Opening the doors to the more widespread use of satellite navigation technologies for precision agriculture was the theme of a workshop held at this year’s Joint International Agricultural Conference.
The conference, held 6-8 July 2009 at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, brought together about 500 participants from 40 countries to discuss the latest research into the use of information technology and global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) for precision agriculture.
Precision agriculture refers to the use of satellite navigation sensors, aerial images, and other tools to determine optimum sowing density, fertiliser cover and other inputs. It also refers to the use of GNSS for supporting machine guidance, virtual fencing, and land parcel identification. These techniques allow farmers to save money, reduce their impact on the environment and increase their productivity.
During the workshop, presenters spoke about the benefits farmers can gain by applying EGNOS for precision agriculture, and the role of the European satellite-based augmentation system in the evolution of this market. They emphasised that EGNOS can support farmers in meeting current and proposed requirements under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The workshop also marked the start-up of the Precision Agriculture and CAP (PACAP) networking group.
Gian Gherardo Calini, Head of Market Development at the GSA, presented EGNOS as the “high precision, low-cost” solution for improving efficiency and meeting sustainability goals. He also provided details on the technical value added by EGNOS, explaining that the system brings the accuracy of the GPS signal down to one metre or less. Alternative solutions for precision agriculture require a higher equipment investment and sometimes fees to use a service. The EGNOS signal is free and can be exploited by purchasing low cost devices.
“EGNOS is affordable precision,” he told the audience during his presentation.
Calini added that the agricultural machinery market is starting to reflect the growing use of GNSS. About 8% of new tractors currently sold in Europe are equipped with GNSS-enabled receivers, a share that is forecast to rise to 13% in 2012, according to the findings of a GSA market study. In addition about 4% of the tractors being used have been retro-fitted with GNSS receivers. As a result, about 240,000 tractors are likely to be equipped with GNSS in 2012
Calini also described GSA’s promotion of EGNOS for precision agriculture. Recently, the GSA launched, a promotional campaign in the market segment, and is involved in co-marketing the augmentation service with key industry players. The GSA also supports the use by the agricultural market of the EGNOS Data Access System (EDAS), a terrestrial commercial service that disseminates EGNOS data in real-time.
Networking for knowledge exchange
Tamme van der Wal of Portolis BV, which organised the workshop in cooperation with the Netherlands’ Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and Wageningen University, called on participants to use the new PACAP network as a means of exchanging best practice in precision agriculture as a means of complying with CAP. The group is established on LinkedIn, a networking site.
“Despite the attempts to lower the administrative burden, farmers spend more time every year on administration, registration and documentation,” van der Wal said.
In breakout sessions, participants debated two business cases for the application of the techniques used in precision agriculture. The first case examined the ways in which precision agriculture could be applied to help farmers provide the documentation requirements for sustainable biomass feedstock production for alternate fuels.
Participants agreed that precision agriculture techniques along with EGNOS can be used to make the cultivation of biomass more efficient and sustainable and to satisfy the documentation requirements to prove its sustainability.
Under a proposed European Commission directive as currently worded, farmers would be required to track the origin of their biomass production and prove compliance with environmental legislation.
For the second business case participants discussed the role of precision agriculture in helping farmers reduce their use of herbicides. Recent studies indicate that reductions of up to 40% are possible through the use of variable rate application techniques.
This requires the use of precision agriculture techniques to control the sprayer boom sections when applying herbicides. On-board sensors and satellite navigation information are used to estimate the biomass of the crop so as to create instructions for the sprayer. Workshop participants discussed how to improve the information flow between the on-board sensors and sprayer using the techniques of precision agriculture.
In addition to participating in the workshop the GSA had a display and information stand at the Joint International Agricultural Conference promoting EGNOS as a “High Precision, Low Cost” means of gaining more accuracy in the field.
The conference brought together the members of the European Conference on Precision Agriculture, the European Conference on Precision Livestock Farming and the European Federation for Information Technology in Agriculture, Food and the Environment.
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