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Increased information drives precision ag growth

Precision agriculture has had a meteoric rise from its beginnings of yield monitors and manual global positioning systems lightbar guidance systems. Today the industry is known for tractors that steer themselves and new emerging technologies like remote sensing.

In the last few years direct cost-savings tools like GPS-activated clutches that make sure you don't double up on seed at the end of a row, or sprayer technology that makes sure you don't spray the same place twice.

"Inputs are too expensive and farmers can more easily relate to this type of technology," says Steve Cubbage, president Record Harvest Enterprises, an independent precision agriculture firm near Nevada, Mo. "Typically, these types of technologies have less than a two-year payback. Failure to adopt such technology means you've failed to compete."

Darren Thomas of KanEquip, Inc. in Dodge City, Kan., says at least 75 percent of farmers today are using some kind of precision agriculture, and that it works regardless of farm size. Thomas sees a particular value in improving strip-tilling.

"Precision agriculture changes farming practices," says Thomas. "You can put on less fertilizer if you can apply it right where the plant will grow. I talked to several farmers who did not have any luck strip-tilling until they used the precision ag."

The key to precision ag is the information it gives farmers. Collection of in-field agronomic data was the foundation of precision agriculture in the first place. However, simply collecting data does not mean you're going to be a better farmer, says Cubbage.

The benefits of precision ag data grow exponentially the more data you collect and the more years you collect it. Even recording simple things, like what seed varieties you planted where, when and how much is very powerful.

"Understanding how that relates back to soil type, fertility levels and seed treatments is what makes precision agriculture so unique and beneficial," says Cubbage. "Now instead of using a shotgun approach to make decisions like what seed varieties to plant you can use information like a high-powered rifle."

This technology will continue to evolve as sensor technology and integration of GPS technology to controlling and reporting vital machine functions will become more common. Wireless technologies and the more efficient flow of data to a centralized location that can be shared among farmers core group of suppliers and advisors will become more desirable moving forward.

"I think precision agriculture tools will become a necessity in everyday farming operations," says Thomas. "Precision ag is becoming something farmers can't live without."

Farmers can find more information from their local SWA member dealers. Many dealers not only sell precision agriculture products, but also service those products, just like they would any other equipment. KanEquip has four precision ag technicians, for example. Cubbage also suggests farmers seek information from the Internet or other farmer they know and not rely on only one source of information.

1/26/09
2 Star EK\5-B

Date: 1/22/09



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