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Ask an expert: With lower commodity prices and tighter profit margins, what does the future of precision ag look like?

Joe Luck Published on 01 January 2015
Ask an expert with Joe Luck

With lower commodity prices and tighter profit margins, what does the future of precision ag look like? Will it continue to grow or will it be the first item cut from the operation?

Answer: In short, I think there are a few technologies (autosteer and automatic section control for planters and sprayers, in particular) that can provide ongoing savings for those who have chosen to adopt them.

I’ve published some papers specifically related to overlap reduction with automatic section control on sprayers. Once up and running, these two systems don’t need a great deal of attention.

In terms of variable-rate application (VRA) systems, I think the question, “Does it pay?” becomes much harder to answer because additional analysis is required to determine this.

However, many of these systems (for instance, planters, sprayers and fertilizer applicators) have the ability to track their application rates. We can later use this information (in the case of on-farm research) to evaluate the resulting crop yield based on different fertilizer or seeding rates, hybrids, etc.

Of course, we’re moving toward seeing folks use yield monitors more and more for this. Understanding how to set up proper on-farm research is challenging, and analyzing the data can also be challenging.

Properly setting up and collecting data from test plots is critical if we want accurate information. I think this can be a great opportunity in the future for producers who have purchased these VRA systems in that they can have the technology record all application data.

After collecting the yield data, they can then determine how different treatments of management techniques performed.  FG

Joe Luck is an assistant professor and ag engineer with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

Setting up and collecting data from test plots is something UNL is working on with their on-farm research network. More information can be found at University of Nebraska CropWatch.

If you have a question you’d like to ask an expert, send an email to the editor of the Forage Grower magazine.

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