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Adopting precision agriculture

Adopting precision farming technologies can be likened to healthy eating — you know it’s good for you, but it’s easier sometimes not to do it anyway, whether due to financial considerations or some other reason.

According to a survey completed this year of farmers in southwest Alabama, more than 91 percent of the growers believe that precision agriculture practices will increase their profitability.

This past March, the Auburn University Precision Ag Team conducted a series of meetings in the southwest portion of the state. Farmers who attended these meetings were asked to provide information about their adoption of various precision agriculture technologies through the use of an Automated Response System (ARS). Thirty-two farms participated in the voluntary survey.

Results of the survey showed that more than 45 percent of farmers are currently using grid or zone sampling, and an additional 28 percent plan to adopt the technology within the next two years.

Additionally, more than 60 percent of the participating farmers are currently using real-time kinetic (RTK) GPS, and an additional 20 percent plan to adopt the technology within the next two years. Auto-steer ranked highest as the precision ag technology most likely to impact profitability.

The survey also revealed that of the 37 percent of farmers who currently have yield monitors, less than half use the data after they’ve completed harvest. Also, almost 29 percent of respondents use an agricultural geographic information system (GIS).

Of the respondents, 68 percent are using a lightbar for GPS guidance and 11 percent plan to use one in the next two years.

In addition, 37 percent are interested in using Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) as a source of GPS correction and 31 percent plan to use it in the next two years.

According to the National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory (NESPAL) at the University of Georgia, precision agriculture adoption rates are dramatically different across the globe with the highest adoption rates in the United States and the European Union.

In the United States, the Midwestern Corn Belt is the most intensive user of precision agriculture technology.

However, usage in California and the Southeast is rapidly increasing, states NESPAL. In these areas, farmers are actively using precision agriculture technology and practices and business have started up that market equipment and services.

In a survey conducted this past year by Ohio State University, guidance systems RTK auto steer, continued to be one of the top precision agriculture components of choice for Ohio farmers, and the most rapidly adopted precision equipment.

Marv Batte, an agricultural economist with the OSU Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, surveyed 2,500 farmers with sales of $50,000 or more to determine the rate of precision agriculture adoption among 17 components.

The survey, which resulted in a 58 percent response rate, is a continuation of similar surveys conducted in 1999 and 2003.

“With precision agriculture continuing to be an emerging technology, and given the complexity of some of the equipment, the surveys we conduct are useful in determining where precision agriculture technology stands with Ohio farmers and which components they are adopting based on their current needs,” says Batte.

According to the results of the survey, nearly 55 percent of commercial farmers had adopted at least one piece of precision farming equipment. Precision guidance systems and yield monitors were the most frequently adopted precision farming equipment, with about 32 percent of all commercial farmers adopting.

Precision guidance systems have been adopted by farmers most readily over the past several years. Since 1999, adoption rates have jumped 27 percent. Adoption rates of yield monitors increased 15 percent since 1999.

“Precision guidance systems are popular because they are easy to use, are getting more inexpensive, improve efficiency, save time and labor, and can be used for a variety of field work,” says Batte.

“With precision guidance equipment, the potential savings are numerous and immediate.”

Other precision agriculture components being rapidly adopted by Ohio farmers include geo-referenced grid soil sampling; satellite GPS receiver; boundary mapping; variable rate application of lime, phosphorus and potassium; and aerial or satellite field photography.

According to Batte, the rate of adoption and the precision agriculture component adopted is dependent on a number of factors including farm size, annual sales and what kind of crops are being grown, like high-value fruits, vegetables, corn and soybeans or low-value crops like hay or pasture.

The adoption is seven times larger for the largest farm class than for the smallest class of commercial farmers, he says.

According to the Ohio survey, the least adopted precision agriculture equipment was variable rate application of pesticides and micronutrients.

Batte says the precision agriculture technology with the most potential is variable rate seeding. The adoption rate of the equipment has increased nearly 5 percent since 1999.

Members of the Auburn University Precision Ag Team have several recommendations for growers who are making the decision to purchase and/or adopt these technologies, including the following:

Buy products that are compatible with multiple operations.

Understand the time requirement of precision ag systems and know when to outsource activities to consultants.

Develop long-term precision ag implementation plans to help with purchasing decisions.

Talk to specialists to determine the level of GPS accuracy required for your operation.


TAGS: Management
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