The 5Rs of Precision Ag

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If you have ever found yourself confused about the Rs of Precision Ag, you’re not alone.

Dr. Raj Khosla, a precision ag professor at Colorado State University, defines precision ag as an application of art and science, using advanced technology and data to make agriculture more productive, more efficient, more profitable and more sustainable.

As head of the International Society of Precision Agriculture, Khosla has been writing papers on the subject for several years. First, he says, there were three Rs — indicating the importance of application at the right time, in the right place and the right amount.

Next came the fourth R, right source, though Khosla says this was suggested by the fertilizer industry, indicating the importance of using the right nutrient. He prefers ‘right input’, noting that, “The input could be fertilizer, seed, water, pesticide, herbicide, insecticide, labour, machinery — any one of those inputs.”

The fifth R emerged as Khosla’s work in PA expanded to 50 different countries, many of them with smaller scale farms than are typical in North America. “Members in developing countries were asking us, how do we take advantage of precision ag? We realized that size doesn’t matter, but it does have to be done in the right manner. This is the fifth R,” he says. “How you practice the 5Rs is up to each grower. It’s not the machinery that determines this, it’s the manner in which it is done. The principles and concepts of precision ag are scale independent as well as commodity independent.”

The type of crop will vary, as will the size of the farm and the causes of the variability across the farm’s production zones. The constant is the fact that there will be variability, he says.

“The first question is always, what is limiting my field? We’re not throwing agronomy out the window — you have to employ the basic principles of agronomy. But if your field is compacted, adding more N and water is not going to help.”

Khosla says about 20 percent of growers in Colorado are farming in management zones. The biggest barrier is the lack of evidence and a clear understanding of what precision ag can really do.

Khosla’s answer? “More research, more data, more analysis and finally more education.”

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