Sophisticated Technology Helps Farmers Cut Margin Of Error With Precision

The slipup in the soybean field would have been costlier in a different time and place, writes Vicki Hillhouse on Union-Bulletin.com.

Mike Hagerman was planting a crop last year, using GPS navigational technology on his tractor, when he realized he’d failed to engage the auto-steer mechanism.

The error still cost him time. But in what has become a more intuitive field, Hagerman was not only able to calculate exactly how much time he need to make up based on acreage and speed, he was also able to text his wife from the seat of the tractor and let her know how late he would be getting home.

Precision agriculture may not ever eliminate human error. But it can mitigate it. It also provides a way to work with the wrenches thrown by Mother Nature.

In a high-stakes industry where commodity prices fluctuate and conditions are impossible to control, the integration of sophisticated technology on the farm is increasingly employed to improve the quality of crops and yield, and reduce — or at least streamline — expenses.

“When decisions are made that can really have some resonating effects on income, they are buffering that by applying or having to purchase less seed, less chemicals and things like that because of the data that they have,” Hagerman said.

Picture a field like a quilt made up of different patches, said Hagerman, who is also an agriculture instructor at Walla Walla Community College where precision ag classes were introduced last fall. The patches vary — different soil types, different needs, different output. Based on their composition, each may get a different prescription of sorts for combinations of fertilizer and chemicals. Those can be programmed into the sprayers and then navigated in careful rows through GPS-operated equipment that eliminates overspray.

The technology is growing more popular. A study and forecast issued in late March by Research and Markets, “Global Precision Agriculture Market — Analysis & Forecast, 2016 to 2022,” projected the market for global precision agriculture to reach $7.6 billion by 2022, with a compound annual growth rate of 12.7%. That includes a combination of the hardware — GPS, sensors, cameras, digital displays and more — and management systems and services that go with it.

Read the full story on Union-Bulletin.com.

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