I remember sitting in a lecture hall at the university of Guelph taking in a lecture on precision agriculture and what it would bring to the future of cropping. The year was 1999 and the technology had been adopted in area’s of ontario by some ag retailers in the form of Grid Soil Sampling and Variable rate fertilizer application (VRA) with 5 bin soilection terragators…looking back it seems over the top. I have spoke with most of those earlier adopters in my travels and the great majority cringe when I broach the topic. All they remember is huge capital investment and no agronomic returns for farmers or themselves. They remember steep learning curves, computer and mechanical errors and slowed productivity in a market where farmers were ramping their planting and harvest productivity up and putting more and more pressure on the retailer to keep ahead of them in the field. As usual farmers are very fast at spotting a non money maker and when they saw farmers that had tried this new technology abandon it they had a good excuse not to try it. VRA would have to sit on the back burner while cool new gadgets like visual guidance systems and auto steer would steel the spot light.
In that lecture at the University of Guelph the guest speaker from our government agency held firm with the message that this technology will not prove valuable to farmers because “yield monitors are not accurate enough” and “mother nature didn’t make soil in grids and so there was no payback in managing that way”. That seemed to be the standard in those days. These statements frustrated me because i could see that these tools have to value for improving decision making. It took me a couple years of working at an ag retailer as a crop scout and agronomist to see what he was missing. I discovered that the most important thing in precision technology for us as farmers was the ability to collect data and review on a comparative basis the maps of field processes to see if what you are doing has enough relative difference to something new that would warrent adoption in the cropping system.
The key to this is keeping in mind that we are looking for relative difference. I don’t care if a yield monitor is not perfectly calculating yield as long as it is consistent. We can use these tool to evaluate things a lot simpler than soil variability to make decisions that will make us money. To this day there are 1000’s of farmers and sadly agronomists will swear to you that their method is the best but they have no data to prove it to you or to themselves. Generally they are making improvement to their operation but it is usually based on general observation and hunches and a game of follow the leader more so then proof. I myself have fallen victim to this mentality but am constantly going to the data to keep me on track. At least if i make a bad decision the data will yell at me and get me back on track. This can be cut and dry or very difficult to implament . Stay Tuned for some results of our data crunching.