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Precision Ag Services Price Structure and Costs

Growers who are considering expanding their precision ag programs often have this critical question: "What's this going to cost me?"

When it comes to pricing for precision ag services, however, there's no standardized answer because there are an almost infinite number of variables involved. These include a farmer's comfort level with the technology and where he's at in his precision ag efforts - not to mention his future goals, where the farm is located, the size of operation and a number of other factors.

"There is no cookie-cutter approach, and there is no cookie-cutter solution," says David Swain, Manager of Precision Agriculture at Southern States Cooperative. "Before we price a program, we sit down with a customer and look at their business, see what's happening, and then develop a program that best fits their operation."

Pricing factors

The price structure for precision agricultural services depends largely on a particular program's extent.

Southern States offers different services à la carte - with separate prices for each service - or on a per-acre charge based on what growers need. Sometimes, the cooperative is able to create a flat-fee program. In other instances, where the cooperative's experts are serving in a consulting role, it's more common to offer assistance based on an hourly rate.

Regional differences affect pricing as well. "Practices are different in the Southeast," says Swain. "With corn, beans, wheat, cotton, peanuts, commercial vegetables and tobacco as our major crops, we see completely different situations."

Swain recommends taking a "big picture" approach. "We try not to look at a single aspect of an operation in isolation. Often, a lot of the work is in figuring out what the right questions are in the first place and then using the data to give farmers viable pieces of information."

Return on investment

In every case, the goal is to ensure any precision ag program is right-sized for the operation and yields a return on investment. Those returns can come in a number of ways, such as input savings and yield increases.

Farmers also save time and gain additional insight when they hire a service to analyze the massive amounts of data a farm can generate. Sometimes a grower will have a wealth of information from imagery and yield mapping, but hasn't turned that data into true decision-making information.

"Many farmers don't have time to sift through it all," Swain says. "Even if they have their own mapping program, they look at the maps, but they may not have the time to start digging, playing detective and working through all the analysis."

Predictive diagnostics

Long-term, Swain says the cooperative likes to get customers to the point where soil health is optimized and customers are able to better manage the crop health, taking action to reduce factors that limit yield and investing in areas where it pays off.

"We want to look at maximizing economic yield and the point of diminishing returns in every area of the field. And then we show the profitability to the customer, so he knows where he can tweak things, getting more return, maybe cutting some expenses. It's management, not just cost-cutting."

So while there's no one-size-fits-all answer to what precision ag services cost, growers can rest assured that Southern States can customize a forward-looking program that's right for them. To determine specific services available and pricing for your operation, please contact your local Southern States Agronomy Professional.

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