You are on page 1of 4

Title: The practical use of GIS in small farm management

Joshua Cook
Department of Resource Analysis, Saint Marys University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Keywords: Agriculture, Small Farm, Farm Management, Land Use, Crops, Livestock
The proposal of this study looks to identify the practical use of Geographic Information
Science (GIS) in small farm management. Descriptive research design and cost benefit
analysis for practical uses of GIS in small farm research will be the focus of this study. The
scope will be limited to management practices of land, crops, and livestock. The qualitative
design of this study will guide future research efforts on the use of GIS in small farm
For this proposal, what is the research
Is it practical to incorporate GIS into small
farm management in the United States?
Background and need for the study?
The use of GIS in agriculture to this point
has primarily been used by agri-business
corporations or for studies directed at
policy-making. Little information exists on
how GIS technology can be incorporated
into small farm management.
Large farms or corporations have
benefited from integrating GIS
technologies, including maximizing land
use, employing precision farming, and
utilizing remote sensing. Precision farming
uses a combination of remote sensing
techniques and GPS technology that is
attached to agriculture equipment. Using
GIS tools, a detailed map is created by
measuring biomass from satellite imagery.
The raster maps created from remote
sensing techniques are used with GPS
devices hooked up to electronic sensors on
agriculture fertilizer and planting
equipment. When the equipment is in a

field it knows precisely how much

fertilizer to use at different X-Y locations
in the field based on the raster maps. The
use of GIS in this instance maximizes land
use and is therefore an advantage for agribusiness corporations over small farms
(Goddard, T. 1996).
Studies at the regional, state, and
national level have aided in analyzing
complex agricultural issues in order to
help make policy recommendations or to
improve socioeconomic conditions. Small
farms have contributed information to
these studies by providing information on
livestock, crops, and acreage. Previous
studies intending to help guide policymaking or socioeconomics have looked at
land suitability analysis, optimal livestock
grazing conditions, genetic preservation,
crops, and soil quality (Kristjanson, P
What is the need for the study?
GIS isnt typically used at a small farm
level, presumably because of the expense,
the difficulties in accessing information or
technology, and the specialized nature of
GIS. However, these small farms are still

competing with big farms that do have

access to GIS technology.
Potential recipients of this research
include owners of small farms, small coops who support local farming initiatives,
and developing countries who dont have
the large-scale agri-business industries.
Also, GIS consultants may benefit from
this study if a need for GIS in agriculture
is identified.

interviews and online research will be

conducted to identify useful guidelines. A
number of spatial datasets should be
considered for this study. Since we are
trying to determine if GIS can be used for
small farm management, the scope will be
limited to management practices
comprised of land, livestock and crops. So
the data that would be needed for this
assessment would be aerial imagery, land
cover, land use, topographic maps, roads
shapefile from the Department of
Transportation, water, digital elevation
models of several cell sizes, soil types,
geological data, watersheds, genetic data
etc. This study will determine the access
of GIS technology to small farms, as well
as the associated costs, if any.

What is the value of this research?

This type of qualitative research, which is
descriptive research design, is needed to
guide future research. In understanding the
qualitative aspects of GIS and agriculture,
more specific and qualitative studies can
be conducted in the appropriate areas (P.
Kristjanson, 2005)
Ultimately, if researched and
developed further, small farm owners
could be able to utilize their farms more
efficiently by maximizing land use and
providing alternatives to land usage
(Washington-Ottombre, C. 2010). The
behavior of livestock on a farm could be
mapped (Herrero, M. 1997) in addition to
information containing viruses (Prosser, D.
2011) and map areas for intensive grazing
(Bailey, D. 2005). Also, vegetation maps
could provide information leading to the
choice of genetic breeds of a herd
(Boettcher, 2010). The environment and
soil could also be more positively
impacted (Bailey, D. 2005).

What is the data collection procedure?

The data will be collected in a variety of
ways, including internet searches,
participant observation, interviews, and
literature reviews. Since there is little
information available on this particular
subject, a descriptive research design will
be used to gain a general overview of the
subject and to help direct further research
efforts. If, in fact, there are some aspects
of GIS that seem promising or pragmatic
to small farm management, these can be
further investigated in future studies.
What data attributes are needed to
conduct a thorough analysis?

What is the data needed for the study?

