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. With the aim to get better farming results, not only money wise but also in terms of ecological and societal benefits. In 2024, data, task maps and others may get CAP-subsidy when applied.
Last October, the European Commission and the Dutch government came to an agreement on the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for greening agriculture. This plan contains how The Netherlands will apply the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) in 2023 – 2027. In total 4.7 billion euro is involved. In the new NSP, the Netherlands is strongly committed to reimbursements for social services and the urgent improvement of water and soil quality, and biodiversity. Direct payments, whereby in last years farmers received a fixed amount per hectare of land in the current CAP, will be reduced in the coming years in favour of the greening transition.
The NSP holds a variety of subsidies for actions, innovations and target groups. Farmers can now choose from 22 eco-activities in the NSP, such as buffer strips, protein and green manure crops in cropping schemes, implementation of specific landscape elements on farmland, and specific (biological) crop management activities. Precision farming will be added to the eco-activities in 2024, but specific details are still to be given. Nevertheless, in this way investment in data, technologies and advisory models for precision agriculture applications become profitable more easily. Small and medium size farms have concerns about the return of the investments for their enterprises. Precision farming is likely to contribute significantly to reduction of costs of inputs and seeds, pesticides, fertilizers and water, but on small and medium size the investment costs in data, technology and know-how may outweigh the financial benefits. CAP-subsidies on acquisition of data, sensors, smart implements, and crop management task maps will then help to solve the gap, and at same time contribute to a societal benefit.
In the Dutch PA project NPPL, precision farming technology present on the farm of a participant was used to study costs and benefits of farming of ca. 10 ha field at 10 m2 grid level. The farmer was able to bring together input and output data of four years of cropping on that field. The data were taken from the Farm Management Information system (FMIS) and yield monitoring systems on harvest machines. The crops on the field were cereals, potato, onion and sugar beet. The first figure shows the field in autumn 2022 just after emergence of the winter wheat.
The financial return map in euro’s made for the field is shown in the other figure. Based on the four years of data on inputs and outputs, grids with a positive, zero or negative return become evident. The strip next to the trees is given a negative return; see the line of red dots on the south side of the field. Red means a negative financial return. The tree row causes such yield reduction that no return is made on the inputs. A few more parts dots are seen on the field. They are mostly related to the headlands. This is as expected too, yet spatial error in yield map data may play a role here. But anyway, these kind of maps help farmers to understand where best resource use efficiency and financial return is made on an arable field. With the information, the strip next to the trees is now even more likely to be assigned to a buffer zone with natural herbs and fauna. And a CAP-subsidy as part of eco-regulation helps, making both the farmer and nature happy. A nice example of how precision agriculture helps greening agriculture. ●
Dr. Ir. Corné Kempenaar
Wageningen University & Research, and Aeres University of Applied Sciences
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