Applications of GIS in Precision Agriculture

Compiled by Brooke Peterschmidt

GEO 465 Winter 2009

This list is designed to be a resource for those seeking information about precision agriculture, specifically when it comes to GIS. The technology in this field is rapidly evolving, making this a dynamic and exciting realm of technology.

Precision agriculture is a relatively new area that combines the latest in geographic technology with cropping situations to optimize inputs, reduce waste, and generate the maximum possible yields. The technology often involves the use of GPS and remote sensing for data collection, GIS for data processing and analysis, and variable rate technology for implementing ideal models. These systems are designed for use in all types of agricultural systems, from row crops to dairies, and the technology has seen widespread adoption across the US and worldwide.

Precision Agriculture and GIS

This webpage from ESRI explains how the agriculture industry can apply GIS as part of their precision agriculture system. It explains how precision and variable rate data are collected in the field, transferred to a GIS software program, and are analyzed for various applications. It lists several ESRI software programs that are used frequently and explains the significance of spatial analysis in precision agriculture.

The Precision Farming Primer

This website, published in 1999, is a complete manual to precision agriculture, published in book format on the internet. It begins by outlining the basic principles that precision agriculture is based upon, then it moves into a discussion of data capture and point sampling. Next, it discusses various methods for spatial analysis depending on the particular application. The book gives an introduction to GIS software and the basics of data structures, metadata, and simple tools of a GIS. The book concludes with several articles from experts in the field of precision agriculture.

Precision Farming: An Introduction

This extension publication from the University of Georgia provides an overview of GIS and GPS in precision agriculture, gives instructions on how to begin implementing the technology, and lists web, extension, and trade show resources for obtaining more information. The article is geared towards the farmer who is interested in implementing this technology on his or her own farm.

Precision Agriculture Videos

This Oregon State University Extension website has posted several video segments about modern farming technology, and this particular clip focuses on precision agriculture. The video shows the set-up of the computer system inside the tractor and briefly touches on some of the applications of the technology. Additional video segments cover topics such as spray equipment, pesticide applicators, and combines.

Precision Pays

This website is still under development, but it is being designed to keep farmers and researchers abreast of new developments in the field of precision agriculture. It gathers information from the 74 US land grant universities, precision agriculture companies, and retailers to share with the public. The site features news articles and resources under numerous topic headings. Its goal is to provide an extensive source of accurate, up-to-date information to the international precision agriculture community.

General Information


Fulton, J.P., S.A. Shearer, T.S. Stombaugh, M.E. Anderson, T.F. Burks, and S.F. Higgins.  2003.  Simulation of fixed- and variable-rate application of granular materials.  American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.  46(5): 1311-1321.

The authors in this study point out how variable rate technology, while useful for preventing under- or over-application of agricultural products, is not always accurate. To account for the difference between the amount specified by the GIS precision application technology and the amount that actually is laid down in the field, the researchers devised a new program to measure and model “as-applied” rates of application. The “as-applied” spatial data model used a 2-D range and compared estimated outputs with actual outputs measured from pans in the field. The authors found a much higher correlation between the “as-applied” model and the real output than the prescribed rate control method. A controller named Ag View was designed to measure the applied rates and their positions, creating a data layer that can be analyzed in common GIS programs. This new modeling program could be very useful for farmers to implement in their precision agriculture system, since it will help them to more accurately account for the amount of material applied to their fields.


Ghose, A., J. Dey, and P. Dwary.  2002.  Application of GIS on small farm and dairy management: SARSA green, Durgapur, West Bengal.  MapIndia.  <> last accessed 5 March 2009.

This article explains a study that was done in India, investigating how GIS can be applied to the management of water resources on a farm and dairy. It analyzed the area for water resources, soil texture, soil water holding capacity, and elevation. The maps generated with the GIS showed land use categories and groundwater resources. These resources would be used to plan water transport and water use requirements for the dairy. By using this technology, the farm can optimize their forage production, get adequate water transported to dairy cattle herds, and minimize waste of water, which is a limited commodity in India.


