Implementing the 4R framework in the field often results in the question “What specific 4R practices I should do?” Precision ag practices like GPS mapping, grid or zone soil sampling, yield monitors, variable rate nutrient applications, and split nutrient applications, are all recognized as 4R practices (Snyder, 2016 and Bruulsema, 2017). Selecting the right suite of 4R practices for site specific characteristics can result in increased crop uptake of nutrients for greater productivity and return on investment and decreased loss of nutrients to air and water, writes The Fertilizer Institute’s Melinda Sposari and Sally Flis on NutrientStewardship.com.
Understanding trends in practice adoption by farmers and agricultural dealers helps CCAs know where there are opportunities to increase implementation and what information is key when interacting with producers. Recently, surveys were conducted to evaluate the adoption rate and the economics linked to precision ag practice adoption. Two surveys focused on famer adoption and two on agricultural dealers.
In 2016, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) published a report using data from the USDA Agricultural Resource Management Survey of field crop producers evaluating adoption trends and farm profitability for specific precision ag technologies (Schminelpfennig, 2016). The report focused on the use of GPS mapping systems (including yield monitors and soil or yield mapping), guidance or auto-steer systems, and variable rate technology (VRT). Yield monitors had the highest rate of adoption on corn and soybean farms, though the creation of yield maps was only half of that value (Table 1). Pointing to a gap in the use of data collection and analysis tools on the farm. Use of GPS soil maps and VRT had the lowest reported rate of adoption per farm (Table 1). This level of implementation by individual farms represents 70 percent of corn acres and 69 percent of soybean acres with yield monitor recording versus only 28 percent of corn and 34 percent of soybean acres implementing VRT (Schminelpfennig, 2016).
When results were assessed based on acres farmed, implementation level increased with farm size. On corn farms over 3,800 acres, GPS mapping systems had an 84 percent adoption rate, followed by guidance systems (80 percent), and VRT (40 percent) (Schminelpfennig, 2016). However, the rate of adoption of each practice as farm size increased was different. The use of GPS mapping increased the most between the farm sizes of under 600 acres to between 600 and 1,000 acres, 22 percent (Schminelpfennig, 2016). Guidance system adoption increased the most between the acreage range of 1,300 to 1,700 acres and 1,700 to 2,200 acres, 20 percent (Schminelpfennig, 2016). While the use of VRT did not see the largest increase in adoption until the highest acreage ranges, 2,900 to 3,800 acres to over 3,800-acre farms, when it increased to 40 percent (Schminelpfennig, 2016). These adoption trends reflect the impact of expense and availability of precision ag technologies to smaller farms. For example, the adoption VRT for nutrient application requires the purchase of specialized equipment by the producer or an extra charge from an applicator and the time to compile and interpret the data collected.