The qualitative data collected from

interviews and participant observation will
enable the identification how GIS can be
used in agriculture. For instance, values
such as high, medium, and low will be
used to differentiate the level of GIS used.
Also, qualitative data describing farms and
management practices will be good
indicators to guide future studies.

This researcher will look online for

resources such as data and interactive
maps. In addition, this researcher will look
for production and market reports from
state and federal agencies.
In order to learn about the
availability of this type of information,

Applicable attributes could be farm type,

rotational grazing, and crops grown, to be
used in the analysis.

interviews and yield comparisons from the

previous year.
Provide examples of expected
deliverables to be generated from

Describe how meaning will be made of

the raw data
In order for the data to have meaning, a
cost-benefit analysis will help determine
the practical use of GIS on a farm that is
categorized as non-corporate, such as a
small, independent family-type farm. The
study will also explore online virtual
mapping and functionality, any data for
use in agriculture, the feasibility of using
ESRI software, and mapping products
offered from precision farming products.
The cost and feasibility of small GPS
receivers will be examined, as well.

Expected deliverable includes

recommendations for integrating GIS into
small farm management or for
recommendations on further research into
the topic. The comparison of online
interactive mapping vs. licensed GIS
software using available data will also be
examined. The practical use of each will
be examined.

What is the assigned analysis method?

The design of descriptive research will

answer the research question. When
looking at all the variables, including costs
and the qualitative analysis, the practical
use of GIS on small family farms could be
identified, or at least guided into
applicable future research.

Will the design answer the research


Interviews and initial information will be

collected on how to integrate GIS
technology into agriculture. The
knowledge or skill level will then be
determined to see who would apply this
type of technology. Then, a cost-benefit
analysis will be conducted to see if this
type of technology would be affordable to
the recipients. The results will be compiled
and reported in a descriptive form, as well
as a table form.
The functionality of interactive
maps will be conducted and the
advantages and disadvantages of the
application will be identified. The
practical use of the interactive map
application and measuring the benefits for
small farm management will then be
In order to conduct the cost-benefit
analysis, a list of potential GPS, GIS, and
precision farming products will be priced
and tabulated. The benefits of these
products will be identified through

What specific problems might a critical

researcher anticipate with regard to this
In some cases, it may be difficult to find
all the information needed to complete the
study. There have been few studies
completed regarding the use of GIS in
small farm management, so some
assumptions may have to be made to
complete the study in a timely fashion. In
addition, the cost-benefit analysis may be
difficult to evaluate given the variables on
sizes of farms, prices of goods, and
amounts of productions that vary from
season to season.

To whom can the findings be


Musili, A., Kibaki, T., Kaburu, H.,

Hayombe, P., Owango, E., Irigia, B.,
Gichere, S., and Mwangi, A. 2010. Using
a role-playing game to inform the
development of landuse models for the
study of a complex socio-ecological
system. Agriculture Systems, 103, 117126.

The findings of this study can be used by

anyone who is evaluating if GIS is
practical to use in small farm management.
What specific ethical concerns exist
within this research?
While farmers can use GIS to maximize
the use of land, the impact on our
environment may be neglected, causing
obvious ethical concerns.
Bailey, D. W. 2005. Identification and
Creation of Optimum Habitat Conditions
for Livestock. Rangeland Ecology &
Management, 58, 109-118.
Boettcher, P.J., Tixier-Boichard, M., Toro,
M. A., Simianer, H., Eding., Gandini, G.,
Joost, S., Garcia, D., Colli, L., AjmoneMarsan, P., and The GLOBALDIV
Consortium. 2010. Objectives, criteria
and methods for using molecular genetic
data in priority setting for conservation
of animal genetic resources. Animal
Genetics, 41, 64-77.
Goddard, T., Kryzanowski, L., Cannon,
K., Izaurralde, C., & Martin, T. 1996.
Retrieved from
Kristjanson, P., Okike, I., Tarawali, S.,
Singh, B. B., Manyong, V. M. 2003.
Farmers perceptions of benefits and
factors affecting the adoption of
improved dual-purpose cowpea in the
dry savannas of Nigeria. Agriculture
Economics, 32, 195-210.
Washington-Ottombre, C., Pijanowski, B.,
Campbell, D., Olson, J., Maitima, J.,