By Matt Garber, Head of Customer Success NA, USA
I've always said that farmers walk the thinnest of tightropes. On the one hand, they are expected to feed a hungry world despite the growing pressures of climate change, environmental deterioration and less arable land. On the other, they are increasingly called on to decrease environmental impacts and work towards sustainability to help alleviate those pressures.
Precision agriculture is supposed to be a large part of the solution to this dilemma. More data and more analytics mean better strategies for dealing with the myriad of variables farmers face.
But look around – how much precision has been adopted? How much has been effective? When push comes to shove, tried and true methods are invariably preferred, simply because a farmer's immediate livelihood is on the line.
Yet, achieving sustainability has never been more urgent. Regional legislative restrictions on farming practices are real.
The threat to long-term financial survivability is real. The risk of adverse environmental impacts is real. It is evident there is a need and a desire for food production to become more sustainable, more regenerative.
The benefits of sustainability are felt by growers and everyone else around the dinner table.One of the keys to sustainability is the judicious use of agricultural inputs.
The efficiency of applied input usage has to be maximized, while drastically reducing waste. In other words, we need to get more out of less. If only there was a way to get more 'bang for your buck', so to speak.
Fortunately, innovation has come to the rescue. Called the Augmenta System, it is an unobtrusive, plug n' play retrofit mounted on the cab roof of any ordinary tractor or sprayer.
An array of hi-res cameras, machine vision and AI are used to do its thing – and what a thing it is! It can optimize an agronomist's recommended dose by detecting growth variability in a field, making its own prescription map and applying variable rates of input accordingly. Uniquely, the entire process is fully-automatic, done on-the-fly in real-time, and in a single pass.
This ability to apply inputs intelligently is crucial. When it comes to nitrogen VRA, it backs off input to areas growing well, as increased biomass does not mean better yield. It applies the maximum to areas with the best growth potential, and the least amount to areas with the lowest growth potential.
Its cameras understand field anomalies like waterlogged and rocky patches for what they really are, so it will not overapply inputs there either. Noteworthy is the fact that because such areas have little to no chlorophyll reflectance, active sensors would do the exact opposite, adding more nitrogen and overapplying inputs unnecessarily.
The result is that the Augmenta System can significantly reduce application in areas where there is low potential for economic crop production, thereby promoting sustainability. Because input costs are kept to a minimum while crop uniformity is promoted and yield potential maximized, this can translate into real financial benefits for the farmer.
In Australia, a recent nitrogen VRA trial on winter wheat and canola found respective fertilizer savings of 6.2% and 7.8% compared with fixed rate applications. The average yield increase for both crops was 11.2%. When the math is done, this amounts to more than $50,000 USD income increase on just 835 acres! Even if this result was just half as good as it has proven to be, it would still be impressive.
Along with liquid/solid nitrogen fertilization, the Augmenta System can handle other inputs as well, including various Harvest Aid/Defoliant and PGR growth regulator VRA operations. All additional functionality comes as over-the-air upgrades requiring no additional hardware.
A highly-demanded Green on Brown selective spraying is slated for Q4 this year. Typical input reductions (these are global figures) are 9% for Nitrogen, 20% for PGR (Plant Growth Regulator) and 15% for Harvest Aids/Defoliant; with an average yield increase of at least 2%. Importantly, because the Augmenta System is AI-based, it is self-learning. Therefore, these figures are expected to increase with increased use.
The Augmenta System can also help reduce a farming operation's carbon footprint. There are many carbon credit programs out there which award credits for reducing nitrogen. A 5% reduction is a typical minimal requirement – something that the Augmenta System can easily handle.
The point of getting carbon credits is that many commodity buyers and/or food companies are looking for suppliers who can prove sustainable practices. Carbon credits can be used to offset their total supply chain carbon footprint.
While immediacy, accuracy and savings are all amazing advantages, the fact that the Augmenta System is also an all-in-one, turnkey solution is another essential part of the mix. A full range of operational analytics, ROI reports, and fleet management tools via the Augmenta Web Portal are also elements of Augmenta's 360° approach.
By eliminating the additional logistical complexity, cost and hassle of older precision tech, the Augmenta System finally paves the way for financially sustainable sustainability.
For my money, that's the only way we can make the goal of sustainability a viable reality.
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