Remember those coffee shop discussions back in the early 2000's when auto-steer was still considered a luxury? It's amazing how much perceptions have changed over time as folks began to realize the opportunity for savings in operator fatigue, operator error, and overall return on investment.
A lot has changed in the precision ag sector since then. Those of us who were at Husker Harvest Days this year got to see a lot of these new technologies, whether it was in the demonstration field, in a new Diversified Industries tent devoted to all things technology, or UAV demonstrations, which were held for the first time this year. Anyone who has walked the show site over the last five to ten years knows just how exponentially things have changed.
It might seem easy to disregard more advanced technologies as "unnecessary luxuries" – especially when margins are tight, but remember back when we thought auto-steer was a luxury? As new technologies do, it became more affordable, and now, many wouldn't farm without it. The challenge with any technology is finding out how to realize a return on investment and quantify it – something that's still up in the air with some newer technologies, especially on the data management front.
Take UAVs for example, a technology which drew its share of attention at HHD this year. Lots of farmers are asking questions and are interested in using them to collect imagery. The challenge is making a decision from that imagery. As one farmer pointed out to me earlier this week, with GPS guidance, realizing the return was as easy as writing a check. With aerial imagery collected with UAVs or any kind of geospatial mapping, it takes a little time, and a little computing.
However, depending on wireless access and whether or not you're working with a service provider with the processing capabilities, it's quickly becoming easier to make a decision based on the in-season imagery collected. Once the collected imagery is stitched together, different indexes like Crop Water Stress Index (CWSI) or Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) can be used to make adjustments in irrigation scheduling or fertilizer rates. In ten years, with some clarity in FAA regulations, UAVs, geospatial mapping, and Big Data may be the norm on most farms – especially as growers realize the potential to apply inputs in a more precise way and maximize return on investment.