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These 5 States Top List of Those That Embrace Precision Ag

Gregg Hillyer
By  Gregg Hillyer , Progressive Farmer Editor-in-Chief
(GAO summary of data reported in 2023 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Map Resources (map), GAO-24-105962)

Walking through the aisles of the National Farm Machinery Show and Commodity Classic this past winter was a quick reminder of the technology and precision tools powering agriculture today and empowering farmers to make smarter, more profitable decisions through data collection and analysis.

Everywhere you turned, companies showcased their latest tech for growing and managing crops, promoting its many uses to enhance efficiencies, boost productivity, simplify tasks in the field, protect the environment and improve return on investment. There were monitors and screens of every size, sensors and software, robotics and autonomous machines, and much more. Talk about technology overload. Price tags fluctuated wildly, depending on the scope of the technology and the machines attached to it.

Analysis and insights collected from on-farm data allow growers to use precision agriculture tools to be more judicious and exact when applying inputs throughout the growing season. Farmers have gone from field-by-field decision-making to acre-by-acre, foot-by-foot, inch-by-inch and now plant-by-plant.

Despite some clear advantages, adoption of precision ag technology varies among farmers. In January, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study on the benefits and challenges for precision agriculture adoption and use. It's no surprise the research authors found high up-front costs can be a barrier for some growers. Information was collected from April 2022 to January 2024 so the GAO could examine policy options to help address the challenges.

Technologies such as variable-rate fertilizer and yield monitoring have been available since the 1990s. However, only 27% of U.S. farms or ranches used precision agriculture practices to manage crops or livestock based on 2023 USDA reporting. The top five states for tech use make up nearly half of the 2022 U.S. cash receipts for corn (52.6%) and soybeans (45.7%). They are North Dakota (57% of farms), Nebraska (55%), Iowa (54%), South Dakota (53%) and Illinois (51%). Kansas is sixth at 49%.

Most northeastern states have adoption rates below the U.S. average of 27%. The study theorizes that lower adoption may be due to smaller farm sizes and diversified farming with multiple crop types in the region. In addition, in these states, where average farm size is smaller than the national average, they may get less benefit from precision agriculture technologies.

Similarly, many southern states have adoption rates below the national average. According to academics from this region, that may be due to the concentration of small, minority and underresourced farmers lacking access to basic tools such as computers and continuing use of outdated technologies and practices from 40 years ago.

Younger farmers lead the way in technology adoption. Farmers said technologies that are relatively easy to use are generally more quickly and widely adopted than those that are more complex or require a large investment of time and resources. And, they indicated data-intensive technologies that require farmers to collect, collate, analyze and respond to data have a higher barrier to entry and are less widely adopted.

The GAO developed three policy goals to help address adoption challenges and/or enhance the benefits of precision agriculture technologies:

1. Provide additional incentives or other financial support to encourage greater adoption and use and better understanding, and to quantify benefits and costs, and expand farmer outreach.

2. Encourage further innovation by conducting research and development to improve on-farm data gathering and analysis, and development and use of standards.

3. Manage greater amounts of data by enhancing data analysis and encouraging data sharing.


-- Email Gregg Hillyer at gregg.hillyer@dtn.com, or follow Gregg on X (formerly Twitter) @GreggHillyer


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