Considering the current state of declining crop prices, discussions at the 2014 InfoAg conference were focused on the return on investment (ROI) of precision agriculture (PA) practices, reports Dr. Steve Phillips for IPNI Plant Nutrition TODAY.
Growers typically have little control over pricing and attempt to manage profitability in challenging economic times by controlling input costs while continuing to optimize production. However, simply lowering input costs doesn’t guarantee greater profitability if it results in lower production. “Yield matters, even when prices are low”, is a quote I’ve taken home from the conference. It reminds us that spreading input costs over higher yields lowers unit costs of production, thus increasing net returns.
Dale Bartholomew of Growmark said, “ROI [for PA] comes by doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done.”
One could also add, “where it needs to be done”, thus implying that the profitability of PA is enhanced when used in accordance with 4R stewardship. Take for instance the idea of “right place”; RTK auto-guidance on planters, tillage equipment, sprayers, and combines has been shown to result in an average savings of 5% (ranging from 2 to 7%) on input costs. Another study conducted by Dr. John Fulton at Auburn University indicated that auto-swath technology could result in a 4.3% average savings on input costs for a farm with a payback of around two years. If the savings due to GPS guidance were included, the total cost savings could be in the 20 to 30% range.
Variable-rate fertilizer technology (VRT) was another popular topic at this year’s InfoAg conference.
Allan Baucom of A.L. Baucom Family Farms in NC, spoke on several ways VRT is being utilized profitably in his operation. Baucom has been using variable-rate applications for nitrogen (N), potassium (K), gypsum, and lime since 1997. One of the keys to their success has been well-defined management zones based on 17 years of consistent soil sampling, harvest data, and other agronomic research. They also supplement the map-based prescriptions with on-the-go, in-season NDVI measurements for fine-tuning N recommendations using a GreenSeeker crop sensor. In 2014, using PA technology to manage N application in cotton saved Baucom Farms $12.50/A.
Read the full .pdf file on IPNI Plant Nutrition TODAY.