Redesigning Agriculture: Cereals

Cereal cultivation and its current situation

If there is one thing that has characterised cereal crop production during the past 2017, this has undoubtedly been the drought problems suffered by most of the fields devoted to its cultivation. One of the consequences of this problem was the slight fall in the price of cereals, which was also accompanied by a considerable drop in both production and quality of the crop, and which ended up indirectly affecting other sectors such as livestock farming, due among other things to the difficulty of finding suitable forage for cattle consumption.

Some agricultural institutions such as ASAJA report a reduction in cereal production of almost 50% compared to other years. While agrarian sources of autonomous communities such as Castilla y León raise that figure to 70%.

Although forecasts for 2018 reflect a slight rise in cereal prices, the current situation and the lack of direct aid to farmers mean that alternative solutions are being sought to control crop production and quality in a more detailed way. It is in this context that Precision Agriculture and Remote Sensing become indispensable in order to guarantee an optimum harvest result and control the costs of fertiliser, irrigation, logistics or weed control.

How can technology improve agriculture in times of drought?

Drone remote sensing technology for precision agriculture has advanced rapidly in recent years, giving the farmer greater control over the work planning by means of detailed information layers such as zoned plot fertilisation. The collection of data with drones through specific sensors, allows to determine the amount of nitrogen in the plant, a substance directly related to the chlorophyll content, thus identifying in this way those areas sufficiently fertilised, of those that need more care. Being able to establish a controlled fertilising system by areas not only speeds up the execution of works for the farmer, but also has a direct influence on the amount of money that is used for this activity. In fact, HEMAV has managed to generate a precision rate of 90%, as opposed to 50% obtained by other companies in the sector, achieving for the farmer an optimised investment in the product and a saving in the execution costs.

Another of the technological advances that precision agriculture offers on cereal cultivation in dry areas is the possibility of establishing a zoned irrigation system, which makes it possible to identify more precisely those areas of the plot that have a very poor soil structure, so that an optimised irrigation system  can be established for those areas and to carry out a specific crop treatment  to increase the depth of the soil and that it can absorb and maintain hydration after irrigation.  Again, the use of new layers of information obtained through aerial data, such as water stress,  are presented as indispensable solutions for , the identification of affected areas according to the orography of the plot, or the recognition of more porous areas or having a risk of waterlogging. In addition, carrying out this type of studies on a recurrent basis allows us to achieve a more stable and homogeneous production, allow to achieve a more stable and homogeneous production, and a constant profitability of the fields. 

Finally, the effects of the drought have not only affected the agricultural sector of cereal cultivation, but have also had a direct impact on pastures and the lack of fodder for animal feed, the price of which has soared in recent months due to a shortage of raw material. The technology again offers high value-added products to farmers to guarantee the quality of extensive crops such as alfalfa. Through exhaustive studies by means of data collection through weekly flights, especially during the end of the vegetative period of the crop, it is possible to establish quantitative analyses of the plot and identify those areas with the highest phosphorus, potassium, NDF (Neutral Detergent Fiber) and crude protein content. In this way, it is possible to easily locate those areas that comply with the quality levels necessary to guarantee animal consumption under optimum conditions and to obtain an early estimate of the results of the farm.

In short, the improvement of remote sensing and precision agriculture in the optimisation of environmental costs, together with the increase in production achieved by this type of technology, have a very high impact on the improvement of the agricultural sector, but they also represent a social advance since cereals are, in short, a basic element in the global food chain.

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