Growth Points: The meaning of accuracy

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Accuracy is very important to precision agriculture, of course, but I think what it means may be changing. The term once was mostly associated with the precision of your global positioning, but now it seems to mean more.

A post by James Addicott, a student at the University of Cambridge in the UK, set me to thinking about the implications. In his post, he shared that “according to the UK (United Kingdom) Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 76 percent of farmers in England want to ‘improve accuracy’ using precision farming techniques, whereas 63 percent want to ‘reduce input costs.’ There is little information other than this.”

So, what are these growers in the UK thinking when they respond in this way? What is the meaning of accuracy to your growers and today’s U.S. crop production system? Perhaps it’s a bit like that old line about gun control: It really means you hit what you are aiming at.

“Accuracy of management zone boundaries can come by using electrical conductivity mapping of fields (like Veris Soil Mapping),” writes Mike Netz of Widmer and Associates. “I find these types of management zones very accurate and meaningful, compared to a grid sampling.”

Okay, so make your map of field variables more accurate. But that doesn’t matter much if you are using a shotgun approach to apply your fertilizer, does it?

Netz relates that his customers who are using RTK correction for steering, variable-rate seeding, liming, fertilizing, seed brakes on their planters, yield mapping and sprayer swath control all tell him the equipment expense can be re-couped in three years.

Ah, so the meaning of accuracy—applied through all this smart equipment—is optimizing inputs to save money. First know the field variables, then, act on those differences with more refined field equipment.

“The savings come from seed, chemical, fertilizer savings, time, fuel, yield increases and stress relief for the operators,” Netz explained. “None of them say that they would ever go back to farming like they used to, before precision agriculture.”

In short, growers have seen the future of greater accuracy—applied accuracy—and they are liking what they see.

Farmers and producers want more accuracy and greater resolution of their data” stated Douglas Prairie, product manager at Raven Industries.

“This means they want planter data on a row-by-row basis, they want section control on each row and nozzle as it passes through the field.” He adds that it will also mean they want more accurate yield data and most likely higher resolution from satellite and aerial imagery. And who can know exactly what UAVs might bring to the party.

Watching corn planted in Colorado recently brought home to me how accuracy has changed. The grower had mapped the precise circumference of the center pivot and now the seed count and starter fertilizer was changing automatically, box-by-box, as the planter crossed the circle from dryland into irrigation.

“Accuracy is really about decision making now,” said Bob Wanzel, former editor of AgProfessional and long-time follower of precision agriculture’s advancements. “More accurate decisions mean making the most of every input you’ve got.”

Accuracy really becomes a means to an end. A shotgun is good when you are close to the turkey, but you won’t be able to pick off a coyote with it at 200 yards. And, you can have a great scope on that rifle, but if it’s not been zeroed in, you might as well be using the shotgun.

Equipment accuracy is a tool to gain more efficient use of all of your inputs. Decision-making accuracy is a way to be more successful in meeting grower goals.

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