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Corn Farmers Lead In Adoption of Precision Agriculture

The largest U.S. corn farms (over 2,900 acres) lead in the adoption of precision agriculture, a partial reflection on the technology’s high price tag, says USDA. Up to 80% of those farms use auto steer and GPS mapping of yields, and 30% to 40% use variable-rate planting and spraying equipment.

Overall, adoption rates of precision ag “are generally less than 50%, with variable-rate lagging the others,” says the Economic Research Service. It says the impact of precision ag on corn-farm profits “was found to be small but positive, which may explain the slow but steady growth in adoption.” 

Because of the outsize effect of the relatively few but very large farms, yield mapping is used on about 40% of corn and soybean land, auto steer and other guidance systems on more than 50%, variable-rate applicators on 28% to 34%, and GPS soil maps on about 30%.

The faster embrace of precision agriculture by large farms vs. smaller-scale operations suggests that economies of scale favor big operators, says USDA. If the technology becomes easier to use and more affordable, precision ag “could boost profits for more producers, with environmental benefits.”

This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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