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February 11, 2003

Survey: Information gaps exist in precision agriculture

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Farmers are benefiting from precision agriculture technology and expect to adopt more of the high-tech production practices, while at the same time hoping their understanding of the technology eventually catches up, a producer survey indicates.

The survey asked farmers in Indiana and surrounding states who use precision agriculture techniques for soil sampling, yield mapping, remote sensing and other field data what kinds of precision farming technology they use, how long they've used it, where they receive information about the technology, problems they've encountered and other questions.

Precision agriculture specialists at Purdue University and the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University of Denmark conducted the survey last summer.

"A couple of points farmers brought out in this survey were the time required and lack of technical knowledge available to put all the pieces together to integrate everything," said Stephen Hawkins, assistant director of Purdue Agricultural Centers. "The other thing they said they were looking for was a cost-effective, easier method to integrate.
These systems are not down to 'push-one-button-and-it's-all-calculated-for-you.'

"It's kind of surprising, then, that 87 percent of those who responded indicated they've made changes in their operation based on the information and knowledge derived from the precision agriculture practices they've been using. So they're using the information they're garnering from this activity but looking for an easier, faster, less complicated way of integrating all the different sources of data they're obtaining."

Survey questionnaires were sent to 469 farmers in July 2002, with 135 completed and returned – a response rate of nearly 30 percent. Sixty-eight percent of respondents were 40-59 years old, with 47 percent saying they've used precision agriculture tools five years or more. The average size of farmers' row crop operations was 736 acres for owned land and 1,251 acres for rented land.

Despite the problems using, understanding and affording the technology, survey participants said they've embraced precision agriculture, said Dan Ess, Purdue Extension agricultural engineer.

"There were some results that were of great interest," Ess said. "We asked what techniques were in current use and found that 86 percent of our respondents were doing systematic soil sampling. That confirmed what we had anticipated. A number of respondents – 71 percent – were using variable-rate limestone application, and just about as many were using variable-rate fertilizer application."

Farmers said they expect to implement additional precision agriculture technology in the future. Variable-rate pesticide application and seeding, which allows a farmer to pinpoint where chemicals are sprayed or seeds planted, was mentioned by 75 percent and 74 percent of farmers, respectively. Crop scouting with global positioning systems (GPS) equipment drew a response from 73 percent.

"There is quite a strong interest in additional uses for the technology, which is going to help with the financial aspect," Ess said. "If you can spread the cost of GPS equipment or control equipment over more operations, it's going to become more attractive. I think there's a considerable amount of hope for those people who work to help producers find more application."

When asked to give "important information sources" for investment in precision agriculture, 54 percent of farmers said they sought the advice of fertilizer companies. Forty-eight percent asked other farmers, 44 percent agricultural consultants and 41 percent relied on the agricultural media.

"The information sources that most practitioners in precision agriculture rely on are the people who use this technology on a daily basis," Hawkins said. "That includes fertilizer dealers, consultants and, to a lesser extent, people that sell the hardware and software. They also rely on their neighbors quite a bit for input into what technology to try, what to look for and what worked in their area."

Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer, director of Purdue's Site-Specific Management Center, joined Hawkins and Ess on the survey team.

Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415, sleer@purdue.edu

Sources: Stephen Hawkins, (765) 494-8370, shawkins@purdue.edu

Dan Ess, (765) 496-3977, ess@ecn.purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/

Related Web sites:
Purdue University Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering


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