Greatest potential of precision farming remains in its promise


LONDON, Ohio — Precision farming is still a long way from being an important tool in Ohio agriculture.

      The greatest potential, said Martin Batte, OSU professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics, is probably still in the future, when the technology has developed even more than it has today.

      Batte was discussing the application of computers and remote sensing to farming at a session at the OSU Farm Science Review last week.

      Small percent.

      Recent surveys, he said, indicate that only small percentages of Ohio farmers use some of the precision agriculture techniques for their operation.

      About 8 percent have done some grid sampling, he said. Only 7 percent have used variable rate application, and 6 percent have utilized a yield monitor.

      Even lower on the scale, less than 3 percent have done any aeroscouting for weeds or pests.

      Yield monitoring may be the current technology with the greatest potential for being of value to most farmers, Batte said.

      “If you can identify problem areas with yield monitoring, there can be a fairly significant return,” he said.

      Site specific.

      But the payoff depends on the site where the monitoring is used. Profit is site specific, with the greater variability in yield, the greater the potential for profit.

      But Batte still feels that precision agriculture techniques have a lot of potential.

      They are a management tool, a source of information that will allow farmers to make better decisions, he said.

      “If an individual is willing to invest time in understanding the equipment,” he said, “these tools can be valuable. But it takes of lot of learning time and a lot of management time to make use of them.”

      The most successful uses he has seen or has heard about deal with fine tuning small areas, like drainage, or as a tool to make better decisions about lime application.

      “There is a lot of variation in soil pH in this area,” Batte said. “When lime is applied variably, there can be a sizable savings in materials.”

      Savings cumulative.

      Where the return for any one application of precision farming technology is probably not great enough to cover the cost, he said, “if the same information can be applied to various management practices, then the accumulation of small returns can add up.”

      The greatest potential for precision agriculture, he said, will probably be in the future, when the technology gets better.

      “As we move away from the manual collection of data, like soil sampling, and go more and more to sensors to accomplish the same thing, then it will become more practical.

      “Then a farmer will be able to get a sample every few feet and have the kind of information he needs to make best use of what he has.

      “It will take more technology,” Batte said, “to lower the cost to the point where precision agriculture becomes profitable for all farmers.”


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