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Geographic information system in reshaping agriculture  

By Muhammad Sabir

THE geographical information system (GIS), a digital mapping system with computer. It helps manage agriculture by storing, retrieving, manipulating, analysing and displaying information through maps. Its key components are computer system, geospatial data and users.

Farmers can increase production, reduce input costs, and manage the land more efficiently by using the GIS. Mapping in the field with micro computer to scientific analysis of production data in the farm manager's office can be easily performed with the help of the GIS system.ArcPad software can be used on handheld computers in the field for the creation, visualization, and interpretation of data. Farmers can indicate stresses the crop faces like pest infestations, nutrient deficiencies, and water shortages by making maps with the GIS. These stresses are highlighted on the ArcPad map and the information is stored in a format that is usable in other software products. By collecting such data in the field, solutions can be devised and preventative measures outlined.

As weather is a key component in agricultural production, weather updates can be seen on the Internet via a handheld telephone or Wide Area Network (WAN). ArcPad has a developer's toolkit that allows customized applications that provide field-workers simple forms to fill in that automatically create data attributes. It was really cumbersome to create necessary data sets for the field or subfield level but now this task has become easy with the help of ArcPad. ArcPad is the farmer's modern shirt pocket notepad. Farmer's will be able to collect whatever information is relevant to them at that moment and enter it to its proper field location through maps.

The GIS requires access to different data and fully integrated computer system for easy decision making. Arial photographs are in use in agriculture since long however, with the adoption of the GIS, these can be used more effectively. Such data is generally raster based, that is to say, made up of a patchwork of discrete cells or pixels. Data layers that are made up of points, lines, and polygons are known as vector data. Raster data can be combined with vector data, but it requires different tools for management and interpretation. The ArcView Image Analysis extension provides the farmer with the necessary tools to carry out simple procedures that greatly increase the return on investments made in satellite images or aerial photographs. This can be used to estimate crop yields, assessment of the areas that are suffering from different stress perhaps caused by a specific pest, and the identification of areas of land suffering from soil erosion.

Field data collection takes the form of single points that need to be processed to achieve what is known as a continual data layer. Interpolation describes this process of taking many single points and creating a complete surface, the gaps being filled based on the spatial statistics of the original points. Such points might include crop yield data collected from a combine harvester, soil samples collected manually throughout a farm, or water quality information collected from watering points or wells. Interpolating these points will produce more useful information for the farmer such as crop yield maps, soil chemistry maps, and maps related to water chemical content, for example the degree of nitrate contamination.

Once the farm analyst has identified the agronomically troubled areas of fields, he or she can use ArcView Spatial Analyst to look for relationships in the data. Yield monitor data maps indicate the low yield at some area and relationship between the low yield and different factors in the field can be established with help of Arch View Spatial Analyst. Factors causing the low yield may be slope, moisture, fertility, or poor pesticide performance. These factors can be managed in proper way to increase the yield.

Progressive farmers and managers who need additional data interpolation support for variable rate technology (VRT) farming will be assisted by the ability to customize ArcView Spatial Analyst. The VRT farming can be adopted by using the Avenue programming language and Model Builder. Model Builder is a powerful, graphically driven tool that allows farmers to create and test different land use scenarios before actually implementing them. For example, a farmer could calculate the potential economic yield for a harvested crop before actually planting it.

If you have not used the GIS, then consider starting with the Model Builder. It allows the user to undertake agronomic analyses without extensive GIS training. Another feature of the Model Builder is its documentation function. A farmer, an agronomist, and an agricultural economist could all look at the same farm management situation and solve it in three different ways. The Model Builder documents each sequential spatial operator and process used. This allows the three users to compare each others' models. The ability to interpolate point information is necessary for carrying out such tasks as hydrological modelling, land/crop suitability studies, or predicting crop yields. All these activities and more can be made possible by using ArcView Spatial Analyst.

Agriculture is no more a way of earning one’s livelihood but is now a business. Knowledge of accounting, agricultural legislation, subsidy guidelines, taxation regulations, and, crop insurance are important for progressive farmers to harvest maximum benefit.

To interpret all this information is cumbersome job but if all the data is available as a series of maps, each one telling a specific story to a specialized audience; then the system would become more efficient and productive. One of the most obvious and immediate outputs from a farm GIS is maps that provide with new insight. Planning applications, filing tax returns, and claiming crop subsidies are available in the form of maps. ArcView delivers a professional standard map production capability and is certainly a cost-effective solution.

Detailed schedules for field-workers can be assisted by instructing them to use both maps and written instructions. This also gives the benefit to the manager of cost accountability, and if necessary, the means to measure staff efficiency based on planned performance evaluations.

Precision farming uses precise data to map the yield of various crops at the subfield scale; the aim being to increase yields by applying crop inputs, pesticides, fertilisers, and irrigation water at an optimum level. Once calculated and reported in the form of an interpolated map layer, the data needs to be translated into a format that the variable rate technology (VRT) electronic controller can use. The application field implements can use this field prescription to add field inputs only where they are required. ArcView can export such outputs in industry-standard formats and also supports the programming of additional modules should the case arise.

The GIS is being used for agricultural resources management on sustainable basis. It makes soil management less tedious and less costly by collecting a wider spectrum of data in short time. Conventional surveys of soil erosion in the field are costly in time and labour. The GIS-assisted physical models are now available which can predict where erosion "hot-spots" are likely to occur. Road construction is also important. The model could thus be used to identify sites which are vulnerable to erosion, and where conservation measures are needed.

Efforts should be made to adopt the GIS, with the aim of counteracting the negative effects of development, such as soil erosion, soil salinity, soil pollution and flooding. Unless these can be reversed, they will cumulatively reduce the carrying capacity of land and soil resources over the years. The GIS is a significant tool to manage soil resource sustainably, restoring their productivity for future generations.

The GIS could also be used in predicting the effects of surface cover on the discharge of water and soil sediments from the catchment area. The rate of soil and water loss from bare soil is compared to vegetative cover with minimum conservation measures, the same cover with full conservation measures, and forest cover. The GIS can be used to help small-scale farmers to improve their fertiliser applications. Decision support systems can be developed which will be able to provide site-specific fertiliser recommendations.

The GIS can improve the understanding of farming areas, help promote agricultural development and assist in identifying and handling issues important to strengthening farming.

Courtesy:  The Dawn

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