Precision farming

A.Y. 2021/2022
Overall hours
AGR/02 AGR/19
Learning objectives
Precision agronomy
To know the concepts used to prepare prescription maps in precision agriculture, focusing on fertilisation, soil amendment and weed control. To know how to quantitatively represent the processes occurring in cropping systems, with these objectives: to effectively integrate site-specific information on soil and crop status (e.g. yield maps, crop vigor maps, soil texture maps); to identify limiting factors for crop production; to decide the optimal rates of site-specific production factors to be applied.
Precision livestock farming for animal welfare
The welfare of farmed animals is an essential prerequisite which, in addition to safeguarding the respect of the ethical aspects of production, allows to achieve high efficiency and to keep the animals in good health conditions, minimizing the consumption of resources and the emission of pollutants per unit of product, limiting the use of veterinary medicines and offering better guarantees in terms of food safety of products of animal origin.
Precision animal husbandry offers management tools that allow to monitor the status of the animals, contributing to the improvement of their health and well-being.
The course aims to provide the student with the knowledge bases for the evaluation of the animal welfare, in relation to microclimatic conditions, housing, nutrition and management, through the identification of the main useful indicators, the currently available precision animal husbandry techniques and achievable results.
Expected learning outcomes
Precision agronomy
The student will be able to mathematically represent the main processes occurring in the soil-crop-atmosphere system, to integrate this representation with site-specific soil and crop data, and to use it to decide the application rates of fertilizers and herbicides (prescription maps). The student will also be able to critically evaluate different tools for the preparation of prescription maps.
Precision livestock farming for animal welfare
The student will learn about the basics of farmed animal welfare and the indicators that can be used for its evaluation and monitoring.
The student will be able to critically evaluate the main precision livestock tools for the evaluation of animal welfare. He will learn to integrate information also by developing simple predictive models for decision support.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
First semester
Course syllabus
E.U. 1:
· Description of the course and presentation of the program
· Introduction to precision agronomy: definitions, objectives, methodologies
Dynamic systems and production factors
· Conceptual model of the cropping system: definition of system, input variables, state variables, output variables; time and space in precision agronomy.
· Growth analysis of herbaceous crops and empirical dose-response relationships: linear and non-linear models, growth rates
· Crop response and limiting factors: law of minimum, law of optimum; the three quadrant diagram; use efficiency of inputs; the case of nitrogen - NUE, NUpE, NUtE; Interactions between factors.
Conceptual framework for formulating prescription maps: required inputs and expected outputs.
· Site specific management: sensor-based and map-based approaches; definition of a prescription map; definition and properties of information layers; spatial scale and resolution; spatial variability
· Monitoring and analysis of soil properties - sampling methods: direct, scattered sampling; choice of scale and interpolation methods; proximal sensors for monitoring and characterizing the spatial variability of the soil
· Monitoring of crop status - Sensors for measuring crop status; operating principles, characteristics and supports
· Site specific harvesting and yield maps
Sowing and site-specific soil tillage: principles, techniques and agronomic and environmental considerations
· Types and tillage strategies
· Map-based approaches for site-specific soil tillage
· Sensor-based approaches for site-specific soil tillage
· Strip-tillage and Controlled Traffic Farming
· Site-specific sowing: control of density and depth
Site-specific fertilization: principles, techniques and agronomic and environmental considerations
· General principles: types of fertilization; approaches to site-specific fertilization; the fertilization plan
· Site-specific nitrogen fertilization by map-based approaches: simplified budget and simulation models applied to site-specific nitrogen application
· Site-specific nitrogen fertilization by sensor-based approaches: general principles and multispectral sensors for measuring the nitrogen availability of the crop
· Reactive models based on control line and proximal optical sensors for variable rate distribution
· Dual models for proximal optical sensors - NFOA (N Fertilization Optimization Algorithm) and Holland & Schepers algorithms for variable rate distribution
· Combined Map & Sensor-Based approaches
· Satellite-based algorithms and Nitrogen Nutrition Index
· Phosphatic and Potassic Fertilization, Organic Fertilization and pH Correction
Site-specific weed control: principles, techniques and agronomic and environmental considerations
· Weeding strategies and techniques
· Methods of sampling and use of sensors to detect the spatial variability of weeds
· Methods for weeding prescription maps and site-specific management of weeds
E.U. 2
- Definitions of animal welfare, stress and homeostasis
- Notes on the process of domestication and human-animal interaction
- Basics of physiology and social, spatial, reproductive and maternal behavior of livestock
- Livestock systems: critical points for animal welfare and legislation
- Animal welfare: productive and reproductive performance, implications for environment and food safety
- Monitoring and assessment of animal behavior and welfare at the farm, during transport and at the slaughterhouse
- Precision Livestock Farming applications for monitoring animal behavior and welfare
- Modelling animal production, behaviour and welfare
- Educational visits to farms for the assessment of behavior and welfare
Prerequisites for admission
E.U 1:
Cropping systems
Geomatics for agriculture

E.U. 2 - Knowledge of the husbandry techniques of the main livestock species
Teaching methods
E.U. 1:
Lectures with the direct involvement of the students in the discussion and exercises. Critical analysis of application cases and study of the theory behind commercial operating systems. Critical analysis of research experiences, study of theoretical principles and considerations on the feasibility of application towards operating systems
E.U. 2:
Frontal teaching with student involvement; educational visits at livestock farms to verify in the field the information and the knowledge gained in classroom. Attendance is highly recommended. The face-to-face lessons are streamed online on the Teams channel of the course, while all the slides presented during the lectures are available on Ariel.
Teaching Resources
E.U. 1 - Available on the ARIEL website: lecture slides, scientific articles and other material needed for the exercises
Recommended books
- Casa, R., 2016. Agricoltura di precisione, Collana Edagricole Università e Formazione. Edagricole-New Business Media, Milano, Italy.
- Heege, H.J. (Ed.), 2013. Precision in Crop Farming. Springer Netherlands, Dordrecht. doi: 10.1007 / 978-94-007-6760-7

E.U. 2 - Lecture slides and scientific papers available online on the Ariel web site
Assessment methods and Criteria
E.U. 1
Oral exam: the evaluation criteria are based on theoretical and applicative knowledge of the subject; ability to correctly frame the topics and discuss them with adequate connections; logic in the introduction of concepts; properties of technical and scientific language.
The grade is out of thirty.
E.U. 2
The exam consists of a short, non mandatory, report on a topic, agreed with the teacher about the aspects of precision livestock farming and animal welfare, and in an oral test. The evaluation criteria are based on theoretical and applicative knowledge of the subject; ability to correctly frame the topic and discuss it with adequate links; logic and sequentiality in the introduction of concepts; properties of technical and scientific language.
The grade is expressed in thirtieths; it will derive from the weighted average of the scores of the report (30%), if presented, and of the oral exam (70%)
Agronomia di precisione
AGR/02 - AGRONOMY AND FIELD CROPS - University credits: 0
AGR/19 - ANIMAL SCIENCE - University credits: 0
Computer room practicals: 8 hours
Lessons: 28 hours
Professor: Ragaglini Giorgio
Controllo del benessere animale
AGR/02 - AGRONOMY AND FIELD CROPS - University credits: 0
AGR/19 - ANIMAL SCIENCE - University credits: 0
Lessons: 32 hours
by appointment
Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences - Via Celoria 2