Precision Ag Survey: Final Thoughts And Future Trends

The 2013 precision dealer survey again showed that guidance systems clearly dominated as the precision technologies most used by agricultural retailers. Coming up fast behind guidance systems were sprayer boom and nozzle controls. Manual guidance has been on top for years. However, recently, autoguidance has caught up. Sprayer boom and nozzle control systems were just added to the survey in 2011.

It isn’t a big surprise that these three are at the top. With each, being able to apply crop inputs more precisely, reduce the overlap in field passes, minimize skips and oversprays along field borders, waterways, point rows and end rows all contribute to the bottom line by directly reducing costs. In visits with dealers, some have noted that these systems can pay for themselves in just one year’s use. This is all automated technology that doesn’t depend on human intervention or another set of information to make a decision — just the position in the field from GPS.

This is in contrast to using the more information-intensive technologies such as satellite/aerial imagery, grid or zone soil sampling and soil electrical conductivity mapping to measure spatial characteristics in the field, and then using that information to variably apply fertilizers, crop protection products, seeds and other inputs across fields. Each of these information-dependent technologies has great potential to substantially reduce inputs and increase yields, but seeing the results isn’t usually as immediate or straightforward.

Making Gains

But while the guidance and other position-only technologies remain at the top, the 2013 survey results showed some of the largest gains in the survey’s history in grid or zone soil sampling, remote sensing, yield monitor data analysis and variable-rate nutrient applications — technologies that depend on site-specific, variable field information as an input to manage fields in a site-specific way. This begs the question: After two decades into this business, are we better realizing one of the original promises of precision farming, understanding the reasons for field variability and how our management can address this?

Many agricultural dealers first entered the precision farming arena in the 1990s by offering grid or management zone soil sampling, and investing in custom fertilizer and lime spreaders to variable-rate these inputs. At the same time, their grower-customers began using combine yield monitors linked to GPS and began producing yield maps. While the differences seen in soil characteristics and the variation in productivity across fields were often striking, it often became difficult to relate cause and effect. Certainly, a few things were obvious — yield effects along tree lines, the eroded hillside, or that big hole in the yield map where the tile was broken. And by grid or zone sampling, users could often better see and address the nutrient variability in fields. But they didn’t see the big advantages that many of us observing from afar expected to see.

Future Trends

As we look to the future in using information to spatially manage fields, the following factors come into play in making a site-specific approach work:

  • Correlations between spatial information and crop responses. What is measured must relate to a factor that influences crop responses. While this may be obvious for direct measures such as soil or tissue samples, it isn’t as obvious with indirect measures such as aerial imagery or soil electrical conductivity. Crop responses to inputs can be complicated. There are dozens of factors that influence crop yields, and these often interact. 
  • Differential crop responses to inputs. Looking at a response curve, bigger differences in crop responses favor a variable approach.
  • Economics rule. The time and expense associated with obtaining site-specific information can’t overwhelm the advantages to spatial management. Currently, cost savings dominate, but in the future it could be related more to yield gains or to reducing the environmental impact.
  • The spatial density of information needed to characterize the variability. For example, how many pixels are needed in a picture to decipher the objects it has captured?
  • Costs of inputs and the value of the crop. High cost inputs and high crop values both favor a site-specific approach.

To make spatial management worth doing vs. a whole-field approach, the cost of the information gathering, data analysis and costs related to variable-rate application need to be less than the returns generated from input savings and yield increases. Twenty years into precision farming, the market still doesn’t fully understand the variation seen in yield maps and most growers are still managing their seeding rates, crop protection products and nutrients on a whole field basis.

A one-year jump in survey results doesn’t necessarily signal a trend, as we’ve seen before in this survey. But it does give hope that maybe the marketplace is making some gains in figuring this out. 

Leave a Reply

Precision Ag Stories

Precision AgUAS: The S Stands For Smart, Service And Sensors
May 1, 2014
The only thing occuring more rapidly than the technologies’ evolution is the clamoring to implement UAS into agriculture as soon as possible. Read More
Precision AgAg Retail: 3 Tech Trends To Watch In 2014
April 1, 2014
It's been a busy first quarter of technology developments in 2014. Here are some of the highlights, and things to watch in the months ahead. Read More
Valley Variable Rate Irrigation
Precision AgMaximizing Returns From Water Inputs
March 3, 2014
Irrigation manufacturers have developed some vital new technologies to fine-tune irrigation and save growers money, water, energy and labor. Read More
Todd Golly and UAVs
Precision AgReal-World UAV Experience In Agriculture
February 3, 2014
Minnesota grower Todd Golly shares his views on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. Read More