Holton, W.C.  2000.  Farming from a new perspective: remote sensing comes down to Earth.  Environmental Health Perspectives.  108(3).

This article explains the development of precision agriculture and the technologies used. One method for collecting and analyzing data on farm land involves using infared aerial photography, and the images can be evaluated to determine the soil nutrient situation. The developments in precision agriculture have come from technologies developed by NASA, including Landstat satellites and Advanced Thermal and Land Application Sensors (ATLAS). These technologies can allow farmers to determine specific rates for fertilizer applications, irrigation scheduling, pesticide application, and more.


Jordan, C. and R.V. Smith.  2005.  Methods to predict the agricultural contribution to catchment nitrate loads: designation of nitrate vulnerable zones in Northern Ireland.  Journal of Hydrology.  304(1): 316-329.

This article explains how critical it is to pinpoint sources of nitrates that could potentially pollute bodies of water. In particular, this article explores how GIS can be used to map out agricultural areas, input data about where, when, and how much fertilizers are being applied, and then determine which bodies of water are Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ). For the area of interest in Northern Ireland, land was divided into catchments, and within each catchment, land use was mapped. Fertilizer rates according to land use, human population density, livestock density, average annual rainfall, soil types, and other hydrology data was used to calculate which catchments may be NVZs. This type of analysis would allow farmers and conservationists to locate areas that are contributing detrimental amounts of nitrates and adjust their management accordingly.


Ramakrishnan, S.S. and V. Guryswamy.  2000.  GIS applications in soil data analysis.  MapIndia.  <> last accessed 5 March 2009.

The authors explain how soil data can be collected, stored, and shared between users, with a specific emphasis on Indian agriculture. A soil survey and land use organization in India can provide framework data for use in ArcGIS and ArcMAP. This study conducted a soil survey of the region and created a map of the soil classes for the area. The soil map contains detailed information on soil texture, depth, erodibility, pH, drainage, salinity, and many other characteristics. The authors explain how this type of data layer would have applications by analysis with GIS in agriculture, forestry, land use planning, engineering, and many others.


Robinson, E.  2007.  GPS, GIS, VR, and remote sensing technologies continuing to evolve.  Southeast Farm Press.  34(28): 12.

This article explains the broad range of agricultural application available for farmers using precision agriculture.  The author explains how this technology combines GIS, GPS, remote sensing, variable-rate technology, and yield monitoring to create detailed models of crop fields.  These models are useful for application such as variable-rate pesticide application, plant health assessment, and yield projections.  Each of these applications, according to the author, helps to reduce waste and maximize profits.  Precision agriculture technology continues to expand, and the author describes some of the newest innovations, including GPS navigation and interface software between the application equipment and GIS program.


Santhi, C., R.S. Muttiah, J.G. Arnold, and R. Srinivasan.  2005.  A GIS-based regional planning tool for irrigation demand assessment and savings using SWAT.  American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.  48(1): 137-147.

This article evaluates how GIS can be applied to irrigation management in agriculture with canal irrigation systems. It uses a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) approach to evaluate specific crop water needs in relation to the varying water conditions across an area. This method relied on a GIS hydrologic simulation model, and the tool has the ability to simulate various land management practices, environmental conditions, and watershed features such as hydrology, erosion, and soil temperature. A significant feature of this tool is that it is capable of calculating the evapotranspiration for specific crop types and stages, and thus determine their exact water needs. This tool has the capacity to calculate how much water is available in the root zone of the crop, how quickly the crop is depleting the available water, and determining a correct irrigation scheduling for the crop. The SWAT tool will help crop managers to ensure their crop has adequate water while preventing waste of water where it is not needed.


Seelan, S.K., S. Laguette, G.M. Casady, and G.A. Seielstad.  2003.  Remote sensing applications for precision agriculture: a learning community approach.  Remote Sensing of Environment.  88(1): 157-169.

