The State Of Precision Ag In 2016

Buhler Versatile HQ cab
The tight economy helped reveal the promises of precision ag are delivering.

There’s no denying that precision technologies and practices are more vibrant than ever. Elsewhere on this site, you will find information about what’s likely to come for the category during the upcoming 2017 season. But before looking ahead, a glance backward is in order.

In 2016, equipment manufacturers spent much of their time fine-tuning the hardware for guidance, autosteering, and application control. Wireless, Internet, and Cloud resources also made precision tasks quicker and easier. Data collection and analysis got more refined and useful. And corporations began offering powerful new resources for monitoring crop variables.

But low commodity prices cast a long shadow over farm budgets. Growers and retailers definitely felt the pinch.

Economic Challenges

The economy in 2016 pushed growers to re-think some of their approaches to equipment and practices. For instance, Jeremy Wilson, Technology Specialist at Crop IMS, reports that “there’s not a lot of new equipment coming to the farm now.” Growers are moving around steering and application equipment, GPS receivers, and displays. In the past, Crop IMS went through a spell where if customers traded in a tractor, they left the precision technology in it, and Wilson sold them a new set for the new tractor to come.

Expectations of Retail Offerings of Precision Ag Services
Source: 2015 CropLife/Purdue Precision Agriculture Adoption Survey

Growers are also fixing what they already have, and Wilson says that “the one kick-up we’ve seen is service parts. We’re just fixing more stuff.”

A number of market watchers reported precision business was actually hit harder over the past couple of years, but sales started to come back during 2016. The reason? Customers realized that this technology will make money and provide a return-on-investment (ROI). The feeling was this advantage was needed now more than ever because margins were so tight.

Wilson says this down cycle in new equipment sales is probably the worst he’s seen in his 15 years in the business, but he’s optimistic. Technology and data are such an important piece of what ag is doing today, they bring value, he emphasizes. And Wilson has growers telling him that as soon as the economy turns around a little bit, they have a list of precision things they want to do.

Areas of Strength

Growers also were making nutrient management a priority. South Dakota Wheat Growers (SDWG) saw “absolutely zero cutbacks” in precision service purchases during 2016, says Brent Wiesenburger, Precision Ag Manager. “We’ve seen the acres in our MZB (Management Zone Based) program actually increase YTD in this economic downturn,” he reports. “That tells me producers and our staff really understand why we are doing this stuff! We’re getting acres enrolled that producers only have a single year land lease on — which tells me they see instant returns on the precision ag investment.”

Craig Houin, Sunrise Cooperative
Craig Houin, Sunrise Cooperative

At Sunrise Cooperative, equipment sales have been strong and grid soil sampling has been going up vs. the previous three years. Variable-rate (VR) planting prescriptions have increased every year and VR applications of lime, phosphorus, and potassium have remained steady as growers saw value in managing nutrients more closely.

Craig Houin, Data Management Lead, reports a recent comment from a customer: “I’ve grid sampled and VRT limed for three sample cycles and have seen my pHs maintain adequate levels with less lime each year. I see a huge savings in lime expense and know my fields are doing well due to VRT and measured with grid sampling.”

“Right now our biggest gains are from analyzing good yield data,” says Ben Flansburg, BCA Ag Technologies. “We’re looking at that data against all farm practices like seed, fertilizer and anything else that is being mapped. This is helping us figure out where our biggest gains are coming from and where we can cut back. These programs are making big differences right away on our cost per acre and return on investment.”

Yield mapping, the data cornerstone of precision ag, continued to gain customers during 2016. In fact, Shane Rollins, Precision Ag Consultant with Farm Service Inc., says his team grew this service — as well as yield monitor calibration — to an all-time high this year. Then too, there was also higher demand to simply put more GPS equipment on yield monitors.

Crop IMS’ Wilson lists another high point for precision in 2016. “You could say if it relates to a planter, even in these tough conditions, we’ve been selling it and growers are still using it, whether it’s individual row shut-offs, downforce pressure controls, or hydraulic drives,” he says.

Wilson estimates that fully 50% to 60% of the growers his company worked with in 2016 had some of the latest planter technology.

