Precision Agriculture 2.0

We’re about done collecting data from our 13th annual Precision Agriculture Adoption Survey, conducted this time each year by sister publication CropLife magazine. After 12 years of running the same basic survey with minor tweaks, this year we made some significant changes, including an open-ended question that we weren’t sure would garner a lot of response.

Well, fortunately many of the respondents shared some thoughts with us in response to a question related to the future of precision agriculture. While this is a survey of retail agronomists, some of their most frequently occurring responses provide some insight on technology moving forward.

The question read as follows: Where do you see the biggest potential for the next area of growth in precision agriculture as GPS and precision technology becomes more commonly incorporated into agricultural practices? In other words, what does Precision 2.0 look like?

Honestly, some people got hung up on “Precision 2.0” and assured us that they “had not tried that particular software program.” That was “our bad” for a poor explanation. But for the most part, we got good response to it … more than 100 so far. Here’s what the respondents had to say.

Variable Rate Increases. Should be no surprise that with the increasing cost of inputs with no near term relief in sight that nearly half of the retailers providing a response to this question listed variable rate application as a big area of growth. Unlike surveys past, however, variable rate seeding, chemicals, and nitrogen all received a number of mentions in addition to the usual suspects, phosphorus, potassium, and lime. “With all the new traits that are coming via seed, it will be important to use the right populations on certain soil types to maximize profit potential,” said one respondent.

More Automatic-ness. Several respondents to the survey simply wrote “auto-steer,” but others elaborated a bit more, noting that they see more and more automatic features being built into every piece of field equipment that rolls off the line. Said one respondent, “the efficiency automatic steering brings is great, with the tremendous increase in the cost of inputs.”

Some other respondents feel that other features, such as automatic boom shutoff and boom leveling will simply be built into everything, while one respondent said he would like to see automatic boom shut-off driven by wind speed. “Too many applicators put down product when the wind is too high,” he said.

Also interesting was the number of respondents interested in on-the-go sensor technology, including for the application of nitrogen and herbicides.”In the future, sprayers that recognize and apply herbicide only to the weed” would be great,” said one respondent.

Dealing With Data. Some of the more experienced precision practitioner respondents revealed their expertise with comments on the need for better data handling in the next generation of precision agriculture. One retailer lamented that his grower clients “have data overload. They need help to make the data they are getting usable.”

Another respondent shared a vision of “touchless” data processing. “Bringing all the data back to an information computer wirelessly, that stores as applied information on rates, products, wind speed, travel speed, etc., all automatically.” I know that in some advanced operations this is being tested and applied, and in the next few years will probably become more widely available.

Whatever the future holds precisely, it’s certainly clear that with the improved fortunes of U.S. agriculture, precision agriculture technology and practices will help growers and their advisors get more efficient and profitable. Feel free to share your thoughts on the future of precision agriculture by making a comment below.

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