Precise Agriculture in Sunflower Production

Duško Marinković, PhD, Deputy Manager of the Expert Service of Victoria Logistic

The coming of the “Green Revolution” resulted in a significant increase in the productivity and efficacy of agricultural production, primarily due to the introduction of agrochemical products (pesticides and mineral fertilizers), the increase in the genetic potential of cultivated plants with the goal of achieving greater yields (introduction of first hybrids and selected varieties), and agricultural machinery (reducing the workload of humans and domestic animals). All of this contributed to a significant increase in yield per surface unit, which notably reduced world hunger. After overcoming the problem of world hunger (prior to the “Green Revolution”, this problem was present, to a certain extent, in all countries), the world population has continued to grow, which means that the global demand for food is still increasing to this day. In addition to the growing number of people who need food, contemporary agriculture faces new challenges in the form of agricultural land reduction (each year, around 6000ha of agricultural land in Serbia disappears). The reasons for agricultural land reduction are numerous (compression, acidification, erosion, pollution, reallocation...) and it would be unrealistic to expect this situation to change in the near future.

All of the above clearly means that we must increase the productivity per surface unit, while simultaneously reducing production costs. The only way to realize these aspirations is by applying new scientific and technical solutions in the agricultural production process. Examples of introducing new technologies in agricultural production have been numerous over the last decades. The greatest progress has been made with the introduction of GPS technology. Through the precise guidance of agricultural machinery and familiarizing ourselves with each segment of our agricultural lands, the efficacy of the production process significantly increases.

GPS is used in all segments of field agricultural production, from the soil sampling process to crop harvesting. GPS can be used in the production of all field crops, and therefore in the production of sunflower as well.

The first agrotechnical measure to be taken in the process of sunflower production is soil sampling, in order to determine the optimum quantity and formulation of mineral fertilizers. The soil sampling system applied by Victoria Logistic Expert Service is based on the use of GPS technology in the process of lot border recording, namely, dividing large agricultural land into smaller segments of between 5 and 10ha, and recording the position of each individual plant. In addition to easier spatial orientation during soil sampling, the recording of lot borders enables us to quickly and efficiently determine the actual surface (which is often different in reality compared to the documentation), which increases the efficacy of utilizing input material and the accuracy of determining performance. Recording the position of each individual plant allows us to return to the same positions four years later and repeat the sampling. In this way, we can accurately track the changes in our soil and adjust the mineral fertilizer quantities accordingly.

Modern soil sampling systems involve obtaining and comparing different data (information about the amount of yield collected with a harvester, data obtained by recording the lots using drones, soil maps, recordings of lots using sensors and determining the altitude of each part of the lot), in order to make the best and most precise soil sampling map possible. The maps should preferably be made based on as much obtained data as possible. This sampling system only makes sense if it is possible to apply mineral fertilizers by means of adequate spreaders in accordance with the maps made. These spreaders must have the option of automatic control of the doser opening and the number of revolutions of the disc/discs based on the fertilization map (on the basis of the soil analysis for the planned sunflower yield) and its position on the lot. The usefulness of applying mineral fertilizer in sunflower production based on soil analysis has been confirmed on multiple occasions. In the previous production year, we increased the sunflower yield by 143kg/ha through the controlled application of NPK fertilizer (based on soil analysis) at our experiment field in Banatsko Novo Selo, compared to the system based on experience (without soil analysis).

In addition to the application of mineral fertilizer, the maps we made can be used for the execution of all other agrotechnical measures, especially when it comes to sunflower sowing and the application of pesticides. By means of the dynamic regulation/determination of plant numbers in accordance with soil fertility maps, i.e. the potential of different parts of a lot, it is possible to achieve maximum yield in sunflower production. The application of herbicides in sunflower production can be significantly more cost effective if they are applied to different parts of the lot (based on a weed map) in accordance with the weed populations and species. By introducing these systems into sunflower production, immense amounts of money can be saved and efficacy in the production process can be achieved.

GPS technology that allows us to reduce the zones of overlap of the spaces between plants to 2cm enables us to save up to 20-25% on input materials, depending on the agrotechnical measure. The biggest savings can be achieved when it comes to fertilizers and pesticides, and these devices do not require the use of markers. The introduction of new technical and technological solutions in order to increase productivity must not damage soil fertility in any way. In order to make sure that will not happen, it is necessary to perform the required tests in the given agroecological conditions prior to the application of these new solutions on a wider scale, especially if these solutions have to do with new land cultivation systems.

“Za našu zemlju” (“For Our Land”) magazine, November 2016, No. 47