Adoption of precision agriculture tools—encompassing a suite of farm-level information technologies to better target the application of inputs and practices—has not been as rapid as previously envisioned, according to USDA economists.
“Adoption of the main information technologies—yield monitors, variable-rate applicators and GPS maps has been mixed among U.S. farmers,” USDA/ERS economists concluded after studying 10 years’ worth of data.
Recent data from the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) show that use of yield monitors, often a first step in using precision technology for grain crop producers, has grown most rapidly, and was used on 40% to 45% of corn and soybean acres in 2005-06.
“However, farmers have mostly chosen not to complement this yield information with the use of detailed GPS maps or variable-rate input applicators that capitalize on the detailed yield information,” the economists say.
Among the report’s finding:
- Corn and soybean yields were significantly higher for yield monitor adopters than for non-adopters nationally. This yield differential for corn grew from 2001 to 2005. Yield monitors are being adopted more quickly by farmers who practice conservation tillage.
- Corn and soybean farmers using yield monitors had lower per-acre fuel expenses. Average per-acre fertilizer expenses were slightly higher for corn farmers who adopted yield monitors, but were lower for soybean farmers.
- In the Corn Belt, GPS maps and variable-rate technologies were used on 24% and 16%, respectively, of corn in 2005, and 17% and 12%, respectively, of soybean acres in 2006, but nationally, “the adoption rates for variable-rate technologies were only 12% for corn and 8% for soybeans.
- Average fuel expenses were lower per acre, for farmers using variable-rate technologies for corn and soybean fertilizer application, as were soybean fuel expenses for guidance systems adopters.
- Adopters of GPS mapping and variable-rate fertilizer equipment had higher yields for both corn and soybeans.
- Adoption of guidance systems, which notify farm equipment operators as to their exact field position, is showing a strong upward trend, with 35% of wheat producers using it by 2009.
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