National Geographic : 2014 Jul
$11,000 $26,000 $39,000 Proportion of planted acres 100% 0% Yield monitoring GPS soil monitoring Guidance systems Variable-rate technology 2010 2005 SMALL FARM 800 acres TYPICAL 1,600 LARGE 2,400 0 2 4 6 NEXT | FOOD BY THE NUMBERS Precision in the Fields Agriculture is getting a high-tech makeover. Farmers are increasingly using GPS-equipped machinery supported by computers that organize sophisticated data on plants, soil, and weather. Termed “precision agriculture,” this system helps them identify and manage variability within fields. David Schimmelpfennig of the USDA Economic Research Service says that farmers have always made informed choices but that access to more data expands their decision-making toolbox. —Kelsey Nowakowski HARVESTS Harvesting combines col- lect georeferenced data that reveal yield variations within each field. Precision-agriculture technologies allow farmers to gather and analyze data to optimize their land’s productivity. Most farmers begin by collecting data about their crop yields. SOIL MAPS Farmers collect soil samples from different parts of each field, then create maps by analyzing the soil’s structure and chemical properties. DATA EVALUATION Computers analyze all the data, helping farmers decide how to make each field as productive as possible. PRESCRIPTION MAPS Maps generated from the data tell farmers how much seed, fertilizer, and pesticide to use in each area of a field. WEATHER Weather data provide short- and long-term forecasts for each field. Farmers get information using mobile apps that are updated in real time. THE HIGH-TECH FARM ANALYSIS DATA Watch the video version of Food by the Numbers at nationalgeographic.com/foodbynumbers.