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5 Ways GIS is Transforming Agriculture and the Environment

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What are the major implications of GIS for agriculture, the environment and preserving our earth in 2017?

Geospatial technology is transforming the agriculture industry in unimaginable ways. In only a few short years, the power and accessibility of digital mapping both on and offline has changed the way farmers and agricultural structures are doing their most basic tasks.

Geographic information systems (GIS) allow us to visualise, analyse and understand geographic data. They can show us which crops are thriving, how pollution is hindering and which fertilisers are enhancing.

With this kind of revolutionary technology in full swing, there has never been a better time for farmers, environmentalists, foresters and agriculture specialists to capitalise on productivity.

Agriculture and Farming

GIS has revolutionised a farmer’s work. With the help of expert GIS consultants, farmers are now able to access the latest satellite technology with precision agriculture.

However, there are simpler, cheaper and more accessible ways the power of location can be utilised by farmers themselves.

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Mobile Devices

Mobile mapping applications have evolved dramatically in the last few years, making paper maps and pens ancient history. Mobile apps work on hand held tablets or smartphones, reducing the need for bulky computers or complicated surveying equipment when out in the field.

Mappt™ is a mobile GIS data collection app which enables users to create, edit, store, and share geospatial information. Farmers can use and handheld device to drop a pin or mark a specific location on a digital map. Using a lightweight, compact device such as a tablet or phone empowers farmers with the capacity to easily collect their own data.

Mappt’s receptive interface allows farmers with minimal training to use drop-down forms at each location point, noting a piece of information or attribute such as the type of fertilizer used, the condition of the crop or the topography of the land.

Some variables farmers may need to collect and analyse include:

  • soil type
  • elevation (topography)
  • crop yield
  • crop quality
  • field boundaries
  • management zones
  • remotely sensed imagery
  • weed and pest locations
  • historical land use

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compact

GPS

Global Positioning Systems or GPS are freely available and built in to most compact devices. A GPS displays your exact location on the earth’s surface by picking up data instantaneously sent from several satellites orbiting the globe.

Mappt’s GPS can be used to track a job out in the field. It’s ideal for remote locations as it works completely offline, can be paused and restarted at any time, and runs in the background while you collect other data. For example, a farmer may use GPS to pinpoint designated positions in the field to collect soil samples. This information can be logged in a handheld device before, during and after samples are collected, whilst tracking a person’s every move.

Geotagging

Another benefit of using a hand-held device with an inbuilt camera is being able to capture photographic evidence. Geotagging images collected in the field to their exact location provides farmers with additional information and offers a reference for future crop analysis and comparison. Thus, improving overall accuracy and efficiencies.

Geofencing

There are disasters to avoid in agricultural planning that can have a detrimental effect if inaccuracy occurs: droughts, drainage, roads, insects and floods. Their heavy impacts can be avoided through GIS assisted strategic planning.

Mapping is used to examine and evaluate these attributes to ensure maximum accuracy when identifying new areas to plant crops or make existing yields more efficient.

When working in the field, separating zones is also crucial as it’s not always clear where your boundaries end and your neighbours’ begins.

Mappt™ allows you to not only draw lines and polygons, but colour code areas and set warning visual and audio alarms. Once a geofence is created, a farmer will be alerted with an alarm notification if a boundary is breached. This ensures you do not disturb land that doesn’t belong to you or plant crops in a restricted area.

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GIS for Climate Change

We know conservation and environmental management is imperative for the sustainability of the earth, especially in today’s rapidly evolving technological world.

Recent history has taught us that human impact can have a dramatic effect on the environment as well as shifting global climates. This is creating complex challenges for businesses in every industry – particularly agriculture.

According to the World Wildlife Federation, agricultural practices are responsible for around 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with contributing factors including fertilisers, livestock, burning of savanna and agricultural residues, and ploughing.

Farming our food does not always give back to the earth.

Climate change is anticipated to affect crop production in several ways, but most impedingly, precipitation and temperature changes. Rainfall and temperatures may shorten or lengthen the growing season or cause an increase in droughts and flooding. Because of these environmental changes, crop prices could skew and become economically nonviable.

GIS plays a fundamental role in the ongoing challenge to reduce and cope with the effects of climate change, specifically determining what crops we sow and where to maximise land efficiency.

Below are some of the ways GIS can assist with plotting relief:

  • Ensure accurate reporting with improved data collection
  • Improve decision making
  • Increase productivity with streamlined work processes
  • Provide better data analysis and presentation options
  • Model dynamic environmental phenomena
  • Create predictive scenarios for environmental impact studies
  • Automate regulatory compliance processes
  • Disseminate maps and share map data across the internet

Accumulating data on the problem and adjusting relief and contingency methods in accordance to this data, is how GIS can play a major role in shaping a solution.

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What does it mean for our future?

In the past, it was difficult for farmers to know how and which farming methods were working efficiently due to the continuous variations and irregularities across the land.

Today, technological innovations such as GIS and mobile mapping have transformed common agricultural systems and revolutionised field efficiency and productivity.

With this kind of technology in our pockets, mobile GIS will expectantly continue to improve production for farmers in a way that is sustainable in the future and hopefully provide a reliable source of food for all.

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siobhan-profile2Siobhan Herne
Marketing and Communications

Siobhan has no background in GIS, she’s a beginner, just like you. Follow her stories for an easier digest of all things geospatial.

Sources

http://www.environmentalscience.org/agriculture-science-gis

http://www.sugarresearch.com.au/icms_docs/178430_GIS_and_Precision_Agriculture_IS14015.pdf

http://www.americansentinel.edu/blog/2012/03/14/farmers-use-gis-technology-for-a-growing-world/

http://www.hitachi.com/rev/pdf/2009/r2009_06_106.pdf

http://www.gps.gov/applications/agriculture/

http://www.pitneybowes.com/us/location-intelligence/case-studies/use-location-intelligence-to-turn-big-data-into-business-insight.html

http://www.gpsalliance.org/agriculture.aspx

https://theconversation.com/farmers-of-the-future-will-utilize-drones-robots-and-gps-37739