Farmers seem to be choosing from three fairly distinct strategies for integrating precision agriculture into their operations. There are many variations, but these broad approaches are consistent.
Proceed Cautiously. This approach involves doing the basics of georeferencing and building an analytical base. Typically, lots of attention is paid to soil pH and drainage.
Analyze Thoroughly. In addition to the basics, practitioners of this strategy are completely a broad analysis of their nutrient profile and seeking recommendations for seed populations, micronutrients and other overlays. In addition, they are proceeding with application services based on precision recommendations and data collection and comparisons to get a feel for the actual payout of precision.
Go For It. These people are unabashed believers in the future of precision agriculture. In addition to those elements mentioned above, these farmers are already heavily involved in (and have been for the last few years) a full range of multinutrient, site-specific techniques.
Choose the strategy right for your risk tolerance, vision and management capabilities. Review your strategy regularly based on interim results and make decisions consistent with your approach. The key to success with any strategy is effective implementation.
Implement Your Precision Strategy
Those who are having initial success with today’s precision agriculture techniques tell me that these are the keys to successful implementation:
Establish reasonable expectations. With a strategy in place, what are your expectations for performance in the near term? Realistic expectations are key. For example, don’t expect your land values to double over two years just because you are actively involved in precision agriculture. It might be realistic, though, to expect that you will enhance your reputation as a progressive farmer and get the nod more often than not in renting additional land.
Prepare to measure ROI. It will take several years of data to thoroughly analyze the return on investment in precision. However, you must start your analysis process immediately. Compile three or four years of production data prior to the use of precision in your operation. Look at yields, costs and services utilized. Calculate historic return on input investment.
Keep track of the same types of data for the same geography after you began using precision services. Look for the differences…but be careful making any big conclusions with only a year or two of information to support you.
Do the basics right. Without a complete georeferencing effort and sampling rigor, it will be difficult to ever really see precision pay out for you. It is true that you can have too much information, so choose precision services which you intend to lever into action in your strategy in the foreseeable future.
Choose the right supplier(s). No decision is more important to your precision agriculture implementation effort than picking a partner you can trust. There are two considerations, each based on your relative needs. First, can your supplier help you make better decisions because of superior expertise? Second, can my supplier help me implement my plan effectively with analysis capability and equipment right for me? While it is important to get a reasonable price, the most important selection criteria are expertise, quality, capabilities and responsiveness.
Continuously learn and improve. Networking with other farmers, suppliers and experts to compare notes is critical in the prudent implementation of your precision plan. In any evolving industry or discipline, new discoveries and approaches are common. Be sure to capture the latest for your operation.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the January 1998 issue of PrecisionAg Illustrated.