Precision Agriculture

You may have heard soft rumblings of the next best thing in agriculture, of the future of agriculture, the new face, new way of doing things? If you have not heard yet, let us be the first to tell you that this is called Precision Agriculture!

Whatever your knowledge about precision agriculture – a little, very little or, if you’re tech-savvy and ahead of the curve, perhaps a lot – let us invite you to read all you need to know about it here.! Enjoy, share and get excited about the future of our industry!


Why do we need to produce more precisely?

The postwar transformation of agriculture, known as the first “Green Revolution”, saved more than a billion people from starvation with serious unintended environmental costs. Now, a second revolution, built largely on technologies that comprise precision agriculture amongst others, promises to make the farm of the future more productive and efficient.

Precision agriculture is one of many modern farming practices that make production more efficient. With precision agriculture, farmers and soils work better, not harder.

Think about precision as being ‘site-specific’ and ‘information-specific’, as in the most precise way of informing farming decisions. That is, farmers are able to take large fields and manage them as if they are a group of small fields through gathering information from the fields in real-time by observation and measurement, then responding to inter- and intra-field variability in crops. This reduces the misapplication of inputs and increases crop and farm efficiency.


Farmers use precision agriculture practices to apply nutrients, water, seeds, and other agricultural inputs to grow more crops in a wide range of soil environments. Precision ag can help farmers know how much and when to apply these inputs.

In South Africa, the grain sector (a traditional crop for AFGRI) faces undue pressure to produce maize profitably at export parity prices. In an effort to sustain profitable production, producers need to use the latest technology available – from seed to chemicals and mechanisation to training, including precision agriculture. It’s a case of maintaining a competitive advantage in a competitive global agricultural market; it’s not just a ‘nice-to-have’.


What is enabling us to produce more precisely?

With swarms of satellites, drones and sensors in our cadre, we are well equipped to engage in precision agriculture, aka satellite farming or site specific crop management (SSCM).

What I mean is that a wave of innovations – from satellite geomapping developed by the US’s NASA to drones used to collect aerial data, to sensors used to collect moisture, temperature and other weather data on the land – provide insight into the health of the land on a real-time basis. Technologies such as advanced sensors and monitoring equipment now enable farmers to monitor crops more precisely and continuously, thereby enabling more strategic decision-making to increase productivity, with a reduced impact on the environment.


What can we do now that we could not do before, you ask?

From manipulating the growing environment to producing low-potassium lettuce to attaching sensors to cows to identify potentially sick animals, there is little question that the second green revolution holds the potential for remarkable results. Beyond increasing agricultural productivity, there are proven examples of increasing the nutritional value of food. For example, Fujitsu has produced a raw lettuce with less than 80 percent of the potassium content of traditionally grown lettuce; high potassium is unhealthy for people on dialysis or suffering from chronic kidney disease.

Summary of field-level management optimisation and information gains through precision agriculture:

Crop science Precise matching of farming practices closely to crop needs (eg. Fertiliser inputs)
  • Build up a record of their farm;
  • Improve decision-making;
  • Foster greater traceability;
  • Enhance marketing of farm products;
  • Improve lease arrangements;
  • Enhance crop or livestock quality
Environmental protection Precise identification of environmental risk reduction eg. Limiting nitrogen leaching
Economics Precise and efficient practise that will boost competitiveness (eg. Improves management of input usage)



Key takeaways and tags

Management zones; farming efficiency; precise decisions; site specific crop management; smart farming.


About The first “Green Revolution”

was led by Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist who is considered to have “saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived” through his contributions These included the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains and the distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers. Borlaug’s contributions, as well as the widespread buildout of irrigation infrastructure and the adoption of modern management techniques, greatly increased yields without requiring an expansion in agricultural land.



Vertical Farming: What this new production technology is and what does it mean for AFGRI/Food Security?

Vertical farming: the pros and cons

Vertical farming is set to become a new buzzword and already there are pros and cons.

Simply put, this relatively new production technology allows for more food to be grown throughout the year in smaller spaces, without soil or natural light.

As an alternative farming technique, vertical farming offers the promise of meeting the challenges posed by increasing urbanisation, climate change, the declining availability of arable land and fresh water whilst still providing enough food for the growing global population.

Vertical farming is usually situated in large buildings, using techniques called hydroponics and aeroponics. Hydroponics is a plant growing method without soil, using a nutrient rich liquid feeding the plants. Aeroponics refers to the use of special UV lights and a misting system to grow plants, usually with their roots exposed.

Supporters of vertical farming are eager to point out the many advantages of converting concrete buildings into farms where crops can be grown year-round in a controlled environment. The most obvious one is that you don’t need a multi-hectare farm and the crops are protected from severe weather conditions minimising crops lost to hail, drought and cold snaps. Vertical farms are also more efficient as the crops mature much quicker and all produce are grown organically, with no pesticides and insecticides. Inner city farms also reduce the carbon footprint of transportation and use 95% less water than conventional farming.

Even though vertical farming presents an innovative alternative to ensure food security, there are disadvantages. First and foremost is the initial capital outlay that can vary between R7 million and R8 million depending on location, the building and overall infrastructure. Electricity usage is also higher as the plants require specialised lights. This also means that vertical farming is not entirely environmentally friendly. Whilst great success has been achieved with the vertical growing of most plants, grain variants have proven to be especially tricky to grow under hydroponic circumstances.

At this stage vertical farming is still labour intensive as the technology to propagate the plants are not yet available and workers will need specialised training in the process and technologies.

Sources: Countryfarm Lifestyles, Carte Blanche and Humanosphere



Global market research company Research and Markets predicts that the global vertical farming market is poised to grow at a compound annual growth rate of around 25.4% over the next decade to reach approximately $12.5 billion by 2025.



A rooftop garden using hydroponic technology was launched in Kotze Street in Hillbrow in October 2016. The building is owned by the City of Johannesburg and the space was offered to the Kotze Rooftop Garden Co-operative as part of a programme to counter food insecurity.

The garden is made up of two dozen rows of metal tunnels covered with shade cloth, which are raised slightly above the concrete roof.