The authors of this article explain how current technology, such as remote sensing, geographic information systems, and global positioning systems, has a huge potential to benefit the agricultural community. The benefits from implementing this technology include increasing yield, reducing chemical inputs, preventing pollution from fertilizer leachates, and many other benefits. However, research has shown that adoption of these technologies is quite low. The authors attribute this to users who are unfamiliar with and lack the necessary skills to utilize these tools. To meet these needs, the Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium (UMAC) developed teamwork and a community approach between farmers and researchers to help farmers begin using these technologies. UMAC trained extension agents and farmers on the systems and provided many types of data sets for users in the upper Midwest area. The authors describe several case studies that illustrate the tremendous benefits that can be gained by implementing these technologies.


Shanwad, U.K., V.C. Patil, and H.H. Gowda.  2004.  Precision farming: Dreams and realities for Indian agriculture.  Map India.  <> February 2009.

The authors of this article explore how precision agriculture can be implemented in India. In this country, the Green Revolution drastically improved their crop production, but farmers are still dealing with less than optimum yields, waste of resources, and potential damage to the environment from intensive farming practices. The authors explain how technology such as GIS, GPS, variable rate, and remote sensing can be used on particular crops and field situations to increase production and profits of Indian farmers. They also acknowledge the need for data sharing and a support system to facilitate the adoption of this technology.


Tianhong, L., S. Yanxin, and X. An.  2002.  Integration of large scale fertilizing models with GIS using minimum unit.  Environmental Modeling and Software.  18(3): 221-9.

This article explains how a software program, Soil Management Information System (SMIS), was developed to use GIS technologies in precision agriculture. The main focus was using the program, along with soil fertility samples from a given area, to determine a fertilization regime for crops. The SMIS program allows users to build layers of data showing various feature of interest, and a fertilizer model calculates fertilizer conditions on various areas. Using growth models and nutrient equations for rice and maize, this paper illustrates how fertilizer needs can be calculated for specific crops with specific soil conditions, using actual soil data for farmland near Beijing, China. This system could be very useful for farmers seeking to improve the efficiency of their fertilization program by minimizing product waste and maximizing crop yield.


Zhang, B., Y. Zhang, D. Chen, R.E. White, and Y. Li.  2004.  A quantitative evaluation of soil productivity for intensive agriculture in China.  Geoderma.  123(3): 319-331.

This article explains a study that was conducted in order to create a system for quantifying soil fertility. It involves collecting data on soil type and soil moisture with GIS technologies and combining that with existing methods for ranking soil productivity. This study used a county in the Jiangsu Province of China to develop the system. The soil data for this region was analyzed using the analytic hierarchy process (AHP) and the Delphi method to determine the soil productivity. This study found that soil horizon composition was the biggest contributing factor to soil productivity. Based on the results from this study, the various regions of the county studied were able to be classified and mapped according to soil productivity.




Software Sources

AGCO Advanced Technology Solutions

AGCO software is designed specifically for agricultural professionals. It focuses on precision farming, with various tools available for each step in the process. There is a data collection unit, a software suite for use on a PC, a GTA500 SGIS program for data processing, as well as a complete tractor navigation system for implementing crop plans in the field.


SST Software

This company specializes in GIS and data collection software for the agricultural community. The SST software includes an extensive toolbox program for data analysis, a lab program for data processing, and Summit and Stratus tools for remote and desktop work. Additionally, the company developed FarmRite, and clearinghouse for agricultural information. This company serves 42 US states, 8 Canadian provinces, and 22 countries across the globe.


Map Shots

This software company focuses on providing crop management applications for agriculture, with the ability to perform crop planning, recordkeeping, and precision agriculture functions. The company develops complete software packages that serve farmers, crop consultants, agricultural insurance agents, and farm suppliers. Additionally, the company creates software specifically for equipment companies such as John Deere and DuPont.


Red Hen Systems

Red Hen Systems creates hardware and software for GIS applications. Their programs are designed to accommodate photo and video data, and specialized GPS data collection equipment can be used to gather data. The computer applications are then used to process and analyze data. These tools can be used by agriculture, defense, emergency preparedness, natural resources, and transportation.



This company is well known in the precision agriculture world for its GPS, optics, laser, and positioning systems. Trimble has a wide range of products with applications in fields such as agriculture, construction, engineering, and many more. It markets its products to over 100 countries and maintains a reputation for excellence.

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