Where Is Site-Specific Agriculture Headed?

Precision agriculture and site-specific technologies have been around for well over a decade now. Over that time, new technologies and services have been introduced — including new types of sensors, autosteer GPS guidance systems, and soil electroconductivity mapping. At this point, GPS and the concept of variable-rate application are fairly well understood by both growers and retail dealers. The question now is where the technology and associated services will go next.

As part of the 13th Annual Precision Agriculture Survey sponsored by CropLife magazine and Purdue University’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business, retail dealers were asked what they thought Precision 2.0 would look like. They were also asked to rate several barriers to the further expansion of precision agriculture — customer issues, dealer issues, and issues with the technology (these issues were also explored in 2004). The following results are based on responses from the 275 dealers who responded to the 2008 survey.

Many dealers did see changes coming. Some focused on changes at the grower level and mentioned the need to make technology more user-friendly to support more on-farm growth in use of precision services.
   â–  Grower purchase and use of GPS technology for planting/harvesting purposes is where this area is going. (AL)
   â–  Compatibility and reliability of precision equipment continues to be a challenge. The complexity is a major drawback for many growers — they don’t want to take the time to learn. (OH)
   â–  Data interpretation. My customers have data overload. They need help to make the data they are getting usable. (KS)

Several technology changes were mentioned by responding dealers as part of the changes  needed to move precision agriculture to the next level:
   â–  More autosteering. Sprayer that recognizes weeds and applies herbicides only to the weed; seed that carries multiple traits to overcome insect and herbicide issues; multiple-use application equipment. (MN)
   â–  I see the future becoming more technical from the office’s standpoint — everything being implemented on the computer in the office before being put into the machine. (IL)
   â–  Right now the industry is doing a good job of helping the producer manage his inputs. Next step is on-the-go sensing and data pooling for analysis. (MO)
   â–  RTK sub-inch technology on everything. (IN)

The responses to the open-ended question about Precision 2.0 are summarized in Fig. 1. Increased use of variable-rate fertilizer application, often driven by increased input prices, was the most common change, mentioned by a quarter of the respondents answering this question (24%). Changes in data analysis and handling were mentioned by 23% of the dealers — often with the idea that more efficient and quicker data analysis was going to be required to get to the next level. Variable-rate seeding was seen to be an important growth area in the future (21%), followed by increased variable-rate application of chemicals (15%). The other two areas where more than 10% of the respondents mentioned changes were increases in autosteer/in-field robotics and overall growth in precision application (not specifically for fertilizer or chemicals) due to increased input costs/lower product prices (15% and 10%, respectively).

Barriers To Growth

Survey respondents were asked to rate a series of issues as to how much of a barrier they were to the growth and expansion of precision agriculture. Figures 2 through 4 show the percentage of respondents who agreed or disagreed with each customer, dealer, and technology issue listed. A similar list of issues was explored in the 2004 CropLife/Purdue Precision Survey.

Dealers were almost evenly split on whether they agreed, disagreed, or were neutral that the cost of precision services to their customers was greater than the benefits they received, and that farm income pressure limits the use of precision services (Fig. 2), with 33% of the dealers agreeing that the cost was greater than the benefits and 34% agreeing that farm income was a limiting factor. 

Though these two factors were also the top two customer barriers in 2004, the impact seems to have decreased dramatically. At that time, 72% of the dealers responding to the survey said that farm income limits the use of precision technologies and 53% said that the grower costs were greater than the benefits.

Compared to farm income and costs vs. benefits, there was less agreement about the other barriers to growth in precision technology adoption. For approximately one-quarter of the dealers, interpreting data/making decisions was believed to be too time-consuming for customers and they felt customers lack confidence in site-specific recommendations. However, 41% of the responding dealers disagreed with each statement.

Over half of the respondents did not believe that soil types limited precision profitability or that local topography limited the profitability and use of precision technologies. But, both soil types and topography seemed to be a problem for 20% of the responding dealerships. The least agreement about barriers was that all customers who benefit from using precision are already using it (61% disagreed, only 18% agreed), suggesting that there are still many growers who could benefit from precision technologies that are not currently using them.

