Buoyed by the upsurge in crop prices, precision agriculture technology has gained a lot of attention in recent months as a way to invest in the farming operation to create a solid return on investment. This renewed enthusiasm about the power of precision was clearly displayed at the 9th International Conference on Precision Agriculture, held in July in Denver, CO.
Attendance at the biennial conference was up significantly, with some 500 professionals and students from nearly 50 countries in attendance. The scientific portion of the event featured more than 250 posters and oral presentations from 42 countries — a remarkable representation of precision technology use and adoption around the world.
One new twist on the program was the creation of five special TEAM sessions focused on topics that seemed to generate interest during pre-event planning. Three TEAM sessions that generated a lot of interest were the Biofuels and Energy session, the Robotics and GPS Guidance session, and the Remote and Active Sensors session.
Dr. Raj Khosla, conference coordinator and precision specialist at Colorado State University, says that one of the most interesting observations he made as he worked on the conference was that many other countries are still on the front edge of evaluating and implementing precision technology.
“We’ve been doing precision agriculture for about 20 years, but some countries are just getting started,” says Khosla. “We had papers talking about the constraints to the proliferation of precision, about how it is being adopted in Turkey, Zimbabwe, China, and elsewhere. We had a special session on adoption and evaluation of precision technology around the world, and that drew a significant international crowd — it really stood out for me.”
The event was a testament to what Extension — even at a time of shrinking budgets and dwindling resources — can do to share information and generate buzz. Hosting conferences like this is still important, says Khosla, but he feels his role is evolving into more of a “train the trainer” role vs. direct contact growers.
“Universities have traditionally been funded by the state, and that funding is going down year by year,” he says. “For the last few years, rather than being in competition with crop advisors and consultants, we have been working in conjunction with them. We’ve reached out to consultants and provided training and helped them earn credits, so they can in turn reach out and share that knowledge with the grower. We see them as a key conduit to the grower community.
“We’ve done significant work at Colorado State about the economics of precision agriculture, and we are getting requests from the ag community to come out and talk to them,” continues Khosla. “They are saying, ‘now that we have this money, we need advice on where to invest it.’ Even those growers who were shy about investing in precision agriculture before are jumping on or considering a serious move toward precision technology.”