Customers at Ag Info Tech, LLC have also been specifically focusing on planting in 2016. The two biggest returns the company saw during the year were in 1) hydraulic downforce equipment and 2) fixes for singulation problems (whether that’s using an electric drive or just adding a vacuum in the planter, via Precision Planting’s vSet Meter). Both of these technologies can have a huge economic impact for growers, says Tim Norris, CEO. Hydraulic downforce improvements can increase corn yields up to 11 bushels per acre, while improved singulation can improve yield up to 5.1 bushels per acre.

Addressing UAVs

Opinions on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) ran hot and cold in 2016. General consensus was they are going to have a place in agriculture — 40% of precision agriculture experts talked with in 2016 agreed that UAVs will play a significant role in their precision program within the next five years. However, respondents interviewed noted that users face several hurdles including cost, Federal Aviation Administration regulations, qualified staff, and time constraints.

UAV
Precision ag experts think UAVs will play a significant role in their precision program within the next five years.

Aaron Grote, GIS Manager at United Prairie, says that UAVs are pricey, especially to get an industrial grade unit that can carry a good, high-res camera capable of taking georeferenced NDVI images. And they still require someone to go out and spend the time to fly them over the fields (even if they have autopilot, someone has to be there to plot the course and change the batteries).

“After the data has been collected someone has to stitch all of that imagery together and process it for it to make any sense,” adds Grote. “By the time you do all of that, I don’t see where UAVs save time, save money, or are a much easier alternative to what we already have. And if you crash one, things just really got expensive.”

Grote would see more value if UAVs delivered actionable information other than just NDVI imagery — something like picking out Palmer amaranth from a field with waterhemp in it. And “as cheap as the quadcopters are, every grower ought to have one to get a simple, in-season overhead look of what is going on in their fields. You can tell a lot from just an overhead picture,” he points out.

SDWG’s Wiesenburger doesn’t see a big need for a fleet of UAVs and pilots to man them. While he acknowledges producers need a spot snapshot from time to time, he’s not sure how the units can become a scalable solution for a large retail cooperative.

Sunrise Coop’s Houin agrees. He says that UAVs in the hands of growers taking photos or video of crops are great — but not realistic for the retailer to manage or provide. “An agronomist cannot handle the file sizes generated from UAV imagery and return them to the hands of the grower in a timely manner consistently enough to bring the concept to market,” says Houin. “We tested a UAV on 10 fields last year without any success, measured on ease-of-use and value to cost perspective.”

