DEFINING PRECISION AGRICULTURE
By Steve Maxwell
We hear it all of the time when we meet a new customer, attending an industry show, or answering questions on a discussion panel, "You all are a drone company, right?" It's then that we smile and realize what a great opportunity we have to let them know what Precision Agriculture means.
Precision ag, smart farming, or precision farming (all terms used) is everything that helps a farmer reduce time, save money, and increase production and profitability while preserving our natural resources. A farmer may use a drone, a GPS guided tractor, soil samples, and moisture sensors to help make more informed decisions – all resulting in more precise and sustainable farming methods.
Our mantra has always been to "help the farmer, or growing operation reach their full potential." So when we started our packaging company in 2004, we made sure that all farmers, small or large scale, could concentrate on farming rather than their packaging. We discovered there was an extreme amount of time and energy involved in sourcing, storing, shipping, and forecasting packaging for each season. It was a monstrous task for them while trying to manage their fields and employees during harvest time. We made sure that we took the hard work out of it for them so they could concentrate on their business. Highland Precision Ag was formed in 2014 with the very same intention—to give them an easy button!
Drones were just the beginning
While we did begin with drones to capture imagery, we soon realized that using planes and satellites were a quicker way to get data. In addition, we made sure that we had experts to help analyze that data. It was no use to hand images over to a farmer who didn't understand them. By being out in the fields with boots on the ground as we say, and speaking to the growers, it was apparent there was a need for software for this data. Organizing data, keeping records, prescribing applications, providing on-site analysis, it was all needed to make better decisions. We also learned that farmers wanted to do it from their devices because quite often, a cell phone and the front seat of their truck serve as an office. We created Highland Hub, a web-based application that manages farm operations and data in a dashboard format. Imagery, lab sample results and analysis, irrigation monitoring, food safety records, labor records, work orders, herbicide application database – are just some of what the Hub handles.
Improving food safety methods
While precision ag methods contribute to a farm's sustainability goals, a superior food safety program is just as vital to a farm's environmental impact. If you walk into any farm operation, the binders span the length of the hallways and the paperwork is piled high. New regulations keep coming and most growers need more than one person to handle it daily. By using precision ag methods to manage food safety, farmers are improving water quality, creating less food waste, and guarding against soil contamination. By enabling a digital food safety management practice, farmers solve two critical issues; 1) it ensures that the farm is practicing a daily discipline 2) it provides transparency for the customer and retailer. Farmers who have a strong food safety program not only enjoy the benefits of streamlined and efficient audits, they will achieve accurate and consistent results, which is better and safer for everyone.
What's next in precision ag
On the horizon is the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI). This advanced technology is predictive based on farmer data and allows farmers to better understand what's happening in their fields. AI will provide a suggested a plan of action that can predict planting times, pest and disease outbreaks, and forecast yields more accurately and quickly than driving through the fields. While nothing will ever replace the complicated decisions farmers have to make, AI and precision ag technologies will guide them in a fraction of the time. As technology in precision agriculture evolves, so does its meaning.
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