The Crooked Road To Precision Ag Progress

No doubt, these are exciting times for precision agriculture. Across the full strata of our industry — from crop protection and fertilizer manufacturers to seed companies, ag retailers and agronomic consultants down to the farmer — virtually everyone is talking about it.

To which we here at the PrecisionAg Institute say, fantastic! Let’s all cram onto the technology adoption bus and get moving. We’re happy to see it all moving forward in a positive direction, because frankly, it’s been a long road getting where we are today.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve been asked to present to groups on the state of precision adoption – where the industry has been and where it’s headed. We found it necessary to encapsulate the historical perspective in a breezy but informative way to give folks a sense of the past. While somewhat painful to recount some of the fits and starts we’ve had in the 25-ish years we’ve been plugging away at precision ag, it also gave us an appreciation for how far we’ve come.

Chapter 1: The Noble Cause

If you think about precision ag as the linking of technology with agriculture in an effort to improve the approach to farming, then precision really started in the mid-1980s with the development of the Soilection variable rate fertilizer system. The tenacious entrepreneurs had little more than the electronic equivalent of stone tablets to work with: Ground-based radar GPS; 286 desktop computers; primitive aerial imagery. But they proved the concept, and while it took several more years to commercialize it captured the imaginations of researchers, consultants and entrepreneurs and drove the next waves of discovery.

Chapter 2: Innovation and Evolution

The mid 1990s was brimming with possibility with the convergence of four key technologies: satellite GPS; Al Myers’ yield monitor, increasingly powerful and inexpensive computer processing power, and of course, the Internet. The yield monitor would provide the yield scorecard that was sorely lacking, while GPS would reference everything we do to specific points in the field. And while the true impact of the Internet would not be realized until it became wireless and accessible, smart folks could envision the possibilities.

Chapter 3: The Great Disillusionment

From the end of the 1990s through the middle 2000s, precision languished. An economic downturn had growers abandoning the precision-driven recommendations in droves. The ROI for variable-rate was, at best, inconsistent. The technology overpromised and underdelivered in many cases. There were some dark days for manufacturers and service providers, and some very interesting ideas went up in flames — at least for a while.

Chapter 4: Rebirth With Efficiency

A convergence of another sort set precision up for a renaissance: the development of assisted steering and high-accuracy GPS systems. First unleashed by Trimble, then popularized by a low-cost system from Outback Guidance, assisted steering served to revitalize interest in precision technology. It also encouraged the adoption of higher end GPS such as the
real-time kinematic systems that nearly all growers have access to today. Other efficiency technologies emerged as well, such as automatic boom control to reduce skips and overlaps.

Chapter 5: Connectivity and Consumer Electronics

In recent years, high-speed internet began truly infiltrating rural America. This, combined with wildly powerful mobile technology, is allowing unprecedented connectivity from supplier to service provider to farmer. It’s the connectivity, and ability to move information around with relative ease, that’s created so much excitement about the future. It has also unleashed a storm of applications designed to help “on the ground” ag folks take full advantage of the technology.

What’s next? That’s a big question that could fill a book, but we wanted to take a crack at some of what we see as the burning issues surrounding precision technology: where we are, and where we are headed. In this “Forward With Precision” report, we delve into variable rate application, conservation, unmanned aerial vehicles, sensor technology, and robotics. Each area has made progress, and feature both opportunities and challenges as they move into the future. But each will have a prominent role in the future of precision agriculture, and we look forward to following the progress of each in the years ahead.

