Precision Goes Mainstream

April 12, 2018

Nearly every new farm implement, regardless of color or brand, is equipped with a precision technology capability. Whether it is auto-steer or remote sensing technology, precision agriculture technology and acceptance are expanding rapidly.

A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS) shows that many farmers are adopting precision technologies and are saving money because of it.

The USDA-ERS study investigated recent trends in precision agriculture adoption, the production practices and farm characteristics associated with adoption, and whether adoption resulted in greater farm profi tability. The study examined adoption rates for three types of precision agriculture technologies: Global Position System (GPS)-based mapping systems, guidance or auto-steer systems and variable rate technologies (VRT) for applying inputs like seed and fertilizer.

Wide Adoption

According to the USDA-ERS report, yield mapping via GPS grew faster for corn and soybeans than for other crops.

Yield monitors that produce the data for GPS-based mapping are the most widely adopted, used on about half of all corn and soybean farms in the U.S. Guidance or auto-steer systems are used on about a third of corn and soybean farms, and GPS-based yield mapping occurs on about 25 percent. Soil mapping using GPS coordinates and VRT are used on 16 to 26 percent of corn and soybean farms.

The largest farms, those greater than 2,900 acres, adopted precision agriculture at double the rates of all farms. About 70 to 80 percent of large farms use mapping, about 80 percent use guidance systems, and 30 to 40 percent of large farms use VRT.

The share of all corn and soybean acres on which precision agriculture technologies are used tends to be higher than the share of farms, implying that larger farms are more likely to adopt these technologies. About 40 percent of U.S. corn and soybean acres use yield mapping and about 30 percent use GPS soil maps. Over 50 percent of U.S. corn and soybean acres use GPS guidance, and 28 to 34 percent of acres use VRT.

Corn and soybeans have higher shares of acreage using yield mapping than other crops, but the USDA-ERS study shows the use of yield maps has increased for crops like peanuts, rice and spring wheat in recent years.

Return on Investment

Farmers use precision agriculture technologies to improve efficiency and maximize inputs. According to the USDA study, guidance systems, mapping and variable rate technologies all show positive impacts on both net returns, including overhead expenses and operating profits for a U.S. corn farm of average size.

GPS mapping shows the largest estimated impact among precision technologies, with an increase in operating profit of almost 3 percent on corn farms. The impact of mapping on net returns is almost 2 percent.

Guidance systems raise operating profit on corn farms by an estimated 2.5 percent and net returns by 1.5 percent.

Variable-rate technology raises both operating profit and net returns on corn farms by an estimated 1.1 percent.

This blog post is brought to you by the South Dakota Soybean Research & Promotion Council.