GIS in Agriculture: How Mapping Technology Can Transform Your Farm

Since its inception, GIS has been a valuable tool for industry and government. In recent years, it has become available to individuals and small businesses. The technology has come a long way since the first commercial GIS software was released in the early 1980s, with organizations today using it for everything from analyzing retail data about consumer behavior to tracking endangered species in remote places around the globe. But what does all this mean for farmers? And more importantly — how can you use GIS technology on your farm?

An Overview of GIS History

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. Essentially, it’s a way to visualize and analyze data from different geographic areas. GPS is an acronym for Global Positioning System, which refers to the technology used to pinpoint your exact location anywhere on Earth from space.

GIS is a computer system that uses mapping technology to capture, store, analyze and present spatial or geographic data. It is used by governments, businesses and individuals to collect real-time data. Often this data can help inform decisions and overcome challenges.

GIS is a powerful tool for analyzing large amounts of data. The technology we use in our everyday lives (think Google Maps) is an example of what a GIS can do – but on a larger scale.

Governments have been using geographic information systems (GIS) for decades to solve problems and share information. In the last couple of decades, individuals and businesses have been able to harness the technology to transform their decision-making processes.

Finally, GIS is a technology that allows users to understand and interact with data related to geographic locations, such as where customers are located or how companies are positioned relative to each other. It’s used in a variety of industries and applications, including retail, film, real estate and government. Let’s get into the unique ways this technology can assist all types of farmers.

Using GIS in Farming

The potential uses of GIS in agriculture are abundant. For this post, we’ll hone in on three specific themes: 

  • Managing natural resources
  • Understanding our environment
  • Making better decisions to improve business, public health, and product quality

Managing Natural Resources

As farmers face the challenges of global warming head on, responsibly managing natural resources is one of the most important jobs they have. It’s a well known adage, among eco-conscious farmers, that livestock farmers are first and foremost, grass farmers. Without a healthy soil system to grow abundant grasses and forage, farmers have to cut into their bottom line drastically to supplement their animals’ diets with grains and corn. The same challenge holds true for crop farmers, who must responsibly manage the health of their soil by rotating the crops they grow. If they do not do this, as many large-scale mono-crop farmers have demonstrated, the soil will deplete more and more each year, creating a greater need for pesticides and herbicides to help the crops grow and avoid pests. 

GIS systems can help farmers responsibly manage natural resources by giving a comprehensive picture of their land and its assets. Assets include pastured areas, natural water sources, and the location of trees that can serve as natural windbreaks for animals. GIS can also highlight the topography of the land to reveal which areas are prone to flooding or erosion, where the best spots are for building structures like barns, and underutilized areas that could be converted to farmable land to increase productivity.

A final GIS tool that can aid farmers immensely is a real-time visualization of their farm, complete with analytics. For example, livestock farmers can utilize real-time visuals of their farm to see where exactly each of their animals are and if there are any potential problems that need attention. This could be a lone animal straggling behind the herd, or a visual of water running out and needing to be replenished.

Understanding our Environment

In tandem with responsibly managing natural resources is the ongoing quest to understand our environment. Seasoned farmers will tell you that this extends beyond just understanding the environment, and should include working with/alongside the environmental patterns of one’s farm.

The most basic examples of this include farming seasonally so that crops and animal life cycles are attuned to the natural rhythms of the seasons. But, this can expand much further by using GIS systems to collect weather data over time to help predict future needs. For example, gathering data over time on when the first annual frost hits different parts of the farm can inform planting schedules.

Geographic information systems can capture, store, analyze and present geographic data and pair that with environmental data. Here’s an example: 

A farmer has a natural spring-fed creek on her property to water her cows and sheep. Occasionally, some areas of the stream run dry. It seems unpredictable from year to year, so she is wanting to weigh the cost of installing a well, with the likelihood that the spring will run out of water. She could use GIS to monitor multiple points in her stream over the course of a year, or multiple years, to see how often the stream is dry and thus how often she would be able to rely on the well if she had one. Since wells cost thousands of dollars to install, relying on GIS is an effective way to make a financially sound decision. In the same vein, GIS helps farmers make informed decisions about irrigation systems by analyzing historical rainfall figures along with current conditions before making investments such as new water pumps or pipes – saving money while ensuring optimal crop yields every year!

Another compelling use of GIS is to inform and track soil types and soil health over time. A farmer could map out their acreage into individual parcels according to the crops planted in each area and measure soil health each year. From there, they can make informed decisions about what to plant and what areas to rest, etc.

Making Sound Decisions for Business and Health

GIS can help farmers make better business decisions in a number of ways. For example, the impact of GIS is that it can help farmers make better decisions about their farm. By analyzing data collected on land, crops and animals, agribusinesses can know more about their operations than ever before. Farmers can track crop performance and field health; livestock producers will be able to keep tabs on animal health; and growers will be able to monitor weather conditions at all times.

For agricultural producers, GIS can be an effective tool to improve your farming operation by improving productivity, reducing environmental impact and increasing profitability.

It can also help you gain valuable insights into how best to diversify your farm operations by providing information on soil conditions, water availability and climate trends in specific areas of interest. This will be especially helpful when deciding where new crops might thrive in order to grow your business into different markets or expand into new fields altogether (such as regenerative farming).

GIS is a powerful tool for analyzing large amounts of data. The technology we use in our everyday lives (think Google Maps) is an example of what a GIS can do – but on a larger scale.

Let’s say you own an almond orchard and want to know where to plant your new trees based on the soil quality, slope, aspect and other environmental factors. A GIS will help you find that information by combining it into one single map so that it’s easy to read and understand. This saves time when making decisions about where to plant, as well as helping identify any potential issues before they arise.

Organizations use GIS software to create maps and other geographic content, analyze mapped information and share that information with others. A big part of GIS technology is knowing where things are located on the earth’s surface and being able to map that information.


GIS is a tool that helps people make sense of their world by using maps. GIS combines geographic information with other types of data to solve important problems.

If you’re interested in learning more about GIS and how it can help your farm, check out Maptelligent to see how they’re helping farmers all over the country manage natural resources, understand the environment, and make sound decisions on their farm.

Rich Ziccardi

About Rich Ziccardi

Mr. Richard Ziccardi is a financial professional with over thirty years of experience in Banking, Insurance and Investments with a business focus on financial products. During his working career, Mr. Ziccardi held various roles including, but not limited to: LOB Controller, Product Manager, Chief of Staff, CAO, and Global Head of Revenue and RFP Pricing. Most recently, Mr. Ziccardi spent 19 years at Bank of New York Mellon in Asset Servicing.