, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 359-387

Precision Agriculture and Sustainability

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Abstract

Precision Agriculture (PA) can help in managing crop production inputs in an environmentally friendly way. By using site-specific knowledge, PA can target rates of fertilizer, seed and chemicals for soil and other conditions. PA substitutes information and knowledge for physical inputs. A literature review indicates PA can contribute in many ways to long-term sustainability of production agriculture, confirming the intuitive idea that PA should reduce environmental loading by applying fertilizers and pesticides only where they are needed, and when they are needed. Precision agriculture benefits to the environment come from more targeted use of inputs that reduce losses from excess applications and from reduction of losses due to nutrient imbalances, weed escapes, insect damage, etc. Other benefits include a reduction in pesticide resistance development. One limitation of the papers reviewed is that only a few actually measured directly environmental indices, such as leaching with the use of soil sensors. Most of them estimated indirectly the environmental benefits by measuring the reduced chemical loading. Results from an on-farm trial in Argentina provide an example of how site-specific information and variable rate application could be used in maintaining profitability while reducing N applications. Results of the sensitivity analysis show that PA is a modestly more profitable alternative than whole field management, for a wide range of restrictions on N application levels. These restrictions might be government regulations or the landowner's understanding of environmental stewardship. In the example, variable rate of N maintains farm profitability even when nitrogen is restricted to less than half of the recommended uniform rate.