Survey: An Inside Look At Precision Agriculture In 2013

Hurdles To Adoption

To understand some of the potential reasons why some precision agriculture technologies catch on while others struggle, the survey asked dealerships to respond to a list of potential barriers that may keep them from expanding their use of technologies. Their choices were either: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree or strongly disagree. These potential barriers could serve as a bottleneck keeping some technologies and services from being adopted.

Figure 4 shows how respondents agreed with the different questions. Overall, respondents indicated that the quick changes to the equipment needed to provide precision service was the biggest potential barrier, with 51% agreeing or strongly agreeing. Dealerships also expressed challenges in finding employees that can deliver the precision services (50% agreed or strongly agreed) and the fees that can be charged are not high enough to make precision services profitable (49% agreed or strongly agreed).

Figure 4

When asked if precision equipment is too complex, 39% of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that this was a barrier. Presented with a question about a lack of manufacturer support, 49% of respondents also disagreed, or strongly disagreed, that this was a barrier for technology adoption.

It’s important that these results are taken with consideration for respondents’ specific situations. While a majority may have agreed with a statement, there were still individual respondents who disagreed and vice versa.

Future Investments

For the adoption of precision technologies and services to expand, investments need to be made in precision equipment. A dealership’s decision to make an investment is dependent on the specific technology — how easily the benefits can be realized — and confidence in the overall agricultural economy. A strong agricultural economy makes cash available for such investments.

Figure 5 shows dealership plans for investments this year, 2013, and what they had planned to invest in 2011. For both years, the largest groups are those planning to invest less than $10,000 or making no investment. The most striking difference between the current and previous surveys is the jump in the percentage of respondents planning on making larger investments. In 2011, 19% of respondents planned to make investments in precision technology at a cost more than $50,000. This year, however, nearly 26% of respondents are planning to make significant precision investments.

Figure 5

Dealerships relying on guidance systems to more efficiently move their equipment through fields are now adding additional preciseness across their spray booms. Growers are using their agricultural retailers to obtain grid or zone soil nutrient information to guide their VRT fertilizer applications.

It is critical that every company and individual think about how precision agriculture is impacting its business. Does the precision technology pay? Twenty-five percent of respondents are not generating a profit from their precision program. Other key questions include are there ways to keep from replacing precision equipment so frequently and how do we find/recruit the employees who can work with these systems?

Since the last survey in 2011, a rising tide of overall agricultural prosperity has lifted dealership offerings of all precision services. However, looking at the previous survey and the number of respondents who don’t use precision technology, it suggests that this growth is mostly coming from dealerships expanding their precision offerings rather than new recruits.

From this year’s survey, it’s clear that technologies that dealerships can easily identify the value of — such as guidance systems and GPS-enabled sprayer boom control — have enjoyed the fastest adoption rates. There are also widespread offerings and more reported profitably with services that can be directly linked to crossing acres, such as GPS soil sampling and VRT application. Others, such as the diagnostic tools and technologies used by the dealership internally for management, have struggled with adoption rates by dealerships.

Thinking forward, the biggest challenge for any technology’s successful and fast adoption will be how obvious it is for dealerships and their grower-customers to realize the value. As the role of precision technology in production changes, there is no doubt that dealership offering these precision technologies and services will find creative ways to keep the industry relevant and growing.

Bruce Erickson is director of cropping systems management, Department of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.

Widmar is the research associate at Purdue University’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business. He can be reached at dwidmar@purdue.edu.
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