GPS-guided tractors, drones and other precision agriculture technologies are used by more than half of farms in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
According to USDA survey data from 2021, the latest data available, these Midwestern states reported the highest rates of use of precision technology in the country. Some states, especially in the northeastern U.S., did not have enough data to be included in the final dataset.
“Precision agriculture” encompasses many technologies and techniques that allow farmers to manage crops at the sub-field level.
For example, with precision soil sampling technology, farmers divide a field up into a grid — typically into parcels of less than 10 square acres each — then test the soil in each square to obtain a detailed picture of a field’s soil quality.
Using variable rate technologies, a farmer can then apply a custom amount of seeds, fertilizer or other inputs to a field, changing the rate of application over short distances.
Drones, GPS-guided farm equipment and yield maps are also considered precision agriculture technologies by the USDA.
The vast majority of adopters of precision agriculture see higher yields, but the USDA warns that its data is not controlled for other important factors like weather conditions, pest management and irrigation rates.
Precision agriculture is more likely to be used by large farms than by small operations, according to a USDA report published in February.
Half of farms in the fourth quintile of corn operations surveyed — those with more than 1,725 acres of cropland — adopted yield maps. Meanwhile, only 7% of farms under 200 acres used the same technology.
Larger farms are more likely to have the capacity to purchase precision equipment and pay for training on how to use it, according to the USDA. Small and medium farms are more risk-averse, fearing the high initial costs and complexity of precision agriculture.
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