When looking at issues that are creating barriers for dealers, almost 6 out of 10 (57%) (see Fig. 3) said that they just weren’t able to charge fees high enough to make precision services profitable. Over half agreed that the cost of the equipment limits their precision offerings (51%). Almost half said they had a challenge finding employees who could deliver precision services (49%) and almost as many (45%) agreed that the cost of employees was high enough to limit the growth of precision services. Another concern that 44% of the dealers had was that it was hard to demonstrate the value of precision technologies to growers. And, for almost 4 out of 10 of the respondents (38%), another barrier was that competitors priced precision services at unprofitable levels. For all of these issues, there were 20% to 25% of the respondents who disagreed that the issue was a barrier to expansion.

The respondents were more evenly split (approximately one-third disagreed, one-third agreed, and one-third were neutral) on the issues of it being hard to create a precision program that adds significantly more value for the grower than a traditional program, and that not many growers in their area were interested in precision agriculture services.

The most disagreement occurred with the issue that a lack of manufacturer support for precision services limits their ability to provide such services (disagreed with by 42% while only 19% agreed).

Compared to 2004, several of these issues have declined in perceived importance. In 2004, almost three-quarters of the dealers (72%) believed that the cost of equipment to the dealer was a limitation in growth of precision technology (compared to only half of the dealers in 2008). Almost two-thirds (65%) of the dealers in 2004 said that growers were just not interested in precision services — and this has dropped by almost by half to 34% in 2008. Demonstrating value to the customer was a challenge to 63% of the dealers in 2004 compared to only 44% in 2008. Opinions on most of the other issues were similar both years.

The biggest technology issue that is felt to be preventing expansion of precision agriculture is a common characteristic of technology overall. Over 6 out of 10 respondents agreed that precision equipment changes too quickly and increases the costs of offering precision services. Four out of 10 respondents (45%) said that incompatibility across precision equipment and technology was a problem. Respondents were fairly split about the complexity of the equipment with 39% who did not believe that precision equipment was too complex for employees, 33% believing that it was too complex, and the remaining 28% neutral on the issue. Overall, there was not a lot of agreement that accuracy was a problem (in either the data collection technologies or the precision application technologies).

Overall, most of the technology issues were rated about the same in 2004 and 2008. In both years, over 6 out of 10 dealers agreed that the equipment changed too quickly, one-third agreed the incompatibilities between equipment and technologies were a challenge, and just under one-third of the dealers said the equipment was too complex for their employees.

Summary

Overall, precision agriculture has become much more accepted as part of a grower’s way of farming as well as in the retail dealer’s business. The cost of the equipment, proving the value of precision technology, and farm income are no longer the barriers they were four years ago. Many dealers see more streamlined technology and data collection/analysis in the future of precision agriculture. However, hand in hand with this continues to be one of the biggest barriers — that of rapidly evolving equipment and technologies that may or may not be compatible. Most dealers feel that there are many growers who are not using precision services, but who could be. This upside is balanced against pricing pressures and the cost of investing in new equipment and technology. In this new era of crop agriculture, the Precision 2.0 story will be one worth watching closely as it unfolds. 

