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 AgXS Inc. Expanding Ag Retail Reach With AgVeritas
November 5, 2015
AgVeritas, the patented cloud-based yield analysis application launched by XS Inc for the 2015 season, is making a significant impact Read More
EquipmentDeere Announces New API Linking Operations Center With MyAgCentral
October 8, 2015
Deere & Co. and DN2K have agreed to form SageInsights — a joint venture to initially serve the agriculture industry Read More
Precision AgPurdue Releases 2015 Precision Ag Services Dealership Survey Results
October 5, 2015
In the spring of 2015, CropLife magazine and the Departments of Agricultural Economics and Agronomy at Purdue University conducted the Read More
Precision AgUAVs To Take Flight At 2015 Farm Science Review
August 14, 2015
Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have taken the agriculture industry by storm and will soon be Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100United Cooperative Acquires Four ADM Wisconsin Facilities
November 12, 2015
United Cooperative, based out of Beaver Dam, WI, recently acquired four grain and agronomy locations from Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Car Makes NASCAR Xfinity Series
October 29, 2015
BRANDT will join JR Motorsports with driver, Justin Allgaier, for the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity (NXS) Series season. Allgaier will pilot Read More
CHS Building exterior
CropLife 100CHS Leaders Help Shape Succession Report
October 22, 2015
Succession planning was listed as a main concern of cooperative leaders at this summer’s 15 regional CHS owner town hall Read More
Fall Harvest
CropLife 100Pinnacle Purchases Eight Regional Seed Companies
October 12, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has announced the purchase of eight regional seed companies to advance its seed business. Pinnacle has acquired: Read More
MRM Agricultural Service
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires CropLife 100 Ag Retailer
October 8, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC has successfully acquired the Missouri-based agronomy business of MRM Agricultural Service, LLC and its affiliates (MRM). Operating Read More
Eric Jenks, Wilbur-Ellis
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Opens Dry Fertilizer Storage And Blending Facility In Washington
October 8, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co., ranked No. 4 on the CropLife 100, has constructed and opened a 22,000-ton dry fertilizer storage and blending Read More
Latest News
Tim Hassinger Dow AgroSciences President and CEO
HerbicidesDow Expects Enlist Duo To Be Available For The 2016 U.S…
November 30, 2015
Relative to EPA’s recently filed motion to vacate the registration of Enlist Duo herbicide, The Dow Chemical Co. is confident Read More
HerbicidesBREAKING: EPA Pulls Registration On Dow’s Enlist …
November 25, 2015
EPA on Wednesday withdrew approval of a controversial new weed killer to be used on genetically modified corn and soybeans, Read More
FertilizerYara Tampa Ammonia Terminal Garners ResponsibleAg Honor…
November 25, 2015
Yara has received its first ResponsibleAg Certification for its Tampa, FL, Ammonia terminal location. This achievement demonstrates Yara’s commitment to Read More
ManagementReviewing The Top Ag Stories For 2015
November 24, 2015
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Paul Schrimpf discuss the most noteworthy events from this past year in agriculture. Read More
EmployeesAgriculture Jobs May Be Plentiful, But New Grads Are Sc…
November 24, 2015
Close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture each year for the next five years, but there's not enough grads to fill them. Read More
Radish cover crop
StewardshipCover Crops Guide Helps Growers Improve Water Quality
November 23, 2015
A publication that teaches growers the advantages of using cover crops to improve soil health and crop yields has won Read More
Crop InputsThe Andersons’ Products Receive California Organi…
November 23, 2015
The Plant Nutrient Group of The Andersons, Inc. announced today that its Humic DG and Black Gypsum DG products are Read More
Eric SfiligojNew European Study Seems To Support Glyphosate Safety
November 23, 2015
Looking at any international news over the past few years, it might seem as if the European Union (EU) is Read More
Toggle Biostimulant corn roots
Crop InputsTwo New Biostimulants Added To United Suppliers’ …
November 20, 2015
Winfield US announces the launch of two new products in the United Suppliers portfolio for the 2016 crop season, Optify Read More
StewardshipNRDC Report: Cover Crops Contain Vast Benefits
November 19, 2015
As harvest season ends and farmers in the United States ready themselves for winter, one small change could make a Read More
Fall Harvest
Seed/BiotechArysta Launches New Seed Protectant
November 19, 2015
As spring wheat growers begin planning for a strong start to their season, Arysta LifeScience North America announces RANCONA V Read More
Crop InputsInocucor Receives U.S. Patent For Microbials
November 19, 2015
Inocucor Technologies Inc., the Montreal-based agriculture biotech company, was issued patent No. 9,175,258 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect Read More
ManagementSyngenta Rumors and ARA 2015 Preview
November 19, 2015
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj looks at the latest rumors involving Syngenta selling its crop protection business and talks about events Read More
EquipmentAGCO Announces Finalists For Operator Of The Year Honor
November 19, 2015
AGCO Corp. has announced the four top operators chosen as finalists for AGCO’s 10th Annual Operator of the Year program, Read More
High Plains Aquifer
StewardshipStudy: High Plains Aquifer Overall Usage In Decline
November 18, 2015
A new Kansas State University study finds that the over-tapping of the High Plains Aquifer’s groundwater beyond the aquifer’s recharge Read More
Golden Harvest Corn healthy leaves
FungicidesArysta Launches New Corn And Soybean Fungicide
November 17, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America has recently launched ZOLERA FX Fungicide. The highly systemic, powerful fungicide delivers broad-spectrum disease control with Read More
Young corn plants in soil
Crop InputsBioAg Alliance: Microbials Targeted For 250-500 million…
November 17, 2015
Monsanto and Novozymes have announced a new 2025 acreage target that will guide the companies’ microbials business for the next Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsSyngenta Still Being Eyed For China Takeover
November 16, 2015
China National Chemical Corp. approached sovereign wealth funds including China Investment Corp. to help pay for a potential acquisition of Read More