The Coalition for the Advancement of Precision Agriculture (CAPA) hosted its inaugural Precision Ag Forum, Sept. 18, in Washington, D.C. The Agricultural Retailers Association, along with CropLife America, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and other organizations with a stake in precision agriculture organized the event to educate and inform legislators, regulatory agencies and Capitol Hill staff about precision technology and its application on the farm.
“Precision agriculture has made incredible strides in the last seven to eight years,” said Paul Schrimpf, executive editor with Meister Media Worldwide and director of the Precision Ag Institute. “These advances go beyond equipment and application to agronomy, sustainability and conservation.”
The well-attended event included a panel discussion, moderated by Schrimpf, featuring growers and leaders in agricultural equipment, crop inputs and conservation. Panelists discussed their perspectives on trends in precision agriculture, big data, variable rate technology, guidance systems and soil testing and conservation.
“This forum serves as an opportunity to gather key stakeholders, share knowledge and foster a better understanding precision agriculture’s benefits,” said Daren Coppock, president and CEO of ARA and co-chair of the new coalition.
The panel included Justin Stoneman, a row crop and vegetable farmer from central Michigan; Betsy Hickman, Communications and Membership Director, Field to Market: the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture; Ryan Kuster, Precision Agriculture Specialist, Ag Enterprise Supply; Karen Scanlon, Executive Director, Conservation Technology Information Center; Paul Welbig, General Manager, Raven Industries; Dave Gebhardt, Director of Data and Technology, WinField; and Leif Mangusson, president, CLAAS of America.
Mangusson was bullish on the outlook for precision agriculture. He predicts farming will be about managing and understanding data, as well as producing food.
“Future productivity gains will come from the application of precision ag and understanding of big data,” Magnusson said. “Whether in the field or at your desk, utilizing big data allows us to be better producers.”
Farm data will be used in a variety of ways to influence the farmer’s decision-making process. According to Magnusson, data collected from soil sampling, yield results, weather patterns, seed selection, equipment utilization and more will impact, not just agronomic decisions, but could play into crop insurance coverage and financing rates.
“This is what farming is going to be in the future,” he added.
Schrimpf put it into perspective for the audience: “At its root, precision agriculture is about giving growers the maximum number of tools to do their job,” he said. “Farmers want to farm, and these tools help them do that.”
Stoneman discussed how his 3,200-acre farm operates using precision techniques. Stoneman Farms in Breckenridge, MI, is divided into several management zones. Soil type, available nutrients and other factors determine what crops and hybrids are planted, as well as what crop protection products and fertilizers are needed in each zone. Following harvest, yields are compared against planting and management strategies within each zone. Stoneman spends his winters analyzing the data.
“We optimize each management zone,” he said. “Yield is reviewed against data from planting and our planning process. We found some areas where we were not putting out enough seed and fertilizer for the soil type to maximize yield.”
Many crop consultants and agricultural retailers have identified opportunities to build the knowledge, skills and technology to help customers interpret the massive amount of data collected and recommend precision methods.
“With the equipment and technology available today, we can treat a customer’s productive areas in a more prescriptive manner,” said Ag Enterprise Supply’s Kuster. “It allows us to run at a more efficient rate.”
Cooperation has been essential to the advancement of precision agriculture, according to Schrimpf. “It wasn’t long ago when we couldn’t get you all (equipment manufacturers and suppliers) in the same room.”
The market has matured and manufacturers are collaborating on new technology and platforms, said Raven Industries’ Welbig. “We (equipment manufacturers and suppliers) work together on many different levels. Precision ag is more mainstream and easier to use because of it.”
Following the panel discussion and remarks from Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), chairman of the Modern Ag Caucus, attendees visited with exhibitors. AGCO, CLAAS, John Deere, Kinze, Raven Industries and WinField had staff, displays and additional information on hand to share with legislative staff and others in attendance.
Following this kick-off event, the coalition will continue to work to increase awareness of productivity improvements and sustainability enhancements achievable through precision agriculture practices and technologies such as variable rate technology, guidance systems, and soil testing and monitoring. The coalition will work to communicate the benefits surrounding these technologies to Capitol Hill and other key policymakers.
“Precision agriculture technologies can play a major role in helping growers further their sustainability efforts through increasingly efficient use of inputs and resources,” noted Coppock. “Through a unified voice with CAPA, this coalition can help communicate those benefits to regulators and legislators.”