Leave a Reply

Precision Ag Stories
Precision AgGoogle Glass: New Tool For Ag
October 8, 2014
New wearable smart technologies such as Google Glass show potential to greatly impact how we accomplish the business of feeding the world. Read More
Precision AgPrecision Agriculture: Finding The Payback
September 6, 2014
Profitability in precision ag is not about any one technology, but the result of employing technology in a total system approach that is agronomically sound. Read More
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
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Acquires Minnesota Retailer
April 14, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC, ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100,  has successfully acquired Liebl Ag, LLC in Ada, MN.  Read More
CropLife 100CHS, Aurora Cooperative Complete Fertilizer Storage, Grain Shuttle Loading Facility
April 13, 2015
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading cooperative and ranked No. 5 on the CropLife 100, and Aurora Cooperative (ranked No. 21) Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Acquires Missouri Refined Fuels Terminal
April 2, 2015
Bloomington, IL-based GROWMARK and Magellan Pipeline Co. have entered into an agreement in which GROWMARK will acquire the refined fuels Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Acquires South Dakota Retailer
April 2, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co.’s Agribusiness Division, a recognized leader in precision agriculture technology and the distribution and marketing of plant protection, seed Read More
CropLife 100The McGregor Co. Closes Smith-Kem Acquisition
April 2, 2015
The McGregor Co. — ranked No. 16 on the CropLife 100 list of largest U.S. ag retailers — has completed Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Commemorates National Ag Day
March 20, 2015
The Illinois agriculture community gathered at BRANDT global headquarters on March 18 to celebrate National Ag Day behind this year's theme Sustaining Future Generations. Read More
Latest News
Industry NewsCHS Insurance Names New Director Of Sales
April 17, 2015
Bryan Lewis has been named director of sales for CHS Insurance, the nation’s largest agribusiness insurance broker and full-service insurance Read More
Mature Waterhemp in Corn
HerbicidesGenetic Literacy Project: There’s No Such Thing A…
April 17, 2015
Read the latest “analysis” on GMOs from Consumer Reports and you’ll “learn” that glyphosate, the chemical developed by Monsanto (its Read More
HerbicidesNew Resistance To 2,4-D Discovered In Australia
April 17, 2015
In a world-first case of herbicide resistance, researchers have confirmed that sowthistle weed in the south east of South Australia Read More
ManagementNews From RTP Company Visits and Growers Buying Older S…
April 16, 2015
Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss recent trips to the Research Triangle Park area and market seed sales trends. Read More
soybean field
StewardshipNew ASABE Standard Establishes Framework For Sustainabl…
April 16, 2015
The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) has initiated a project to develop a new standard to establish Read More
MicronutrientsSouthern States: An Inside Look At Our Tissue Sampling …
April 15, 2015
Remember learning about the food pyramid in school? The nutritional diagram recommends the proper amount of nutrients you need on Read More
Industry NewsArysta Adds New U.S. Fungicides Marketing Manager
April 15, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America recently hired Deneen Sebastian as its Marketing Manager for U.S. Row Crops, Fungicides. Most recently, Sebastian Read More
FungicidesVerdesian Launches Phosphite-Based Cereal Fungicide
April 14, 2015
A new, phosphite-based fungicide designed for improved suppression of deoxynivalenol (DON) in wheat and barley infected by Fusarium head blight Read More
Mature Waterhemp in Corn
HerbicidesSURVEY: Close To 90% Of Growers Battle Weed Resistance
April 14, 2015
Herbicide resistance management continues to be a priority for corn and soybean growers, and they’re working together more effectively to Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Acquires Minnesota Retailer
April 14, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC, ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100,  has successfully acquired Liebl Ag, LLC in Ada, MN.  Read More
StewardshipFMC Corp. Joins Sustainable Agriculture Alliance
April 14, 2015
FMC Corp. has joined Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, a multi-stakeholder initiative working to define, measure and Read More
Industry NewsArysta Adds Two To Goëmar Sales Team
April 14, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced two new additions to the Goëmar sales team: Steve Kelly, Technical Service Manager – Read More
Valley Variable Rate Irrigation
Precision AgVariable Rate Irrigation Gains Followers
April 14, 2015
Irrigation systems have had the ability to apply different amounts of water throughout a field for decades, using timers that Read More
CropLife 100CHS, Aurora Cooperative Complete Fertilizer Storage, Gr…
April 13, 2015
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading cooperative and ranked No. 5 on the CropLife 100, and Aurora Cooperative (ranked No. 21) Read More
Soybean field
Industry NewsThree Ag Co-ops Poised For Possible Merger
April 13, 2015
Following months of study and preparations, the Board of Directors for United Farmers Coop (UFC), Farmers Elevator Cooperative (FEC) and Read More
Eric SfiligojAgriculture Braces For More Belt-Tightening
April 13, 2015
Spring is in full bloom across the U.S. and ag retailers and their grower-customers are busily getting into high gear. Read More
ManagementPollinator Health and Washington, DC
April 9, 2015
CropLife America’s Kellie Bray speaks with CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj regarding bee health and proposed Beltway regulations. Read More
InsecticidesValent Takes On MGK Insecticide Portfolio
April 9, 2015
As of April 1, Valent U.S.A. Corp. became the exclusive provider of the MGK crop protection line of insect control Read More