The Do’s And Don’ts Of Precision

Agricultural history is filled with stories about individual innovations, framers whose tinkering resulted in successful new products to improve production. How will historians capture the innovation and development of precision agriculture? It’s clear to many that doing precision “on your own” is a likely formula for failure.

Little did Ringo and the Beatles realize that their popular ballad could be the rallying cry for precision agriculture. But “getting the right help” is necessary for many to implement effectively the new technologies available for crop production.

There is a whole new vocation springing up across the countryside, and its practitioners are a gutsy group of entrepreneurs, committed to helping farmers get started in precision. Some call themselves integrators, others consultants, their specialty is to bring the tools of precision farming into the mainstream of production agriculture. Be sure to visit www.precisionag.com for the names and addresses of these precision integrators.

Our Precision Harvest ’97 travels took us to several of these integrators. We asked one company, Northwest Precision Ag Inc. of Blackfoot, Idaho, to lend their “help” in suggesting how to get started in precision farming. Company President Richard Johnson, Roy Chiappini and Kevan Hillyard shared their views. If their do’s and don’ts seem a little slated in favor of getting help from a precision integrator, verses another agribusiness source, well we can’t blame them for that. It’s what they do best!

The Do’s

  1. Take the time to develop a precision plan with goals that mesh with other business plans on the farm.
  2. Design your entry into precision as if it were a research project. Do research that helps you learn more about your crop production potential.
  3. Learn from the mistakes of others. Use resources to gain information on what is happening, what is and is not working.
  4. Research all precision equipment. Look past the sales pitch and hype. Look for a good track record and service availability.
  5. Be patient. Start out reasonably and develop precision one step at a time.
  6. Have reasonable expectations. Make precision work for you, and look for early results in areas that are obvious and practical.
  7. Use an open ended approach. Be sure software, hardware and raw data can be used in an expandable and flexible manner. Use the GIS engines like MapInfo or Arcview, not programs that lock you into one way of analyizing and viewing data.
  8. Find a precision agriculture company or specialist. There are companies and individuals who have precision experience (even if this experience has only been one or two seasons).
  9. Be meticulous; your data is not forgiving. Back up your raw data and make sure the equipment is operating properly.
  10. Calibrate equipment when you change fields or varieties or when environmental conditions change.
  11. Find and use what will fit your needs and plans, and implement them in a manner consistent with your program.
  12. Use a board of directors for input, and involve them in the process and the steps that they need to be there. That board might include your banker and agronomist or other family members. They need to be inolved or you may not have their support.

The Don’ts

  1. Don’t use the shotgun approach once you start precision. Stick with it. Building a comprehensive database is important. You can’t skip a few years due to crop rotation.
  2. Don’t take short cuts. Fot example, don’t use one yield monitor if you have two combines in the same field or section. Split them up so you have one monitor in the whole field or section to get complete data. Half a field of yield data really is worthless information.
  3. Don’t forget you have a farm to manage. Don’t take on more than you can handle, and don’t do more than you can afford. Bring in a precision agriculture specialist or consultant, and use their resources (a commercial? oh, not really).
  4. Don’t read more into the data maps than might really be there. You need good answers, data and feedback. Be reasonable in your approach.
  5. Don’t apply short-term thinking to a long-term project. Always have the end in mind. Don’t get distracted along the way.
  6. Don’t use sporadic precision agriculture practices or approaches. Focus and maintain that focus. Apply precision technology to the whole field not just a part. (Unless you are comparing results in a planned test).
  7. Garbage in equals garbage out. Don’t approach precision in a half-hearted manner, it’s a management decision and deserves your full commitment. Train your employees to pay attention to detail. We’ve seen one simple mistake ruin 1,000 acres of yield data.
  8. Don’t assume anything. If you think it is not working, go check it out. If you feel something isn’t working, then it probably isn’t.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the January 1998 issue of PrecisionAg Illustrated.

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