A Whole New Precision Ag World

Can you feel it? Based upon all the evidence, we are standing on the threshold of an exciting (and potentially scary) new era when it comes to precision agriculture. Before we look towards the future, however, let’s take a brief look back.

When I first started with CropLife® magazine in 2000, precision agriculture hadn’t been around that long. Still, even to someone who was then an outsider to the ag retail business, I could appreciate its potential. Here were all sorts of technology-based tools that ag retailers and their grower-customers could utilize to not only increase crop yields in the short term, but gather volumes of data along the way that could be used to keep boosting yields down the line as well. To me, it seemed like a no-brainer that precision ag would be the wave of the future.

But this wasn’t the case early on. Based upon our magazine’s annual survey of precision ag users, the adoption rate for the market held relatively steady in the 52% to 60% range for much of the early 2000s. This figure bumped up slightly once automatic steering systems became more commonplace in 2007-09, but it never really moved that much higher.

When I would quiz industry contacts and friends about this slow rate of precision ag adoption, the answer would always come back to data. “I’ve collected tons of good data using precision ag tools, but I’m haven’t found the time to really dig into it and make it work for me yet,” seemed to be the most common response I’ve heard over the years.

Now, however, it appears as if excitement for new precision ag technologies is starting to pick up steam. In the fall, our sister publication, Precision Ag Special Reports, looked at the adoption of mobile technology devices such as smartphones and tablets into the ag retail market. “The Internet quality and availability seems to be improving at a fairly rapid pace, which makes the devices much more usable for ag,” said Ag Info Tech’s Tim Norris.

In this month’s issue, our cover story finds plenty of desire for more such products. “Pictures and video can come back to the farmer in near real time instead of getting a paper report at the end of the week,” said Kris Tom, Tom Farms, regarding the use of a pair of Google Glass to collect data.

And in the CropLife May 2014 edition, we looked at the Unmanned Aer­ial Vehicles (UAVs) segment. Although not yet approved for use, plenty of suppliers and potential users are just waiting for the governmental okay before putting these products into action for precision ag’s cause.

Of course, this ability to collect more data and manage it more effectively has spawned many questions. Who owns it? What kinds of information could/should be shared? This summer, CropLife will hold a Big Data workshop to provide some clarity.

Where precision ag goes from here is still anybody’s guess. But based upon everything I’ve seen so far this year, 2014 could be the beginning of a whole new precision ag world!

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