Leave a Reply

Business Management Stories
Erich Eller ForeFront Ag Solutions with Ag Eagle-drone
Business ManagementForeFront Ag Solutions: Going Beyond The Averages
March 22, 2017
He’s flying essentially solo these days with business support from his wife Jennifer, but Erich Eller has big dreams for Read More
Farmer Brad Hagen inspects cover crops
Business ManagementTop 5 Features Of A Good Sustainability Program
March 20, 2017
In a recent study, 60% of Iowa farmers agreed that their fertilizer dealers should do more to help them address Read More
Nebraska Farmer
Business ManagementA Right To Repair: Why Nebraska Farmers Are Taking On John Deere And Apple
March 10, 2017
There are corn and soy fields as far as the eye can see around Kyle Schwarting’s home in Ceresco, NE, Read More
John Deere Dealership
Business ManagementAg Retailer, Equipment Dealer Improve Service By Working Together
January 27, 2017
Some believe that in many aspects of life, timing is everything. Among those believers, please count Randy Bartholomew, Integrated Solutions Read More
Trending Articles
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
Downed Drone
DronesOpinion: The Agricultural Drone War Is Over, And They Lost
March 15, 2017
If you are late to the aerial imagery party and think that agricultural drones are the vehicle that are the Read More
Nebraska Farmer
Business ManagementA Right To Repair: Why Nebraska Farmers Are Taking On John Deere And Apple
March 10, 2017
There are corn and soy fields as far as the eye can see around Kyle Schwarting’s home in Ceresco, NE, Read More
Australia crop
Ag Tech GlobalMaking Precision Agriculture Work In Australia
March 6, 2017
Editor’s note: Reinder Prins is Market Development Manager for Cotton Growers Service in Wee Waa, NSW, Australia, where he is Read More
ScoutPro | ScoutPro
Decision Support Software17 Field Scouting Apps For Precision Agriculture
February 6, 2017
There are dozens of easy-to-use mobile apps that are ideal for every day field scouting tasks. From record keeping and Read More
John Deere Dealership
Business ManagementAg Retailer, Equipment Dealer Improve Service By Working Together
January 27, 2017
Some believe that in many aspects of life, timing is everything. Among those believers, please count Randy Bartholomew, Integrated Solutions Read More
Latest News
Semios pest trap
ProfessionalsTechnology Takes Field Scouting To The Next Level
March 30, 2017
In-season scouting is the mother’s milk of any full-service agronomy program. It’s the component of crop production that validates the Read More
EventsAgGateway Mid-Year Meeting Set For June in Altoona
March 29, 2017
Registration is now open for AgGateway’s Mid-Year Meeting, June 12-15 at Prairie Meadows in Altoona, IA, just outside of Des Read More
ProfessionalsRight to Repair: Hackers, Farmers an Unlikely Pair
March 29, 2017
To avoid the draconian locks that John Deere puts on the tractors they buy, farmers throughout America’s heartland have started Read More
Spray Drift
Data ManagementWeather Imposes New Time Restraint On Safely Spraying D…
March 28, 2017
Dicamba drift is causing an uproar and exposing the ag community to a new reality: growers are going to have Read More
Plantium VADER
Ag Tech GlobalCase Study: How Atlas Correction Service is Positioning…
March 27, 2017
Plantium in Santa Fe, Argentina, is a full-service provider of precision agricultural guidance systems to some of Argentina’s largest farming Read More
Becky Huttenga featured image
Tools & Smart EquipmentAgtech Grows In Michigan
March 27, 2017
Michigan is more famous for its car industry, great lake, and big 10 universities than it is for agriculture. But Read More
Davie Stephens combine
Data ManagementData Ownership: A Cautionary Tale
March 25, 2017
Davie Stephens, who lives in Hickman County, KY, farms more than 5,000 acres in Western Kentucky and Northwestern Tennessee. Stephens Read More
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
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
Farmer with iPad
Data ManagementRegaining Control Of Field Data
March 23, 2017
When it comes to creating and building value with farmer-customers, service providers today have new allies to support their efforts. Read More
Y-Drop 360 Yield
Tools & Smart EquipmentSplit Nitrogen Application: Where The 4Rs Get Real
March 23, 2017
When Illinois Grower Jeremy Wilson hit the farm conference circuit these past two years, one of his talks was always Read More
Hort TechSciFi in Ag: Robots Could Take Multi-Hybrid Planting Ne…
March 23, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Erich Eller ForeFront Ag Solutions with Ag Eagle-drone
Business ManagementForeFront Ag Solutions: Going Beyond The Averages
March 22, 2017
He’s flying essentially solo these days with business support from his wife Jennifer, but Erich Eller has big dreams for Read More
Ag Tech GlobalFarmobile Continues Connecting the Dots, adds Buyer to …
March 21, 2017
Farmobile announced today that Guy Carpenter, a global risk and reinsurance specialist, will purchase enhanced data sets to help optimize Read More
Valley Irrigation 8000 series corn
Hort TechValley Irrigation Now Exclusive OEM Provider of Trimble…
March 21, 2017
Valley Irrigation and Trimble announced that Valley Irrigation will become the exclusive OEM distributor of Trimble’s Irrigate-IQ precision irrigation solution, according Read More
Farmer Brad Hagen inspects cover crops
Business ManagementTop 5 Features Of A Good Sustainability Program
March 20, 2017
In a recent study, 60% of Iowa farmers agreed that their fertilizer dealers should do more to help them address Read More
Soil sampling Brazil
Ag Tech GlobalAn Overview Of Precision Ag In Brazil
March 17, 2017
Brazil is a huge player in international agriculture and precision farming is helping to increase productivity. With diverse crop production, Read More
Web Soil Survey soils map
Imagery/SensingCan The Web Soil Survey Help To Uncover Answers To Prec…
March 16, 2017
A farming magazine recently published an article of an interview of two experts discussing how understanding the topography of a Read More