Precision farming – climate smart cultivation with smart technology
At Lantmännen, we work to increase precision farming in Swedish agriculture. Precision farming is about putting right product in the right place at the right time. By taking the variations in the field into account, the efforts are optimized for each square meter. This creates conditions for higher yields of the right quality and leads to a more climate-smart cultivation with lower environmental impact.
A field often has large variations
It can be difficult to see with the naked eye, but the conditions of a single crop can vary greatly within the same field. The differences can be derived from a wide range of conditions, such as varying soil types, how well drained the soil is, nutrients in the soil and pH value. Thus, there are many factors that together affect the harvest and what efforts that will be required. To fend off the variation, and utilize each part of the field's maximum capacity, one can use what we call precision farming – that is putting the right product in the right place and at the right time with the best possible precision.
The right product
Examples of the right product are plant nutrients with the right content and distribution of the nutrients that a specific crop and field needs. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are elements that the crop needs, but in different amounts in the different parts of the field. Other examples of the right product are seeds, where it is important to choose the right variety for the field it is intended to be grown on and based on what it is intended to be used for. At Lantmännen, for example, we have as many as 15 different varieties of wheat that are grown to be used for bread and pastries in bakeries!
The right place
It is also important to put just the right amount of the right product in just the right place. To succeed, not only agrarian knowledge of the crop and the fieldn is needed, but also technology that makes precision possible. A GPS is the basic tool in precision farming. It tells the tractor where in the field it is. Going back to the example of plant nutrients above, with the help of computer programs we can create maps of the field (control files) that, based on given soil data, say exactly how much nutrients are to be released in different parts of the field. We then import these control files to the tractor's computer, which in turn tells the fertilizer spreader how much nutrients it should spend on each square meter. Another smart way to control the nutrient supply is to put a sensor on the roof of the tractor that scans the crop, quickly calculates the optimal yield, and then tells the fertilizer spreader how much fertilizer it should spread. With this technology, we ensure that all nutrients end up in the right place and can be absorbed by the crop, so that no excess leaks into soil and water. We also optimize the quantities so that we only use exactly the amount that the crop needs, which leads to increased productivity and profitability for the grower.
On the left side, the image shows a map of a field's phosphorus content. On the right side, the image shows a control file with varied phosphorus input for the same field where dark blue marks a higher phosphorus yield.
Finally, it is important to make your efforts at the right time and here too there are technical tools, including weather stations, that register various parameters that the farmer can look at before making a decision. But when it comes to timing, the agrarian knowledge is so far crucial, where the farmer's skills and experience are needed to hit the right time.
Tractor with a nitrogen sensor on the roof that tells the blue manure spreader how much fertilizer the crop should receive.