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Benefits of Precision Agriculture

Leveraging technology to help your farm thrive

Technology is everywhere. From the intricacies of performing surgery to everyday events like ordering a pizza, technology continues to change how we work and play.

The farming industry is not exempt from using new technology, and in many cases is on the cutting edge when it comes to using new tools to boost profits. Nowhere is that more apparent than with precision agriculture, but how does precision agriculture work? How does it impact yields and profits?

The basics of precision ag

Dave Swain, Manager of Precision Ag Technologies at Southern States, says that for many farmers, precision agriculture tools are now a routine part of business.

Precision agriculture uses technology to compile data for farmers so that they can operate more efficiently, thus better managing production costs, increasing production and increasing profits. Essentially, it is a management practice that uses detailed, site-specific information to accurately control and manage inputs such as fertilizer, chemicals and seed.

Precision ag technology uses Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to precisely geo-reference field boundaries and soil-sample locations. The GPS provides the geologic layout of land based on latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates.

"GPS allows farmers to go to any specific point in the field and determine what nutrients are available to the crop at that time," Swain says.

Soil-sample sites are based on cropping practices and soil types. Precision ag improves the consistency of soil-sample data by allowing the farmer to gather samples from the same exact location every time.

Along with GPS and soil-sample information, precision ag programs record a field's history as well. "When it comes to understanding your field, knowing its history is essential," Swain says. For example, a computer won't know that there used to be a hog barn on the premises and that the soil there may be affected and needs to be tested.

A computer program gathers all of the information and creates an application map. The map serves as a recommendation for future actions to your land.

Advanced precision ag solutions

Variable Rate Technologies (VRT) is another tool used in precision ag systems. VRT applies product to the field based on the application map, and applicators can automatically alter the application rates based on their GPS location. Whether it's fertilizer, seed or chemicals, VRT ensures each area of the field receives precisely what it needs to achieve maximum economic yield. Growers can also use VRT to apply irrigation water if desired.

VRT is often used along with application equipment outfitted with automatic steering systems. Automatic steering systems make it less likely that rows are overlapped or skipped, while reducing driver fatigue.

"Sprayers come with automatic row or section shutoff, effectively getting rid of point row duplication," says Swain. "In the past this was almost impossible to avoid, and waste of product was the norm."

Precision ag advantages

Research has shown that 80 percent of the time, when precision ag technology is used in agriculture, it pays for itself in benefits, according to the Precision Ag Institute Crop Life Group. Applying costly inputs to the field only when and where truly necessary saves time and money.

The overall goal of precision agriculture is to maximize production and a farmer's profit, Swain says. "And we are always looking at opportunities to improve. As technology advances, precision ag will evolve with it."

The environment also benefits when precise inputs are used. Precision ag reduces excess run-off and helps to time input applications more precisely. Improved application timing has a positive impact on crops-so crops ultimately  make better use of the applied product.

Southern States Precision Ag Services

Precision Ag services are offered at all Southern States agronomy locations.

Working with your SSC Agronomy Sales Manager and SSC Agronomist, a technology program can be developed and customized that best fits each operation. One size does not fit all, so an operation analysis and evaluation should be done to find what best fits the needs of the land, crop and management practices of the operation.

For more information on precision agriculture solutions and how they could benefit your farm, please consult with your local Southern States Professional.

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