Precision farming technology is a plantation management strategy that uses modern instruments for agronomic interventions, in compliance with the actual plantation needs and with the biochemical and physical characteristics of the soil.
That is what the concept of agriculture 4.0 refers to, and this is why the term agritech is increasingly being used. This term refers to the technologies that are taking hold in agriculture, which include:
The future of agriculture and the whole agri-food supply chain will use these technologies to make targeted decisions and to transparently track all the stages of processing in full compliance with environmental sustainability.
What is precision farming and what it is for
Precision farming requires a variety of elements, including: the exact identification of terrain limits on which to operate, the use of ground sensors, drones or satellite imagery that allow to monitor and measure data and software that can handle information from different devices that can provide simple responses based on captured data.
To give a concrete example, the sensors installed on the combine harvesters can be considered. Thanks to these sensors it is possible to know precisely which are the areas that produce the most and which produce the less. The data you get can be used to monitor the terrain and to understand where you need to intervene to increase the productivity without wasting resources and safeguarding the environmental balance at the same time.
Among the latest technological tools used in recent years to monitor crops there are definitely drones, both in vertical flight and with planar structure.
Other systems such as GPS can avoid human error. Tractors, for example, have an overlap margin of 8-10% and this error can be reduced with the RTK signal up to 2 cm. In this way it is possible to reduce machine hours and reduce the use of pesticides. There are some Italian companies that attest to a saving of 77 euros per hectare per year, in addition to having increased production.
The benefits of precision farming for small businesses
Some people think that precision farming brings benefits only to large producers with large cultivated areas. Actually, this approach based on data monitoring and analysis can also benefit small producers by helping them optimise their cultivated area, reducing the cost of pesticides and increasing production in an environmentally sustainable way.
The initial costs of acquiring the appropriate equipment can be recovered within a few years. Moreover, by participating to specific calls it is possible to have subsidised loans and grants funding.
Precision farming is a technological and methodological approach that can be replicated in other sectors such as zootechnics.
With the introduction of monitoring technologies such as ruminometers and pedometers, both the quantities of food taken by animals and their movements can be measured. Milking robots allow cows to decide when it is the right time to be milked and this happens automatically. Robots also check the quality of the milk that is discarded if not suitable for consumption.
The results are clear: cows are less stressed and produce more milk. Increasing animal welfare is becoming an increasingly important goal for zootechny companies.
Precision farming in Italy, data and trends
In the years from 2008 to 2018, Italian agriculture has evolved, bringing to achieve its permanent leadership in Europe. According to Eurostat data, Italian agriculture has an estimated value of 32.2 billion euros, ahead of France (32.1 billion), Spain (30.2 billion) and Germany (16.8 billion).
Although the distance from France is very small, it must be considered that among all European countries Italy pays 5 billion of production contributions, compared with 8.2 billion in France, 6.7 billion in Germany and 5.7 billion in Spain.
Even if our country’s agriculture receives less subsidies, it is still a very competitive sector. This is also due to the excellences that occupy a major place within the European Union, especially thanks to:
The agritech market in Italy in 2019 reached 450 million euros, an increase of 22% compared to last year. The analysis compiled by the Smart Agrifood Observatory of the School of Management of the Polytechnic University of Milan shows that the majority of investments relate to monitoring and control systems (39%), management software (20%), connected machinery (14%), remote monitoring systems (10%), mapping (9%) decision support (5%).
Among monitoring and control systems, blockchain is the most used solution (43%), followed by: QR code (41%), mobile app (36%), data analytics (34%), IoT (30%) And Cloud (27%).
Precision agriculture is therefore a booming environment that can bring about positive changes, from greater animal welfare to better use of resources.