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At Large and Small Scales, Agriculture Is A High-Tech Business
Precision agriculture is the use of data and technology to increase the productivity of crops, livestock and aquaculture by applying inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation water, labor and machine hours) in precise amounts and with maximum effectiveness.
Accelerating access to new technologies, data and precision systems will help farmers of all scales close their productivity gaps and manage their natural resource base to conserve soil and water.
On commercial-scale farms, precision agriculture (also known as “site-specific farming”) combines global positioning systems (GPS) with geographic information systems (GIS). These applications are used for farm planning, field mapping, soil sampling, machine guidance, variable rate applications and yield mapping. They rely on farm machinery platforms, tractor-based computers that integrate data collected from sensors with GPS time and position reference systems.
Precision agriculture models geared towards the needs of small and medium-scale farmers are also emerging, but many farmers lack the resources to access these new technologies and services.
John Deere is helping emerging farmers in India and Africa access agricultural machinery (small tractors between 36–75 horsepower), farm equipment and precision technology through the local agrodealers and agricultural resource centers.
Farmers gain access to finance through partnerships with local banks that offer special solutions to meet their needs. Reliable service from dealers keeps the equipment in operation and ongoing training is provided in business skills, agronomy and machinery operation and maintenance.
Broadband Access Is Essential
To take advantage of precision agriculture technology, farmers need high-speed broadband and mobile cellular services throughout their farms, not just in their homes. Unfortunately, accessing reliable, affordable broadband and cellular services remains a challenge for farmers around the world.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Communications Commission are funding the extension of broadband services to communities in rural America. More investment is needed to ensure that producers have consistent connectivity throughout their farms or ranches which can span thousands of acres and are far removed from towns and cities where broadband service is more reliable.
Broadband access is unaffordable or non-existent for nearly half the world’s population, and many of those who cannot access broadband live in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. For farmers to take advantage of information and communications technology (ICT) in agriculture or gain access to more precision agriculture opportunities, broadband must become more available and affordable.
While telecommunications network operators in Africa are deploying fiber-based, high-speed broadband infrastructure, the cost of getting it to rural areas is prohibitive; in addition, many rural areas lack utility power.
One way to solve the problem is to use wireless radio links, which can be used for “last mile” access or even longer distance connections. Many new wireless devices can leverage the so-called TV white spaces spectrum (TVWS) operating on UHF frequencies.
In Kenya, an innovative solution known as the Mawingu Project connects rural communities with affordable, high-speed, solar-powered broadband. The Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) issued Microsoft East Africa a trial authorization to use TVWS technologies to deploy affordable high-speed broadband, delivered through solar-powered internet kiosks, or “solar cybers,” to rural communities. The Mawingu Project does not charge communities for the service, so libraries, schools, farms and local government offices can access the internet and charge wireless devices for free.
Increasing investments in precision technologies and broadband infrastructures would enable producers around the world to access timely market information, protect their natural resources, adapt to climate change, monitor their compliance to environmental regulations and document their sustainability claims for buyers and consumers.