In the spring of 2015, CropLife magazine and the Departments of Agricultural Economics and Agronomy at Purdue University conducted the 17th survey of crop input dealers about their use of agricultural precision technologies. As with the previous surveys, dealerships were asked questions about customer adoption of precision services, how precision technology is used at the dealership, and the profit potential of the technology. Additionally, questions were included this year’s survey to investigate the skills needed of those working in the precision technology areas of the organizations.
Here is a summary of the results:
Precision farming is a set of related technologies that aims to increase the exactness of field operations related to crop production, with benefits realized in increased efficiency of crop inputs and higher crop productivity. This survey spans the entire two decades since agricultural retailers began using GPS to guide soil sampling and apply fertilizers and soil amendments variably across fields, and farmers used GPS-linked yield monitors to create maps that helped illuminate spatial variability in fields.
Since the mid-1990’s there have been watershed changes to the technologies as well as new types introduced. The most significant of these in changing how crops are produced has been GPS guidance — first manual, and now supplanted by autoguidance systems that are ubiquitous among farms and dealerships in the U.S. And the automated technologies of sprayer boom section and row controllers on planters that are an offshoot of guidance.
While autoguidance and autocontrols on inputs are now mostly standard, the information side of precision farming continues to struggle in demonstrating value. Guidance and section controllers don’t depend on site-specific information to extract value, only location, and for the most part they help reduce input costs with a usually low amount of input needed by the dealer or farmer. But taking site-specific information from fields such as remote sensing imagery, soil test results, soil or yield maps to characterize and understand field variability and its impact on crop performance, and then to act upon that by variably managing fields — this has been a greater challenge than many would have predicted two decades ago.
The 2015 survey, though, shows significant upticks in the adoption of site-specific, information intensive technologies. Not only technologies related to the collection of this information, but in technologies related to site-specific application, such as variable rate technologies. Some of this increase may be related to our increased capability to store, move, and analyze all of this information compared to twenty years ago. This includes much lower costs and much greater capacity to store data, through locally connected devices or the cloud. Better connectivity using telematics via cell phone networks or through increasingly common fiber optic connections. Computers with processing speeds that are multiples of just a few years back. And an emerging labor force working in ag retail that has never known a world without cell phones and the Internet.