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SurveyNumber of farmers adopting precision ag tools soaring

Guidance systems like real-time kinetic (RTK) auto steer, continue to be one of the top precision agriculture components of choice for Ohio farmers, and the most rapidly adopted precision equipment, according to an Ohio State University (OSU) agricultural economics survey.

Marv Batte, an OSU agricultural economist, surveyed 2,500 farmers last year with sales of $50,000 or more to determine the rate of precision agriculture adoption among 17 components. The survey, which resulted in a 58% response rate, is a continuation of similar surveys conducted in 1999 and 2003.

"With precision agriculture continuing to be an emerging technology, and given the complexity of some of the equipment, the surveys we conduct are useful in determining where precision agriculture technology stands with Ohio farmers and which components they are adopting based on their current needs," Batte says in a university report.

According to the results of the survey, nearly 55% of commercial farmers have adopted at least one piece of precision farming equipment as of 2007. Precision guidance systems and yield monitors were the most frequently adopted precision farming equipment, with about 32% of all commercial farmers adopting them to date.

Precision guidance systems have been adopted by farmers most readily over the past eight years. Since 1999, adoption rates have jumped 27%. Adoption rates of yield monitors increased 15% since 1999.

"Precision guidance systems are popular because they are easy to use, are getting more inexpensive, improve efficiency, save time and labor, and can be used for a variety of field work," Batte says. "With precision guidance equipment, the potential savings are numerous and immediate."

Other precision agriculture components being rapidly adopted by Ohio farmers include georeferenced grid soil sampling; satellite GPS receiver; boundary mapping; variable rate application of lime, phosphorus and potassium; and aerial or satellite field photography.

"The rate of adoption and what precision agriculture component is adopted is dependent on a number of factors including farm size, annual sales and what kind of crops are being grown, like high-value fruits, vegetables, corn and soybeans or low-value crops like hay or pasture," Batte says. "We found that adoption is seven times larger for the largest farm class than for the smallest class of commercial farmers."

According to the survey, the least adopted precision agriculture equipment is variable rate application of pesticides and micronutrients.

"Using such precision agriculture technology and when is a complex decision for farmers. There are too many variables involved, such as soil type, soil terrain and orientation of slope. I don't think the science is there yet to know the relationship between herbicides or insecticides and the impact on yields based on environmental conditions," Batte says. "Plus when you have Roundup Ready crops that are fast and effective, why bother with variable rate?"

He adds the precision agriculture technology with the most potential is variable rate seeding. The adoption rate of the equipment has increased nearly five percent since 1999.

"The idea behind the technology is a machine that can change seeding varieties and rates across a field based on soil type, geography and planting conditions," Batte says. "Once all of the kinks are worked out, I see that technology as having real potential for taking off and becoming a sleeper hit with farmers."

The survey also found:

  • Nearly 85% of the largest farmers have adopted at least one of the precision agricultural component technologies.
  • The average farmer adopted 4.5 precision agriculture components, and they are adopted in sets to get the most out of the equipment being used.
  • Those farmers using precision guidance were using a lightbar system based on DGPS (Differential Global Positioning System). Spraying and fertilizer application were the field operations more frequently supported by precision guidance.
  • The highest net benefits were for variable rate application of lime and phosphorus and for precision guidance technology.
  • More than half of the farmers adopting precision agriculture technology said that benefits exceed costs. The evaluations were nearly equal among small and large farmers, meaning that even though small farmers were less likely to adopt precision agriculture technology, when they did they were just as happy with the system as their larger-farm colleagues.
  • In 1999, most farmers felt that precision agriculture technology was a break-even or losing proposition. Since 2003, they have more frequently viewed the technology as a profitable venture.

Guidance systems like real-time kinetic (RTK) auto steer, continue to be one of the top precision agriculture components of choice for Ohio farmers, and the most rapidly adopted precision equipment, according to an Ohio State University (OSU) agricultural economics survey.

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