New protocol and software developments are helping farmers put the precision back in "precision agriculture" by making it easier for growers to use previously ineffectual soil and environmental data to manage their crops.
Historically, gaps between researchers and producers, as well as lack of capacity to transform data into relevant decisions, have all contributed to data languishing on hard drives rather than being used to inform growing decisions.
Using software available online, researchers from the Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture (ACPA) at the University of Sydney have developed a simplified protocol to teach growers how to convert complex yield and soil data into pertinent information. The resulting data and maps, when interpreted with local agronomic knowledge, can be used to make class-specific management decisions.
"The protocol provides [growers] with the ability to experiment on their fields with different combinations of temporal data layers to improve their understanding of how their fields respond," said James Taylor and his team of researchers who worked with a range of growers to develop the methodology.
The researchers' article in the September/October 2007 Agronomy Journal details their work in advancing field management, in particular their efforts to move away from treating all zones uniformly to more site-specific management. After receiving protocol training on how to analyze and apply field data, Australian growers were able to utilize the protocol and software to develop better field management, including implementing site-specific nutrient and pest management treatments.
Researchers hope that this precision agriculture protocol will be used by growers across a broad range of cropping systems to increase efficiency and effectiveness in crop management.
"As more data or 'expert' knowledge are acquired, the process can be re-run to update or test the effectiveness of the management classes," Taylor said.
The protocol, developed with funding from Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation, promotes a cost-effective approach to class management at a grower and consultant level.
Users begin with raw data which they then clean and cluster to develop management classes so they can care for the sites appropriately. The software tools which run the data analysis, VESPER and FuzME, are available online at the Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture: http://www.usyd.edu.au/su/agric/acpa/pag.htm
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