An analysis of precision agriculture in the South African summer grain producing areas
Both globally and locally, agriculture faces ever increasing challenges such as high input costs, strict environmental laws, decrease in land for cultivation and an increase in demand due to the growing global population. Profitability and sustainability requires more effective production systems. Precision agriculture is identified as such a system and is built upon a system approach that aims to restructure the total system of agriculture towards low input, high efficiency and sustainable agriculture. The aim of this study was to analyse the state of precision agriculture in the summer grain producing areas of South Africa, specifically the North West and Free State provinces. In order to achieve this, a literature study was conducted. During the literature study the term ‘precision agriculture’ was defined and discussed. The precision agriculture cycle and its components were explained and benefits of precision agriculture were identified. The literature study was concluded with identifying and discussing the most widely used and most beneficial technologies as well as reasons for slow adoption. Findings from the literature study were used to investigate the state of precision agriculture locally. In order to achieve this, a quantitative approach was used and information was collected by means of an empirical study using a questionnaire. Questionnaires were distributed to farmers using selling agents of an agricultural company that is well represented in the targeted areas. The data was then statistically analysed. The survey showed that only 52% of summer grain producing farmers in the North West and Free State provinces of South Africa practises precision agriculture as defined in the literature study. The study also revealed that the majority of precision agriculture farmers are over the age of 40, have more than 16 years of farming experience, are well educated, cultivate more than 1,000 hectares and uses none or little irrigation. The most commonly used precision agriculture technologies were grid soil sampling and yield monitors. The perception among most of the farmers was that precision technologies are not very affordable, not easily available and that it lacks proper testing with regards to efficiency. The group of summer grain–producing farmers that have correctly implemented precision agriculture as per definition stated that the benefits they derived from precision technologies include reduction in input costs, increased outputs and improved management skills. Too high implementation costs and technologies not providing enough benefits were among the main reasons farmers do not implement precision agriculture. It was concluded that a significant effort and amount of work is needed to increase the use of precision agriculture among summer grain–producing farmers in the targeted areas. A consolidated effort from government, agricultural institutions and agricultural companies will be needed to achieve this goal. Implementing precision agriculture as a system will require education (from primary to tertiary institutions) and improved marketing strategies. Only then will precision technologies be able to help meet the future demands placed on the agriculture sector.
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