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Proceedings Paper

Precision agriculture in dry land: spatial variability of crop yield and roles of soil surveys, aerial photos, and digital elevation models
Author(s): Mahmood Nachabe; Laj Ahuja; Mary Lou Shaffer; J. Ascough; Brian Flynn; J. Cipra
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Paper Abstract

In dryland, yield of crop varies substantially in space, often changing by an order of magnitude within few meters. Precision agriculture aims at exploiting this variability by changing agriculture management practices in space according to site specific conditions. Thus instead of managing a field (typical area 50 to 100 hectares) as a single unit using average conditions, the field is partitioned into small pieces of land known as management units. The size of management units can be in the order of 100 to 1,000 m2 to capture the patterns of variation of yield in the field. Agricultural practices like seeding rate, type of crop, and tillage and fertilizers are applied at the scale of the management unit to suit local agronomic conditions in unit. If successfully practiced, precision agriculture has the potential of increasing income and minimizing environmental impacts by reducing over application of crop production inputs. In the 90s, the implementation of precision agriculture was facilitated tremendously due to the wide availability and use of three technologies: (1) the Global Positioning System (GPS), (2) the Geographic Information System (GIS), and (3) remote sensing. The introduction of the GPS allowed the farmer to determine his coordinate location as equipments are moved in the field. Thus, any piece of equipment can be easily programmed to vary agricultural practices according to coordinate location over the field. The GIS allowed the storage and manipulation of large sets of data and the production of yield maps. Yield maps can be correlated with soil attributes from soil survey, and/or topographical attributes from a Digital Elevation Model (DEM). This helps predicting variation of potential yield over the landscape based on the spatial distribution of soil and topographical attributes. Soil attributes may include soil PH, Organic Matter, porosity, and hydraulic conductivity, whereas topographical attributes involve the estimations of elevation, slope, aspect, curvature, and specific catchment area. Finally remote sensing provided a means of assessing soil and crop conditions over large scales from the air, without excessive sampling on the ground. There are two objectives for this work. The first objective is to analyze the spatial variability of yield across a spectrum of scales to identify the spatial characteristics of yield variation; in essence, we are trying to answer the following questions, at what scale of management unit we should resolve the field level variability and what is the relationship between this resolution and the observed variability form a yield map? The second objective is to identify the soil and topographical attributes that control yield variation over the landscape topography. We already know that, because erosion and deposition are major processes in the formation of a catena, soil variations occur in response to surface and subsurface flow over the landscape. Also landscape positions corresponding to low elevation tend to have high catchment area which usually results in high soil water content in the root zone and thick A horizon. Can topographical attributes explain yield variation observed in the landscape? Will topographical attributes extracted from a DEM compensate for the relatively poor spatial resolution from a soil survey?

Paper Details

Date Published: 11 December 1998
PDF: 2 pages
Proc. SPIE 3499, Remote Sensing for Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Hydrology, (11 December 1998); doi: 10.1117/12.332780
Show Author Affiliations
Mahmood Nachabe, USDA Agriculture Research Service (United States)
Laj Ahuja, USDA Agriculture Research Service (United States)
Mary Lou Shaffer, USDA Agriculture Research Service (United States)
J. Ascough, USDA Agriculture Research Service (United States)
Brian Flynn, USDA Agriculture Research Service (United States)
J. Cipra, USDA Agriculture Research Service (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 3499:
Remote Sensing for Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Hydrology
Edwin T. Engman, Editor(s)

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