Precision agriculture growth area for GIS

The latest pinpoint agricultural GIS techniques can help farmers use chemicals more efficiently and reduce pollution

Among the newer applications of geographic information systems technology is “precision agriculture”, says Scott Campbell of Eagle Technology, the capability specialist on the Spatial Industries Business Association executive.

Using surveys of the land based on Lidar (light detection and ranging) data, farm managers can identify soil types. They can then keep track of how the soil in each paddock is modified, by tracking fertiliser-spreading vehicles with GPS.

By ensuring fertiliser and other soil-treatment chemicals are kept to the places where they will do most good and not leach into waterways, agricultural GIS can help farmers use chemicals more efficiently and reduce pollution.

With today’s larger farms it’s not as easy as it was 50 years ago for one farm owner to know what’s been done in every paddock. GIS restores control of the information, Campbell says.

On a more direct money-saving front, vehicle operation on farms can incur less road-user charges by keeping track of how much time is actually spent on the roads, so only that needs to be paid for rather than the entire mileage of a vehicle that may spend much of its time on private land.

Forestry is a big user of GIS for land management. Geographic Business Solutions of Auckland and its partners have developed an add-on (Cable Harvest Planning Solution or CHPS) for ESRI’s widely used ArcGIS software – distributed locally by Eagle – to track and control cable harvesting of trees. This technique, using overhead cables to haul out cut timber, makes it possible to harvest trees from hillsides previously inaccessible, but it needs to be carefully planned with an eye to efficiency, safety and environmental impact.

In Australia’s mining industry, lasers have been used to scan and build a model of a mine to assist fuller extraction of minerals.

ESRI is using GIS for educational “map-based storytelling” (at storymaps.esri.com/home/). Topics include the Olympic torch rally and the sinking of the Titanic with links to the geographical origins of passengers.

As a result of Google Maps and similar mass-market services, people in general are “map-savvy” these days, Campbell says, and inclined to ask why map-based technology they can use at home cannot be exploited in connection with their work or education.

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