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What's precision worth?

Jeff Caldwell 02/27/2012 @ 10:11am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

What exactly does all that precision ag technology mean to your farm's bottom line? How's $8 or $9/acre sound?

That's the result of a year-long study conducted by Iowa State University Extension ag engineer Matt Darr with Iowa farmers who employed typical RTK GPS systems, autosteer, swath control and lightbars. The farmers used typical equipment -- 16- and 24-row planters, 45-foot field cultivators for spring tillage, for example. First, Darr found typical overlap for both planting and tillage operations at 3.3% and 7%, respectively.

Then, Darr factored in seed cost -- $113.80/acre according to previous ISU Extension research on 2012 crop costs -- to nail down the amount gained by eliminating that planting overlap.

"A conservative estimate for yield loss in double-planted areas is 12% based on previous research at Iowa State," Darr says. "For 175 bu/ac average corn yield with a value of $6/bu, this results in a production loss of $7.91/ac. Based on this analysis the value of precision ag swath control systems in typical Iowa corn production is $7.91/ac."

Now, add to that an extra $1/acre in cost savings from using a lightbar or autosteer system for tillage. That's not a lot, but depending on your farm's size and management system, it likely makes financial sense, Darr says.

"A 7% reduction in tillage overlap will result in approximately $1/ac cost savings. The cost savings is less due to a lack of high cost inputs, but still justifies lightbar systems even on the most basic tillage operations," he says.

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