18 Jul 2014

Precision agriculture: an opportunity for EU farmers?

Tractor in a field
Precision agriculture uses information technology, satellite positioning systems and remote sensing
© EU, 2014

The JRC has recently released a report on the potential use of precision agriculture to help implement the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), upon the request of the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

Precision agriculture is the application of technologies and agronomic principles to manage spatial and temporal variability associated with all aspects of agricultural production - crops and animal - for the purpose of improving performance, production, and economic and environmental quality. It uses information technology, satellite positioning systems and remote sensing.

The report confirms that precision agriculture can play a substantial role in meeting the increasing demand for food while ensuring sustainable use of natural resources and the environment. Nevertheless, the size and diversity of farm structures make its adoption in Europe challenging. The report proposes some recommendations, such as awareness-raising and information campaigns among farmers, the provision of appropriate guidelines, and an EU 'precision farming calculator' tool which would bring decision-support value to farmers and advisers. This should be accompanied by research and development studies, for instance to assess the impact of precision agriculture on the environmental footprint beyond the farm level. Finally, the roles of the Farm Advisory Services and the European Innovation Partnership, established to help Member States share knowledge and expertise in implementing the CAP, could be fostered.

Applications of precision agriculture include auto-guiding systems and variable-rate technology that allow for precise tillage, seeding, fertilisation, irrigation, herbicide and pesticide application, harvesting and animal husbandry. Crop management and aspects of animal rearing are optimised thanks to the use of information collected from sensors mounted on-board agricultural machinery (soil properties, leaf area, animal internal temperature) or derived from high resolution remotely sensed data (plant physiological status). The benefits to be obtained include increased yields and profitability (mainly for arable farmers), increased animal welfare, and improvement of various aspects of environmental management.

JRC Institutes