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My dream job? A tour around the world of precision ag

by Apr 21, 2010International Perspectives

Some people would say I have a dream job – traveling a large part of the world and meeting a lot of new people, all at the expense of the company.  And they'd be right!  But of course its not without its challenges, both in terms of logistics whilst traveling and developing products for these markets.  But as Dave King mentioned in his first post, it is these challenges that make it interesting.  Though I might not always agree when stranded at an airport having missed a flight!  I'd like to give you a rough guide through some of the areas I visit as part of my job. One of the most interesting things for me is seeing how different regions of the world adopt new technology to meet their needs.  As you might expect, there are areas of the world that are now only starting to adopt precision technology and other areas that are pushing the boundaries of what can be done. The majority of the Netherlands is covered by RTK due to high land values as well as the intensive nature of crops grown there.  Crops such as vegetables and flowers are planted with great precision and therefore RTK is an absolute must.  Land values are driven by the fact that the Netherlands is densely populated country 400 people per square kilometer (km).  Land is obviously a valuable commodity!  As a comparison, the US has 32 people per square km and the most densely populated area is Macau, China with 18500 people per square km!!! The opposite end of the spectrum in terms of land mass and agriculture would be Russia. Technology is certainly being used here but it is mostly manual guidance and assisted steering systems.  However, the scale of some farming operations is truly mind boggling.  One of the largest farming operations I have come across is a staggering 200,000 Ha (for those of you in the US, 500,000 acres) and from what I am told, it is not the largest. Uptake of new technologies here is still growing but has been slowed in recent times due to the economy.  There are in fact several large farms in some areas of Russia that have actually not put a crop out this year due to grain prices. [caption id=”attachment_2183″ align=”aligncenter” width=”480″ caption=”Picture shows a Kirovitz tractor pulling an Amazone cultivator. This was part of a demo day put on by Eurotechnika GPS in 2007.

Picture shows a Kirovitz tractor pulling an Amazone cultivator. This was part of a demo day put on by Eurotechnika GPS in 2007.

Moving back towards the west and south we come across Italy.  Here is the land of history, great food and great wine!  But also here technology is being used in places where perhaps the average person would not realize.  A good example here would be planting olive trees and vineyards.  In this case a map is created and then exported to a display, which is running as part of an RTK system and the planting mechanism is triggered every few meters to plant an olive tree or vine.  The end result is a plantation that is set on a perfect grid, which makes subsequent operations easier and more efficient. Next, we can jump across the Mediterranean and into Spain.  Cropping here is very diverse and ranges from winter cereals to rice and even vegetables such as carrots, lettuce and potatoes.  However, despite some high value crops the market here has always been at the low end with farmers mainly investing in manual guidance systems.  That changed last year when Spain introduced a free RTK correction via mobile phone, similar to CORS networks in the US.  The only cost is a data charge and this is also inexpensive at €10-20/month ($13-25/month) for unlimited data.  This has opened up the market for RTK steering because producers are aware of the advantages RTK systems provide and it has now become affordable. Carlos Escribano, our distributor in Spain installing an OnTrac2 on a Deutz tractor.Carlos Escribano, our distributor in Spain installing an OnTrac2 on a Deutz tractor.

For our final stop on this brief tour, we head into the southern hemisphere to South Africa. This country is probably better known for its wildlife and wine rather than precision agriculture.  But thanks to efforts of our distributor CLM Precision Agriculture over the last four to five years, the uptake of technology has been very good in this area.  Yield mapping was where it started but since then, variable rate fertilizer has also become very popular.  Cropping in the northern areas of South Africa is very reliant on rainfall and there will not be a seed planted until the rains come.  Once it does come though, watch out! Planting in this area is done within two weeks, regardless of the size of the farm.  Harvest on the other hand is a far more laid back afair and carries on for several months.

A deep tillage rig set up for variable rate P & K in South Africa.

And this concludes the tour.  Over the course of the next few months, it is my intention to visit each of our distributors and give you a more in-depth picture of the country, agriculture and some of the ways in which they adopt precision farming.

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