INTRODUCTION

Crops in the Southeastern United States are generally produced in fields known to have a high degree of variability in soil type, topography, soil moisture and other major factors that affect crop production. Precision agriculture is a promising management tool that can enable the development of an agricultural system to effectively manage fields to account for this variability. Precision agriculture refers to a set of technologies and management practices, which encourage intensive management of field crop production for increased profitability and reduced environmental impact.  The cornerstones of precision agriculture technology include the Global Positioning System (GPS), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and variable rate equipment and controllers.

THE PRECISION AGRICULTURE CHALLENGE

Precision agriculture hardware development is relatively more advanced than the knowledge base necessary to successfully implement its use.  Technologies, which are applicable today, are often confused with technologies that will become feasible only through the application of further research and development.  Planning of agricultural operations will become increasingly mapped based, which will require a new management perspective.  An increasingly competitive marketplace will compound the above-mentioned challenges.

Clemson University is actively seeking internal and external partners in order to address the challenges accompanied with the adaptation of precision agriculture.  CU is looking at precision agriculture as it applies to field crops, orchard, and the turf industry.  Work is being conducted on the Research and Education Centers, producers’ fields and manufacturers’ research facilities. Many components of this work will provide a solid knowledge base on which precision-farming technology can move forward to provide the expected benefits.

IMPACT 

Precision agriculture will provide the opportunity for South Carolina farmers to focus on enhancing crop production while protecting environment quality.  Spatial-based information will enable growers to apply inputs (pesticides, nutrients, irrigation, etc.) only to locations and in the amounts needed in the field.  The environmental benefits are obvious in that fewer pesticides are introduced into the soil, ground water, streams and lakes.

The potential impact to producers is reduced pesticide and nutrient use and thereby reduced input costs. Producers also benefit by the increasing availability of better, and timely information about their crops for decision-making.  They will be able to denote problem areas in a field before problems become visible and before it is too late to take corrective action.  The impact to consumers is a cleaner environment and continued supply of good quality food at a reasonable cost.  There are no known negative impacts to the environment, to producers, or to consumers.   The ultimate outcome of the adoption of precision agriculture will be to enhance the competitive position of South Carolina Agriculture and improve stewardship of the environment.