Precision Agriculture Concepts: Controlled Traffic Farming

Several years ago, BBI Spreaders realized that our equipment must conform to and optimize an array of advances in precision farming technology and practices.  To answer the precision ag bell, the company has developed a variety of innovations that perform in the service of precision-targeted agronomy,  variable-rate spreading technology, auto-steer capability, RTK, and GPS navigation, to name a few.

From time to time, we will explore some of the practices and technology moving the profession of farming forward in new ways around the world.  For this piece, we will outline the concept of controlled traffic farming, a concept that’s taken hold in Europe, as well as two of BBI’s key markets outside of the United States—Australia and Canada.

Controlled traffic farming is basically a field navigation system that’s been developed in response to one of the great challenges that farmers face, soil compaction.  Without controlled traffic, all the different types of equipment, from tillage to planters, spreaders, and harvesters, can cause compaction problems on a large percentage of the land.  Compaction, caused by the non-overlapping tracking of these various equipment pieces, creates a real problem as fields fail to recover season after season.

Also exacerbating the problem of soil compaction is the recent trend of farmers needing equipment of all types that’s bigger, and by necessity, heavier.

Farmers achieve controlled traffic farming goals for minimized soil compaction by overlapping their equipment tracks whenever possible. As with many farming concepts, there’s an old-school analog option—track-marking—and a precision option, featuring satellite guidance of the equipment in use.  As with other precision ag technologies, controlled traffic farming has multiple goals for driving greater efficiency through cutting fuel costs, labor, and machinery costs, all while drastically reducing soil damage to the tune of 80-90 percent over traditional farming methods.  Advocates such as CTF Europe say that controlled traffic farming delivers these business results, as well as multiple conservation benefits, such as reduced water run-off and soil erosion, as well as improved fertilizer use efficiency.  These benefits and others likely result in controlled traffic farming practices have the greatest environmental impact of any precision ag technology.

Key to the future adoption of controlled traffic farming, on a mass scale, is the further development of wide-span equipment.  In the spreader sector, where BBI performs its work, that means delivering equipment with consistent spread patters across very wide swaths.

In North America, pioneering research is taking place on the Canadian prairie.  Controlled Traffic Farming Alberta is a grass-roots organization of farmers looking to take precision agriculture techniques to the next level.  This farmer-led group has earned the support of multiple public and private partners across Canada and is conducting cutting-edge research in the province of Alberta.  The group’s work will serve as a guide to expanding controlled traffic farming across North America, as they identify soils and landscapes where the practice is both agronomically feasible and economically viable.