Precision farming – 5 considerations with regard to implementing variablerate machines

19 January 2021

Let’s start by asking a simple question. What are variable rate agricultural machines? When referring to agricultural equipment, the variable rate is a production factor supply method based on prescription maps reading. Once the maps are set and loaded onto the control system’s memory of the equipment, which is often transmitted by ISObus systems on the tractor via USB pen drive or remote wireless connection, they simply make georeferenced information available to the control software. The software running on the machine basically compares the GPS coordinates where the equipment is located, thanks to the GPS antenna, with the coordinates uploaded via the prescription maps that associate information regarding the specific application.

Variable rate agricultural operations
This approach can be used, for example, for variable dose distribution of a determined factor to be distributed such as seeds fertiliser, and water, but it can also be used for different work on the field, to implement the herbicide and plant protection control. Generally speaking, it is precisely the use of sensors that makes it possible to perform the operations on the field since being familiar with the operating parameters is what makes it possible to control the actuators.

ESD system by MC Elettronica
Hydra system by MC Elettronica

These systems, if also applied in managing farming wastewater, can, for example, mitigate their impact on the environment as in the distribution of wastewater with direct injection systems. In this regard,cross checking the position data detected in real time with the data uploaded by the prescription map based on the nitrogen to be distributed and the data of the NIR sensor on board the machine that measures the nitrogen content in the wastewater enable you to control the rotation speed of the pump and, with the help of the automatic guide, to implement site-specific distribution.

Variable rate agricultural equipment: Five valid considerations
Based on what has just been said and the agricultural needs to be fulfilled with the equipment, five considerations are being proposed from among the many that can be made in using machines for variable rate precision farming:

  • Technical skills: implementing variable rate machines undoubtedly requires new skills in which operators are no longer simple machine drivers but must also be able to know how to manage the control systems on board the machine;
  • Variable rate to manage and maps: the most important properties with regard to agricultural technique and yield are mapped, classifying them in adjoining homogeneous areas from which the prescription maps are obtained and which guide operation of the operating machines. However, the areas must be of a sufficient size but with a limited number of classes since considering the speed with which the machines modulate the rate of application in relation to the feed-rate speed, a high efficiency and work precision must still be maintained;
  • Calibration: the machines that distribute the products, whether they are seeds, fertiliser, water, etc., must guarantee precision. It seems obvious, but it is not because if an operating machine is not fitted with adequately calibrated sensors and drives, the purpose of managing the site with precision is useless. This is why is it important to pay due attention to the operation of the sensors;
  • The size of the company is definitely a parameter to keep in mind for the financial sustainability in the introduction of equipment and technologies for precision farming, but it also depends on the type of crops and organisation. In this context, if the cropping farm cannot sustain the investment of a tool, it doesn’t mean that it cannot enjoy the benefits of precision farming but, rather, in this sense, resorting to subcontracting can fulfil the purpose very well, leaving the cropping farm to only deal with data management with, all things considered, a minimal investment;
  • Machines and industry 4.0: variable rate machines become part of the IoT (Internet of Things) logic in which remote data reception and transmission, with the possibility of also having remote control, are the basis. In this sense, the logic of automated management of information forms part of the fourth industrial revolution, significantly raising the technological content of the machines and ultimately of the way of implementing agriculture;

Although agriculture is not like the industry, fast, efficient and precise systems are increasingly sought after, innovating while respecting tradition. What do you think?

Written by Dr. Agr. Mattia Trevini PhD – Agroingegno

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