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 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
Crop InputsFSR Agronomy College Aims To Keep Agronomic Professionals Sharp
August 11, 2015
From watching for insects and diseases, to carefully applying chemicals and curtailing runoff, to keeping up with ever advancing technology, Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Hosting Drone Flight This Friday
August 3, 2015
Southern States Cooperative — No. 9 on the CropLife 100 — is hosting an FAA-approved drone demonstration at Grandview Farms Read More
Topcon AGI-4 on MF Planter
EquipmentAutosteer: Compatibility, Accuracy Remain Top Of Mind
July 3, 2015
The world of automatic steering solutions in agriculture has evolved rapidly in the last few years. From after-market add-ons that Read More
Top 100 Articles
Crop InputsLand ‘O Lakes, United Suppliers Finalize Merger
August 24, 2015
According to a press release on August 24, owners of United Suppliers, Inc. and members of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “have Read More
West Central Cooperative, Jefferson, IA
CropLife 100Iowa Cooperatives To Explore Unification
August 19, 2015
The boards of directors at two of Iowa’s leading farmer-owned cooperatives yesterday signed a letter of intent to study the Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Hosting Drone Flight This Friday
August 3, 2015
Southern States Cooperative — No. 9 on the CropLife 100 — is hosting an FAA-approved drone demonstration at Grandview Farms Read More
CropLife 100Aligned Ag Distributors Adds Four New Owners
July 30, 2015
Aligned Ag Distributors LLC has announced the addition of four new customer/owners to Franklin Holding Co. LLC. They are: The Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Purchases California-Based Specialty Crops Retailer
July 20, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has successfully acquired California-based NH3 Service Co.  Operating as part of Pinnacle’s Performance Agriculture brand, the new locations Read More
Asmus Farm Supply liquid fertilizer facility features 20,000 square feet
CropLife 100Slideshow: Asmus Farm Supply Shows Off Its New Liquid Fertilizer Facility
July 15, 2015
Asmus Farm Supply, Rake, IA, recently added a new liquid fertilizer facility to its company operations. The new liquid fertilizer Read More
Latest News
Crop InputsBayer CropScience: A Decade Of Innovation
September 3, 2015
BLAMS! It’s not a sound effect from the pages of a Superhero comic book. Instead this nifty acronym is used Read More
ManagementReviewing MAGIE 2015
September 2, 2015
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj talks what he saw at the recent Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) show. Read More
Melissa Olds Dow AgroSciences
Crop InputsDow AgroSciences: Highlighting The Past, Present & …
September 2, 2015
In general, media events held by large agricultural suppliers tend to focus primarily on what plans the company has in Read More
Mobile tablet
OpinionTaking Data Head On
September 2, 2015
As you read this column, I’m hoping that if you picked up the phone and gave me a call, you’d Read More
Young soybean field
Industry NewsArysta LifeScience Announces New Business Unit Head For…
September 1, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America announces the addition of Rico Christensen, Business Unit Head, North America. Christensen will have responsibility for Read More
Wilbur Ellis Pink Soybean Seed Treatment
Crop InputsWilbur-Ellis Goes Pink With Soybean Seed Treatments For…
September 1, 2015
This past year, proceeds of pink-dyed soybeans treated and sold to Wilbur-Ellis seed customers in Chester, SD, went to two Read More
SprayersNORAC Active Wing Roll Slated For More Sprayers
September 1, 2015
NORAC Systems, a member of the Topcon Positioning Group, announces the release of Active Wing Roll for RoGator, Apache, New Read More
Syngenta Sign
FungicidesSyngenta’s Newest Fungicide Receives EPA Approval
September 1, 2015
Syngenta announced today that its newest succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor (SDHI) fungicide – Solatenol – has received registration from EPA and Read More
Flooded corn in Indiana
Crop InputsDelaying The Fertilizer Decision
September 1, 2015
Comments gathered from several retailers recently evidenced a classic good-news-bad-news scenario. Good news is prices and supplies of nitrogen, phosphate, Read More
StewardshipBee Buffer Strip Initiative Seeks 100 Ohio Farmers
August 31, 2015
The U.S. Bee Buffer Project, an initiative of the Pollinator Partnership (P2), Burt’s Bees and The Burt’s Bees Greater Good Read More
2015 ShowStopper Award, MAGIE
EquipmentA ShowStopper From Case IH: The Patriot 2250
August 31, 2015
For nine years now, visitors to the yearly Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) show have been tasked with not only Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto, FMC Expand Roundup Ready PLUS Platform
August 31, 2015
FMC Corp. and Monsanto Co. announced today an expanded agreement to continue their participation in the Roundup Ready PLUS Crop Read More
Deere Nutrient Applicator
Eric SfiligojThe Good & Bad News From MAGIE
August 31, 2015
As I write this column, I’ve just returned from the annual Midwest AG Industries (MAGIE) trade show in Bloomington, IL. Read More
CPS Morenci receiving its 4R certification
StewardshipCPS Morenci Becomes First Michigan Facility Certified I…
August 31, 2015
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that Crop Production Services, Inc.’s facility located in Morenci, MI, has been Read More
EquipmentDeere Announces Soucy Track Distribution Alliance
August 28, 2015
John Deere announces an alliance with Soucy Track to sell and distribute products through the John Deere dealer channel. “This Read More
FertilizerFall-Applied Phosphorus: A Rooted Investment
August 28, 2015
As commodity prices decrease and input prices continue to rise, farmers are seeking more efficient strategies for meeting a high Read More
Monsanto Sign
Crop InputsWhat’s Next For Monsanto, Syngenta?
August 28, 2015
After dropping its $47 billion bid to take over Swiss agribusiness firm Syngenta, Monsanto may be turning its focus to Read More
Golden Harvest Corn stalks
Crop InputsMonsanto: Syngenta Not The Only Horse In Crop Protectio…
August 28, 2015
Monsanto Co, having ditched an audacious $46 billion (£30 billion) offer for Syngenta AG, may downshift to a humbler strategy Read More