of yield monitoring in precision agriculture

The yield monitoring provides variable data within a single field. This data is generated as a result of a complex interaction between several factors occurring within a farm like a farm management methods, environmental factors, and climatic factors. As a result, this data becomes a crucial asset when attempting to understand the farm for the application of other precision agricultural tools.

However, there are some hindrances when using the yield monitoring data in the overall precision agriculture systems. One such major hindrance is the maximum temporal variability among the yield data that occurs within the same crop cycle as well on crops from different years. This variability can be attributed to the complex interaction among several factors mentioned earlier. Moreover, the time when the measurements were taken can also alter the yield data and give an incomplete, if the not inaccurate representation of the farmland productivity. Besides these, wrongful calibration or system errors are other issues associated with using this data for precision agriculture. So, there are a few things that must be ensured while using yield monitoring data for precision agricultural systems:

  • For instance, the yield monitoring data for a single year cannot be used for making precision-farming interventions for another year. Thus, yield data of multiple years must be made available in order to make an accurate and reliable temporal analysis that can be implemented in the field.
  • Furthermore, yield monitoring operations or harvesting operations should be pre-planned and scheduled so as to minimize temporal variability, and the hardware, as well as the software components, should be optimized, well-calibrated and improved.
  • Finally, several studies have shown the immense potential of using within-field variability in yield data in making better agronomic decisions by combining it with precision agriculture tools.

What are the benefits of yield mapping?

There are several benefits associated with the application of yield monitoring to generate a yield map of a farm. However, all of the benefits boil down to the fact that yield mapping provides farmers and farmland managers with valuable information in the form of maps that help them understand the high and low production areas of their farms. This allows them to attribute the level of production to numerous causes so that low production areas can be improved and high production areas can be sustained. In other words, this information can be beneficial to make decisions about:

Soil tillage: Both lack of tillage and excessive tillage can reduce the production of a farm and this can occur on small patches on large farms, especially if a systematic tillage operation was not carried out. Identifying these areas is critical in ensuring a better tillage operation in the next cycle.
Fertilizer Recommendations: VRF (Variable Rate Fertilization) is usually carried out by taking soil samples and soil data analytics. Yield maps can also be referred to for recommending fertilizations because it accounts for the within-field variability. However, the best results with be achieved if they both are used in combination.

Irrigation Requirements: One of the major components of yield monitoring is moisture content. As a result, yield maps are a valuable asset to making irrigation plans. For instance, low production areas in a yield map might be because of high or low irrigation in the present crop cycle. This information is necessary to identify the optimum irrigation level.

Crop Rotation: Yield mapping can give an idea of the appropriate crop rotation as a whole. By referring to yield data generated over the past at different times of the harvesting period, the exact harvest time that yields the most crops can be pinpointed.

Besides collecting yield data, some other benefits of yield-mapping are as follows:

  • Financial Benefits: Crop yield maps and yield data are increasingly being used as documentation for securing finances in the form of bank loans, renting, etc. They are used to determine the overall value of the crop.
  • Testing new products: In order to test a new product or a crop, the previous yield maps first allow farmers to make educated decisions while introducing it in the field and the yield map obtained afterward gives an accurate indication of the results and the crop’s potentials.
  • Farm-based scientific research: In many scientific types of research carried out today on agricultural farms, yield maps are a major part of the scientific process. The data generated in the yield map is analyzed statistically to carry out experimentation or to test out the hypothesis that leads to scientific progress in the field of agriculture.

To sum up, yield mapping of a farm provides insights of great significance to the farmer about his farm which can be used to make educated and calculated decisions to increase the overall productivity, sustainability, and profitability of the farm in many ways. However, as mentioned earlier, a single-year yield map can give a wrong impression of the actual nature of the field, and thus a systematic application of the yield mapping and monitoring process is important that helps to generate a reliable and accurate multi-year yield map. The yield map thus produced can either be for a single crop cycle or multi-crop cycles with several crop rotations.

Who can help with yield mapping?

Evidently, yield monitoring can help farmers be better at farming. These powerful tools or processes are obtained by combining software and hardware from varied technological fields like geo-informatics, sensors, digital cartography, Internet of things (IoT), processing, and analytics. While it might be overwhelming to understand the details of all the components to farmers, the end-user experience of the results can be easily visualized and understood by all. However, because of the level of precision that is required, it is important to rely on a highly capable service provider like GeoPard.

GeoPard offers a dedicated agri-solution named Yield Data that lets farmers construct field management zones on maps. It analyzes your yield data and converts it into variable-rate application maps like VRF maps for you. As mentioned earlier, it has an integrated soil sampling planning feature that makes the results more precise. Backed by a powerful processing capability, GeoPard lets you perform multi-layer analysis and visualize several attributes of the yield data like moisture, mass, volume, fuel consumption, speed, and so on. A cloud-based platform ensures that your data will never be compromised or lost which is vital to performing multiyear yield mapping of your farm.

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