I’d like to encourage everyone to make 2015 the year of putting an end to any doubts there are about whether or not precision ag is “worth it.”
With increased accuracy, better controllers and more integrated systems, it’s clear producers are seeing big benefits, and the value of precision ag will be especially important to holding onto profitability as commodity prices come down from the records set in recent years.
Research conducted this summer (2014) by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), where 2,654 active farmers responded, indicates that about 60 percent were using precision technologies on their farms.
Of course, it’s dicey to make one group’s farmers and data work for everyone. After all, every farmer responding is different, just as his land and fields are different. Still, 60 percent is a strong indicator that we’ve moved over the peak in the rate of the adoption bell curve into the late majority (See the Rate of Adoption” graph.)
The thousands using precision technology in the AFBF survey responded that using precision technologies reduced their input costs by an average of 15 percent and increased their crop yields by 13 percent. For years, those encouraging adoption have pointed to this unique capacity of precision crop production practices to both MAKE money and SAVE money.
Several studies have confirmed this, especially in recent years, because RTK, guidance and better section control have made the dream of precise planting, spreading and spraying a reality. When a farmer’s boom or planter shuts off going over end-rows, he increases yield by avoiding the drag created by overpopulation and he saves seed, chemicals and fertilizer by not over-applying, that’s both MAKING money and SAVING money.
It’s not for the growers in our audience that I’m boldfacing this fact, though some in the “late majority” may need another strong cup of coffee to wake up and smell. It’s more for the retailers, bankers, landlords and policy-makers who need to understand and support the reality of change occurring in the field.
“Generally, farmers—even smaller operations—are finding a very quick tangible benefit to using precision technology,” said John Fulton, associate professor at Ohio State University. “An important part of this is that the equipment cost has come down—in some cases it’s a third of the cost it was before.”
Fulton says his research with growers has shown savings from 2 percent to 34 percent associated with guidance and section control. An effort was made to isolate the direct benefits of section control, assuming the past adoption of guidance. “The average was around 12 to 15 percent—from regular-shaped and irregular-shaped fields,” he found.
It’s important for everyone to understand the impact of the new levels of accuracy in agriculture so that new practices made possible by this accuracy can be applied, proven and documented.
Accuracy is the point of the spear for optimum agriculture—for optimizing every input by putting it exactly where and when it’s needed to make the most of the land, labor and inputs available in an environmentally-friendly manner. It’s about “potting every seed,” as I’ve heard one retailer call it.
K. Elliott Nowels is a veteran ag journalist and agribusiness counselor with more than 30 years experience in precision ag technology, the crop input distribution channel and issues management in food and agriculture. You can connect with him at wideopenwindow.net.