Sep 06, 2010

What is the value of 3D farming?

Estimated Article Reading Time: 3 min.

Landscape managers have traditionally depended upon the use of 2D tools and applications for the development and production of food. However, three-dimensional spatial applications are highly oriented to two things — better communication and higher efficiency. Restrictions on Russian grain exports, flooding in Pakistan, climate anomalies in Australia and wetness in Canada will all drive food production inputs up, as well as prices. Much more efficiency will be the outcome.

Agron­o­mists think in 3D. Insects fly around fields, water infil­trates down­ward and side­ways in soil, tem­per­a­tures are vari­able across topog­ra­phy — regions and food pro­duc­tion are trans­ported and har­vested over con­tours and across net­works. The processes that occur in agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion are inher­ently 3D, and under­stand­ing them well is the pri­mary fac­tor in attain­ing top productivity.

Restric­tions on Russ­ian grain exports, flood­ing in Pak­istan, cli­mate anom­alies in Aus­tralia and wet­ness in Canada are only a few of the cur­rent prob­lems that con­fronting the amount of food pro­duc­tion over the short-to-medium term. Already spec­u­la­tors are work­ing at their cal­cu­la­tions and deter­min­ing higher prices, restric­tions and decreased lev­els of grain and other agri­cul­tural prod­ucts ahead.

Now is not the time to bury our heads, but to take action toward not only sta­bi­liz­ing pro­duc­tion and increas­ing it, but to lever­age new tools and tech­nolo­gies toward higher pro­duc­tion and approaches for farm­ing and food efficiency.

There has been no other time in his­tory where so many earth obser­va­tion satel­lites have been in orbit, pro­vid­ing high-resolution images with greater clar­ity and use­ful infor­ma­tion that can sup­port effi­cient agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion. With GNSS capa­bil­ity already present, we are likely to see a more fully oper­a­tional GLONASS con­stel­la­tion appear­ing soon. Many com­pa­nies are mov­ing away from indi­vid­u­ally focused approaches to sin­gle prod­ucts, and are devel­op­ing inte­grated strate­gies that incor­po­rate geo­mat­ics, GIS and per­haps GNSS or earth obser­va­tion in their col­lec­tive work flows.

If the past few months have been any indi­ca­tion, agri­cul­tural inputs such as fer­til­iz­ers are likely to increase in price as demand grows and more com­pe­ti­tion for lim­ited resources arises.

This will place unique stress on pro­duc­ers, since they will be faced with keep­ing costs under man­age­able lev­els, yet, some­how increas­ing pro­duc­tion to take advan­tage of much higher prices for agri­cul­tural com­modi­ties. This is undoubt­edly going to require some skill and thought­ful approaches. Farm­ing is business.

To meet the chal­lenge food pro­duc­ers will ben­e­fit through think­ing in 3D, more­over, they will solve part of this puz­zle of bal­anc­ing the equa­tion through employ­ing 3D tech­nolo­gies that help them to under­stand the land, processes and fac­tors that con­nect to and result in improved production.

Farm­ing in 3D will mean know­ing the soil in 3D, the crop in 3D and being able to model pro­duc­tion through crop rota­tion, cli­mate and oper­a­tions in 3D. The ‘Dig­i­tal 3D Farm’ is no longer a whim. Con­sider the value of crops that at this point, appear set to increase any­where from 10 to 80% in price.

Again, the task will be to bal­ance ris­ing input costs against rev­enues — and improved dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies can help to tilt that balance.

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