Is U.S. Adoption a Bellwether for Other Parts of the World?

It’s been called the longest running precision survey, compiled in the U.S. but seen around the world as a bellwether of what’s to come in ag technology in other parts of the world and dissected at events including the International Conference on Precision Agriculture.


It’s the Precision Agriculture Dealership Survey, compiled since 1997 by CropLife, sister brand of PrecisionAg Global, and Purdue University.

What does the just-published survey say for 2019?

Purdue’s Bruce Erickson and James Lowenberg-DeBoer, authors of the survey analysis, conclude that we’re inching closer to “a future in which crop management decisions will be increasingly guided by data collected from farmer-customer fields” – so called “decision agriculture.”


And because what happens in precision in broadacre crops in the U.S. tends to parallel or follow soon after in other major commodity-producing countries including Canada, Ukraine, Australia, Brazil, and Argentina, global precision observers will want to keep their ear to the ground in several key areas:

Grid and soil sampling. In-field sensors and remote sensing hold the promise of unlocking secrets in farmer’s fields without necessarily having the crack the soil surface – but for now, an increasing number of farmers do indeed want to check in directly on the health of their soil. The number of dealers offering grid and soil sampling services has leaped to a commanding 89%.

Satellite imagery. And yet . . . remote imagery provides one more good data point to help to drive decisions. Dealers offering satellite imagery increased from 48% in 2015 to 59% in 2017 and 70% now.

Variable rate technology (VRT) application. This is an area we here at PrecisionAg have watched take off first in fertilization in the 1990s and then in seeding in the 2000s and 2010s, anticipating that one day it might well reach reach crop protection. That day seems  finally to be drawing near. While only 20% of dealers indicate they now offer variable-rate pesticide applications, fully half foresee that they will offer it in the near future — “probably,” the authors note, “linked to new machine-vision technology that enables weed recognition and the targeting of individual weeds.”

Pooled data. This is the biggest news for 2019, Erickson and Lowenberg-DeBoer say. This year’s survey showed a dramatic increase in the use of pooled data from 2017 to 2019 – especially for make decisions about crop nutrients, hybrid/variety selection, and plant rate prescriptions.

Specialty crops. For the first time ever, the survey broadened its view beyond major row crops in the U.S. Midwest to also include agricultural input dealers who serve growers of specialty crops such as tree fruits and nuts, vegetables, berries, grapes, nursery, and greenhouses – especially in the Western U.S. As anticipated, use of traditional precision technologies in specialty crops is more modest than in broadacre crops. However, a number of technologies that are particularly well suited for the intensive nature of specialty crop production seem poised for significant growth – including field mapping with GIS, satellite/aerial imagery, sensor networks, and variable-rate application of pesticides and seeds.

Anyone who studies precision agriculture knows the global industry is true “site-specific” – that is, that technologies very often are regionally adapted to production systems that are themselves also regionally specific. Yet the general trend of U.S. precision adoption as a bellwether for developments in other areas of the world gives a level of confidence that precision agriculture is on a path to become a truly global phenomenon, for nearly all crop areas.

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