This past summer the USDA’s Economic Research Service released a report on the current state of precision agriculture in the United States written by David Schimmelpfenning and Robert Ebel.
At first glance it would suggest this is a segment of agriculture that is going Mach 2 with its hair on fire. Yield monitoring is used on over 40 percent of all combine harvesters in the U.S. and both manual and automated GPS guidance continues to grow at exponential rates.
It’s there where the warm, fuzzy part of the report ends and the real story begins. The authors of the report note that while yield monitor use has seen steady growth – actual GPS yield mapping has not. Another precision horse that is lagging is the adoption – or maybe more precisely – the implementation of variable-rate technologies.
None of us who have been around the precision ag industry this past decade are shocked by this lack of “progress”. Precision agriculture is still finding its way. It is still searching for its true identity. Yield monitors took hold because they are like the “I Love Lucy Show” – they’re good entertainment in the cab. GPS guidance took off because for lack of a better reason – it was simple and growers didn’t want their neighbors to have straighter rows than they did.
Frankly, the industry as done a poor job of preparing and training those who use and can benefit the most from precision agriculture technology. It is like we sat them in a cockpit of a 747 and asked them to fly from New York to Paris without any flight lessons or manual.
From day one the industry also sold producers on the premise that precision ag was easy and they could do everything themselves – sort of like brewing your own beer in your basement. Precision ag data management is hard and is getting harder. Growers don’t know where to turn or what comes next. We’ve handed them a 1,000 piece puzzle and forgot to give them the picture on the front of the box. The reality of the situation is that there are real benefits to be had but we cannot expect producers to complete this journey alone and without some sense of direction.
Harvest 2011 is in the books. But if you collected GPS yield data it still has a story to tell.
When producers question us about what is the most important piece of precision agriculture data – without hesitation our answer is yield data. Why? It is the last chapter in the book. It is the summary of all the management decisions you made during the crop year on a particular field.
Yield maps literally help paint a picture of a particular field’s personality. Strengths. Weaknesses. All are revealed in digital living color. Making major agronomic decisions however based on one year’s worth of yield data is sort of like getting married after only one date. Agronomy professionals say that most fields only reveal their true personalities after being tested by Mother Nature over the course of three to four years.
That’s why if growers want to graduate to the agronomic perks that precision ag can offer like variable-rate seeding and multiple-zone field fertility recommendations they need back to back to back years of yield data. Then through analytical agronomic tools like “normalized” yield maps you can better predict the tendencies of each acre and manage accordingly.
This is why those of us at Prime Meridian share such a passion in regards to the collection, calibration and preservation of combine GPS yield data. It is one of the main reasons we created our “Precision Prep” program for monitors to ensure data is properly organized and collected at the time of harvest. It also is why we offer either remote or on-site yield monitor calibration assistance for nearly any brand of yield monitor because only good data leads to good agronomy. And finally, it is why we offer producers free online storage for yield and other important agronomic GPS information through our online web portal called AgriMAX.
If you have been collecting and using yield data for years to make management decisions – then good for you. If not, your farms and fields still have a story to tell. You can never recreate GPS yield data. The Good Lord and Mother Nature only give producers so many harvests in a lifetime. So make each one count and make sure you harvest and store the digital crop of data as well as the one that showed up in your grain tank.