Find out how GIS applications play an essential role in agriculture, including geography, land surveying, and mapping, livestock monitoring, and mitigate damage from natural disasters.
Predictability is hard to come by and has become something that the agriculture sector has ceased to expect as temperatures and weather patterns change—altering the course of many different environmental phenomena such as floods, droughts, soil erosion, pest swarms, and disease.
For agribusinesses, understanding patterns in data is at the core of turning the unexpected into the anticipated. Geographic Information System (GIS), with its ability to create visual representations of data, breaks down complex data to provide insights on patterns viewed on maps.
Combining location with descriptive information, the creation, management, and analysis of critical data on crops, livestock, and agribusiness-threatening conditions can be viewed through GIS applications. With a wealth of information displayed through GIS maps, variables that affect and influence agricultural decision-making are available to agribusinesses anytime and anywhere.
Real-Time 2D and 3D Mapping
With the ability to perform complex spatial analysis, GIS systems display variables for crop management and various types of site planning through 2D and 3D maps such as:
- Site suitability
Utilizing spatial data repositories, GIS mapping solutions use historically collected data to provide agribusinesses with precise information on the qualities of the land they plan to propagate. For example, GIS systems create maps based on free to the public information included in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) CropScape, an interactive web-based mapping application that provides the type, quantity, and location of crops grown across the country.
Identification of Disease, Pests, and Weed Infestations
Before producing or plant products, even leave the source to travel through the supply chain, insects, pests, weeds, and even diseases target crops that provide resources and raw materials to various industries.
Compounding geospatial data and other precision agriculture technologies, GIS combined with remote sensing, data aggregated from Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) maps obtained from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) mapping, and Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), provide agribusiness with the ability to assess and target pest and diseases in site-specific ways.
Viewed through an accessible User Interface (UI), the tools involved in the GIS process provide agribusinesses with:
- Risk and pathway analyses: Based on spatial data, GIS helps agribusinesses predict the projected spread of crop diseases and pest infestations and provides input for pest risk and disease control-related assessment models.
- Data visualization and queries: Farmers can deploy queries to precisely determine which type of crop is most affected by a particular type of insect or disease and view the amounts of pesticides used before or after cultivation to make decisions for field treatments and improved management.
- Change detections: GIS enables quantifying developing thresholds of pests and diseases due to environmental factors and previous treatment.
With precise GIS technology combined with crop sensors and UAVs, highly specific information is made available through GIS apps like the type of pest or disease present, where the pests or diseases are located, and the amount and dates of pesticide or herbicide applications. This data is then layered with information on environmental factors that influence remedial applications, such as wind direction or land slope.
Irrigation Monitoring and Management
Being such a precious and highly regulated resource, water means agribusinesses that engage in crop farming need help from technology to optimize its use. To facilitate effective irrigation techniques, GIS mapping software provides insights through visual representations of data to reduce water stress and enable better management of water resources while improving the quality of crops.
Through GIS software, farmers access moisture-related data through the Normalized Difference Moisture Index (NDMI) and Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI) to determine how saturated—or parched—the land their crops are planted in is. In conjunction with Land Surface Temperature (LST) and NDVI, the combined geoinformatics calculate water stress and display visual patterns that indicate crop water shortages.
With this highly detailed information paired with water delivery system maps, irrigation effectiveness is monitored. It can then be altered based on the data gathered through spectral reflectance measurements and remote sensing. The aggregation of satellite data and the tools mentioned above improve overall crop health despite limited water application to increase yields in a water-conscious way.
Flooding, Erosion, and Drought control
Environmental factors can’t be controlled, but GIS software can change how agribusinesses respond to situations and risks caused by environmental factors. Marrying data pools with GIS software, environmental insights enable the prevention, assessment, and mitigation of negative impacts of destructive natural phenomena such as;
Floods: The identification of areas susceptible to flooding is accomplished through flood inventory mapping. Data detailing past floods combined with satellite images and field survey data maps indicate areas with the highest risk of flooding so agribusinesses may plan ahead and take preventive measures.
Erosion: GIS software combined with remote sensor data indicates land susceptible to soil erosion based on wind, rain, and other environmental factors. Images pulled from Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE) satellites, and field analysis data create maps that indicate soil deterioration in crop fields.
Droughts: GIS solutions for the agriculture sector are also used to mitigate the effects of droughts. With data from the Versatile Soil Moisture Budget (VSMB), soil moisture conditions can be viewed based on factors such as total rainfall, water runoff, and evapotranspiration.
The need for visualizations of environmental data is more important than ever with a changing climate. Prediction based on previous years alone has increasingly become an unreliable way to prepare for weather-related agricultural risks. With a wealth of data points regarding weather-influenced agriculture risks, agribusinesses can more accurately tackle threats to their businesses.
Included in the variety of agricultural ventures that benefit from GIS software is cattle ranching. Ranchers and farmers don’t have to guess where their cows—or sheep, horses, pigs, and goats—are roaming on their property.
Roaming behavior tracked with Global Positioning Systems (GPS), particularly for free-range animals, predicts where a herd will be at any given time with spatial monitoring. Economic areas dependent on livestock require that cattle are heavily monitored with the use of data that details:
- Historic movement patterns
- Vegetation concentrations
- Predatory wildlife distribution
On a basic level, GIS software is used to track the movement of animals, but when paired with sensors and tracking devices, the health and wellbeing of livestock are also monitored. For example, epidemiological data displayed on GIS application maps can indicate outbreaks of animal diseases in a given area so that ranchers may take precautionary measures.
GIS Applications: Bringing the Agriculture Sector into the Future
The agriculture industry knows that there is a lot to gain by acknowledging the archaic and embracing technology as a valuable tool for adjustment. In the wake of the technological revolution that the industry is experiencing, most agribusinesses already use various types of hardware and information sources to influence their decision-making.
GIS, though, is what will tie all of that data together so agribusinesses can view it all in one place. GIS’s ability to utilize multiple information points pulled from data repositories and hardware such as sensors and monitors is a critical component of an evolving and highly competitive agri-sector.
The struggle to balance agricultural practices and yields against environmental factors is as old as the industry itself. With GIS integration, that struggle is reduced to a comprehensive analysis that leads to higher yields without sacrificing valuable resources.