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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Role of telecommunications in precision agriculture

Author
item McKinion, James

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: February 21, 2008
Publication Date: January 1, 2009
Citation: McKinion, J.M. 2009. Role of telecommunications in precision agriculture. Lee, I., editor. Handbook of Research on Telecommunications Planning and Management for Business. Macomb, IL: IGI Global. p. 832-846.

Interpretive Summary: Advances in telecommunications technologies continue to help make farm life easier and to improve production efficiencies. Very early telecom use was in the form of the telephone and then two-way radios. One-way telecom technology using lasers made possible land-leveling with then unheard of accuracy which lead to optimal irrigation practices and drainage of fields with excess rainfall. In the early 1980’s, another one-way telecom technology laid the foundation of today’s precision agriculture. This was the advent of the global positioning system (GPS), a collection of 24 satellites in low-earth orbit broadcasting precision time information allowing the surface receiver to determine its location. The GPS system also allowed the development of auto-steer systems which debuted in the 1990’s. The development of the microcomputer over the last 30 years with dramatic computational power and low cost made possible the placement of controllers on farm machinery driven by geographic systems technology and directed by GPS receivers. These controllers are the basis of precision agriculture. The final loop to close in precision agriculture technology is the use of high speed digital wireless local area networks to connect all farm operations with the farm headquarters and the use of aerial imagery for decision making. Low cost WI-FI technology has shown the way, but more efficiencies are needed to cover farms. This chapter reviews all the technologies mentioned above and looks forward to future applications.

Technical Abstract: Precision agriculture has been made possible by the confluence of several technologies: geographic positioning systems, geographic information systems, image analysis software, low-cost microcomputer-based variable rate controller/recorders, and precision tractor guidance systems. While these technologies have made precision agriculture possible, there are still major obstacles which must be overcome to make this new technology accepted and usable. Most growers will not do image processing and development of prescription maps themselves but will rely upon commercial sources. There still remains the challenge of storage and retrieval of multi-megabytes of data files for each field, and this problem will only continue to grow year by year. More importantly since most farms are by definition rural and do not have high speed access to the Internet, the problem of moving 10’s, 100’s and even 1000’s of megabytes of essential information and data must be solved to help make precision agriculture easy to use and even transparent to the grower. Only then will widespread acceptance of this valuable new technology be assured. Wireless technology can fill this gap and help make precision agriculture the standard in the future.

Last Modified: 8/30/2014
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