Trending Articles

EquipmentSummer Show Preview 2014: Superior Sprayers Take The Field
July 3, 2014
In this final installment of our coverage of the major categories of Big IRON that retailers can expect to test-drive at this summer’s events, here is a look at 19 sprayers. Read More
Scouting a soybean patch at Green Valley Ag.
EmployeesCropLife Compensation Survey: Battling Talent Drain
July 2, 2014
Retailers too often lose employees to companies outside of agriculture, while recruiting efforts are most often limited to competitors and other ag-focused organizations. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences Introduces SureStart II Herbicide
June 16, 2014
The enhanced formulation has improved viscosity and increased stability under heat and controls more than 60 high-anxiety grasses and broadleaf weeds found in corn fields. Read More
HerbicidesBASF Investing $270 Million To Expand U.S. Herbicide Production
June 11, 2014
BASF has invested more than $270 million to expand herbicide production capacities in the U.S., including more than 20 new products to be launched over next two years. Read More
EquipmentGPS: 25 Years And Still Growing
June 2, 2014
The evolution of global positioning systems applications in agriculture remains ongoing as the technology hits a notable milestone. Read More
CropLife 10013 Key Acquisitions Pinnacle Has Made In The First Half Of 2014
May 29, 2014
The only thing that has reached a more frenzied pace than #plant14 might be the multiple acquisitions that Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has made in the first half of the year. Read More

Latest News

EquipmentPrecisionAg.com Relaunches With Responsive Design For M…
July 22, 2014
PrecisionAg, the worldwide leader in precision agriculture information and analysis, announces the launch of its completely redesigned website, PrecisionAg.com. Read More
FungicidesEPA OKs Two Willowood Fungicides
July 21, 2014
The EPA has approved Willowood Azoxy 2SC and Willowood AzoxyProp Xtra. two widely used broad spectrum, preventative fungicides with systemic and curative properties. Read More
Precision AgFarmers Learning Fast As UAVs Take Off
July 17, 2014
Farmers and others interested in how UAVs can be used in agricultural applications were able to learn more about the technology during the recent Precision Aerial Ag Show. Read More
CropLife 100Bobby Knight, Richard Petty To Highlight Ag PhD Field D…
July 17, 2014
Attendees at the July 24 Ag PhD Field Day at Hefty Farms will learn about the latest agricultural technologies, and get a chance to meet legendary sports figures Bobby Knight and Richard Petty. Read More
WebinarsUpcoming Webinars
July 17, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
A finished Willmar 16-ton side-shooting tender.
TendersNew Production Facility Helps Willmar
July 17, 2014
In 1963, a group of businessmen started Willmar. Today, a half-century later, the company is one of the ag industry’s longest-running brands. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Sells Carbon Credits To Chevrolet, Donate…
July 17, 2014
CF Industries has completed the sale of a large block of carbon reduction credits to Chevrolet, and will donate the net proceeds of $600,000 to the National FFA Foundation. Read More
CropLife 100Grainland Cooperative, Minier Cooperative Grain To Merg…
July 17, 2014
The shareholders of Grainland Cooperative and Minier Cooperative Grain Co. approved a merger of company operations effective August 1, 2014. Read More
ManagementStudy: Drought Costing California Billions
July 17, 2014
A new study has found the drought has cost the state $2.2 billion, primarily in lost farm revenue and wages. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Resumes Production At Oklahoma Nitrogen C…
July 17, 2014
The company had shut down production at the Woodward, OK, facility in April to address an issue in one of the site’s boilers. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis To Relocate Agribusiness Division To Denve…
July 16, 2014
The move Eastward will allow Wilbur-Ellis’ Agribusiness Division to be more accessible to relevant geographies and is expected to enhance communication and collaboration among the division’s nearly 3,000 employees. Read More
Soybean field
FungicidesValent Launches New Seed Protection Fungicide For Soybe…
July 16, 2014
The INTEGO SUITE System contains the first new, novel seed protection fungicide chemistry registered in 30 years by the EPA for protection against Pythium and Phytophthora. Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta Drive To Thrive 10 Finalists Announced
July 15, 2014
Finalists are chosen based on the quality of their essays and photos depicting what makes them thrive. Read More
FertilizerHow To Minimize Phosphorus Losses In Runoff
July 15, 2014
Phosphorus losses from agricultural fields can be divided into three categories: flash losses of soluble phosphorus, slow leak losses and erosion events. Here's how to minimize losses in each instance. Read More
ManagementCalifornia Drought Threatens To Dry Up Farm Wells
July 15, 2014
Farmers hit hardest by California's drought could begin to see wells run dry next year, according to a new study by The Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis. Read More
Precision AgPoll: Do you plan to attend this year’s InfoAg Co…
July 14, 2014
This year’s InfoAg Conference is just two weeks away. The premier event in precision agriculture takes place July 29-31 at Read More
LegislationFarm Bill Implementation Continues
July 14, 2014
The bill provides $28 billion over the next five years for conservation on private lands while streamlining several old programs and creating new ones like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Read More
MicronutrientsH.J. Baker Continues Expansion Of Atmore Facility
July 14, 2014
The company has improved its molten sulphur unloading system to help meet increased sulphur demand at Tiger-Sul’s Atmore, AL, facility. Read More