Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

GIS in Agriculture

Farming is more sophisticated than it ever was. Good farmers do lots of planning and analysis. Information like soil type, soil characteristics, water sources and climate are important for strategic planning. Soil fertility and historic crop yield are important for precision farming purposes.  By using GIS in agriculture, farms can be more profitable because informed farmers can achieve higher crop yields and they can reduce waste.

Three Strategic Uses for GIS in Agriculture

#1 – Strategic Planning

GIS can present combinations of map layers to address different agricultural problems. For example, depending on the size of their farm and presence of factors that are important to the type of farm, a farmer might view and analyse GIS maps of soil properties, average rainfall, elevation, and more, all in one map. Using these detailed maps, they can plan the most efficient and cost-effective way to use their land.

The big problem here is that

#2 – Water Management

Another important use for GIS in agriculture is water management. Using GIS, the farmer can determine where rain water is draining too quickly or too slowly so that either engineering steps can be taken to reroute its flow, or chemicals can be applied to improve the internal drainage of the soil. In areas where the water flows too quickly, the result can be crop loss and soil erosion. In areas where water flows too slowly, crop growth could be hampered, sometimes referred to as plants having ‘wet feet’.

#3- Crop Suitability Mapping

Soil characteristic maps can help with crop planning. A map of soil themes such as salinity, internal drainage, pH and various aspect of soil chemistry that are important to the crop, a farmer is planning on planting, can provide an important information backdrop for understanding whether or not a crop will grow successfully in an area.

GIS farm mapping

Figure 2: GIS Farm Mapping

Precision Farming Use for GIS in Agriculture

Using GIS, a farmer can plan their crops down to the very last detail. GIS software can be used to gather and coordinate important data like soil composition. For example, if a farmer knows what nutrients are already in the soil and where they are deficient, they can avoid the unnecessary application of expensive fertilizer and trace elements by applying them only where they are required and in the appropriate quantities.

GIS in agriculture

Figure 1: GIS in Agriculture: Map layers such as soil chemistry, soil type and topography (and derived maps such as soil drainage), previous yields, etc, can provide important information for field management

Want to learn how to do your own GIS for agriculture projects?

The big problem with GIS in agriculture is that the foundation maps you need for this type of work are rarely available off-the-shelf. Sure, there’s free high resolution satellite imagery out there that could help you map land cover, and by association, land characteristics. But, that’s a big skillset to build if you only have basic project needs.

An alternative is to make use of existing paper maps and digitize them into a GIS.

Often soil, environmental and agricultural studies exist in archives and are thought to be useless. They rarely are. Mostly they they need to be made geographically correct and their detail improved. A good chunk of my GIS consultancy used to be about reinterpreting old soil maps and making them useful at farm and to farm and country-town level for various GIS land suitability modelling projects.

Sometimes, with the aid of a little field work, archival maps can be reinterpreted and drawn onto readily available and geographically correct maps (such as contours), and then digitized in Quantum GIS. That’s what I show you how to do in my digitizing course. In the course I also talk about the best way to work with technically reluctant field scientists. You know. Those “old timers” who, having forgotten more about their field than their younger colleagues know, don’t see the need for technology.

If you would like to learn how to restore old maps using the free, open source, Quantum GIS (QGIS), enroll in my QGIS 3 for Beginners digitizing course.

Other QGIS for Beginners courses you might like

GIS Tutorial for Beginners #1: QGIS Orientation

In step-by-step follow-along videos, I show you…

  • How to install QGIS 3 (and the best version to install)
  • A tour of the Quantum GIS interface.
  • How to shade a map.
  • How to present maps using map layouts.
  • How to create geo-pdfs (pdf files that are mini GISs)

QGIS tutorial for Beginners #4: How to geocode

Google makes geocoding look simple, but its not when you have a spreadsheet of your own addresses to map. How well geocoding works depends a lot on how well you format your address spreadsheet, and the map that you are geocoding against.

Using a small teaching dataset, I show you how to achieve high geocoding rates.