Precision agriculture (PA) is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in potatoes and other crops. By nature, it is data-driven, and ultimately a digital copy of a farm. As-applied maps will become more important for farmers.
Variable rate application (VRA) has become possible with precision agriculture technology, and made site specific optimization of treatments on agricultural fields possible. In combination with decision support models for need and best timing of treatments, VRA reduces the use/input of seeds, agro-chemicals (pesticides and nutrients), water and energy significantly compared to flat rates per field. For this reason, VRAs are considered for inclusion as eco-activities in National Strategic Plans (NSP) for greening EU agriculture, knowing that the environment will benefit from them.
To do a VRA, a farmer needs data on spatial and temporal variation of soil, crop, climate and management, a decision support model and a smart machine prepared for site specific dosing. Data plus model are used to make dosing, task and as-applied maps. A dosing map is a digital file containing data on when and where which amount of the input is needed. A machine task map is a translation of the dosing map, containing the instructions for the machine to do VRA within the technical boundaries of the machine. An as-applied map is the log file of the machine on what was actually applied when and where.
Belgium already defined VRA of lime on agricultural fields as an eco-activity in 2022, together with section control of sprayers. The Netherlands now considers VRA of crop protection products, fertilizers and water as eco-activities in here NSP in 2024. Other EU countries are also exploring opportunities for VRA. The question is how to define the VRA applications and how to monitor or check on compliance. For the latter, as-applied maps come into play.
Most smart machines, e.g. planters, sprayers, spreaders and irrigators, can be controlled by task maps made by the operator or advisors. However, they are still poor on returning as-applied maps for use by the farmer, farm advisor or contractor. We can say that the manufacturers did not finish the last mile. Arguments are that it takes extra investment in ICT to deliver as-applied maps while nobody asks for them. This is true to some extent, indeed few farmers where asking, but conditions changed.
With VRA’s in NSPs, the request for as-applied maps grows. Farmers that claim to have applied VRA, can proof this with as-applied maps, even for on-the-go applications. This creates a new market for as-applied maps. Farmers will benefit within NSPs if they can show as-applied maps to the agencies that monitor compliance. And contractors can deliver an extra as-applied map service to farmers they work for, benefitting too. This all may trigger machine companies to walk the last mile and make delivery of as-applied maps to end users more easily, in a format that these maps can be uploaded into the farm management information system and data space of the farm easily for precision farming and accounting to chain partners and authorities. ●
Dr. Ir. Corné Kempenaar
Wageningen University & Research, and Aeres University of Applied Sciences
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