Leave a Reply

PrecisionAg Institute Stories
Ag Retailer and Grower WinField United
PrecisionAg Institute9 Rules For Success As A Trusted Advisor
March 24, 2017
With support from the partner organizations of the PrecisionAg Institute, Millennium Research conducted a survey of 215 farmers from around Read More
Excellence AwardsNominations Open For 2017 PrecisionAg Awards Of Excellence
February 5, 2017
The PrecisionAg Award of Excellence program sheds light on some of the most important people and programs that have helped agriculture realize the full benefits of technology to improve agronomy, efficiency, and stewardship in crop production. Read More
Trending Articles
GPS, Guidance
Business ManagementPromoting Precision Agricultural Innovation in a Risk Averse Marketplace
April 24, 2017
As precision agriculture consultants we constantly are being asked our opinions on where to invest, and how to strategically invest Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: The Weather Company’s Rob Berglund on Cognitive Computing
April 19, 2017
Rob Berglund, global director of sales, energy and agriculture at The Weather Company, discusses IBM’s Watson and applications for advanced analytics that will fundamentally change Read More
Corn close up
Data ManagementFarmers Business Network Releases State of the Industry Style Report
April 17, 2017
Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) released today its “The Voice of the Farmer”, a special research report on the state of Read More
Soybean Closeup
Ag Tech GlobalPrecision Agriculture Helps Brazilian Farmers Top 90-Bushel Soybean Yield
April 5, 2017
In the 2016/2017 harvest, the Mato Grossense Institute of Economics (IMEA) estimated that the largest soybean state in Brazil will Read More
Grower Retaile iPad
ProfessionalsField Scouting Apps Boost Efficiency, Speed
March 31, 2017
Scouting is one of the most critical services that ag retailers and consultants can offer their grower-customers. The need for Read More
Bruce Rasa corn AgVoice app
Data ManagementVoice-To-Data Tool Shows Promise For Scouting
March 24, 2017
See it, speak it, record it. No pens, no paper, no lost information. In a nutshell that’s what Bruce Rasa Read More
Latest News
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Ag Tech GlobalBASF Fortifies Digital Farming Offer with ZedX Acquisit…
April 27, 2017
BASF has signed an agreement to acquire US-based company ZedX, a leader in the development of digital agricultural intelligence. The Read More
Sentera
DronesSentera Announces May Release of Multispectral Double 4…
April 27, 2017
Sentera announced the release of its Multispectral Double 4K Sensor, offering five precise spectral bands: blue, green, red, red edge, Read More
Data Science tablet
Data ManagementHow to Address the Challenges of Data Science in Agricu…
April 26, 2017
Recently, Joe Byrum wrote an excellent article on the state of machine learning in agriculture. In it, Joe highlighted one Read More
Industry NewsFrom PrecisionAg with Love: Thanks, President Trump! (O…
April 26, 2017
Without getting too far into the weeds, I think it’s safe to say that today America feels more divided than Read More
Purdue Online Course
ProfessionalsPurdue University’s Online Precision Ag Course Re…
April 25, 2017
An online course offered by Purdue University’s Agronomy e-Learning Academy, Precision Agriculture, has received the 2017 Digital Education Excellence in Read More
Nuffield Scholarship
Ag Tech GlobalNuffield: Promoting the Diffusion of Knowledge of Preci…
April 24, 2017
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet John Stevenson, a 2016 Nuffield Australia Scholarship winner.  As part of the scholarship, John Read More
GPS, Guidance
Business ManagementPromoting Precision Agricultural Innovation in a Risk A…
April 24, 2017
As precision agriculture consultants we constantly are being asked our opinions on where to invest, and how to strategically invest Read More
Case IH Autonomous concept vehicle
ProfessionalsOpinion: What the Heck is A.I. Going to do for Agricult…
April 24, 2017
Let’s pause from the daily toils of ag for a minute and start thinking about the future. In a very Read More
Imagery ipad
Imagery/SensingNew Opportunities with In-season Imagery?
April 24, 2017
When I think about precision agriculture my usual thoughts are around the continuous learning about the variability in a field. Read More
Data ManagementNew Partnership: Farmers Edge, Allied Cooperative Link …
April 24, 2017
Farmers Edge announced it has partnered with Allied Cooperative, a provider of agronomy, feed, grain, and equipment services to growers Read More
Retailer Grower Tractor
ProfessionalsAg Attorney: Sorry Right to Repair Advocates, But You&#…
April 21, 2017
(via AgLaw.us) This recent article on Motherboard is getting a lot of press: “Why American Farmers are Hacking Their Tractors Read More
ProfessionalsAgFunder: Clean Seed’s Wireless Smart Seeder is Set to …
April 21, 2017
(Via AgFunderNews.com) Heard of Clean Seed Capital Group? No? You will very soon because this Canadian company has been quietly Read More
Business ManagementBionic Leaves: Future Source of Endless Fertilizer?
April 21, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Sentera software
Decision Support SoftwareSentera Launching Field-Edge Plant Population Analysis …
April 20, 2017
Sentera is excited to announce the launch of its closed beta for field-edge Plant Population Analysis, available through its AgVault Read More
Data ManagementFarm Market iD Launches Sales & Marketing Platform
April 20, 2017
Following Farm Market iD’s February 2017 introduction of FieldVision, its mobile data-delivery platform, the company announced today its newest online Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: The Weather Company’…
April 19, 2017
Rob Berglund, global director of sales, energy and agriculture at The Weather Company, discusses IBM’s Watson and applications for advanced analytics that will fundamentally change Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: EFC Systems & 5 Facto…
April 19, 2017
Ernie Chappell of EFC Systems discusses five factors impacting the ag retail industry, the competitive advantages of enhanced customer engagement Read More
Moo monitor
Sensors/IoTUsing IoT to Increase Efficiency, Productivity for Live…
April 19, 2017
When it comes to managing livestock and feed, the goal for every farmer is to be as efficient and productive Read More