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How to succeed when starting with precision agriculture

Technologies regarding precision agriculture are starting to be seen and used more often in the Southeast.  Applicators of variable-rate fertilizer, guidance systems, and yield monitors are tools being used to bring higher rates of profitability and productivity to many locations.  Unfortunately, some farmers that would largely benefit from using precision agriculture in their operations are hesitant to give it a try.  The following answers the question they may have, “How do I succeed when starting with precision agriculture?”

First, you need to figure out what your specific need is.  Reasons for beginning precision agriculture depend on the individual grower, just as production issues can be addressed on a site-by-site basis using precision agriculture.  Are you looking for greater efficiency with inputs?  Are you trying to keep more accurate records on the farm?  Have you been considering changes in management that would be better guided with further knowledge about the way your farm is producing?  It is wise to determine what your needs are before spending money on gadgets and software.

Next, you need to figure out which tools will best suit those needs, as identifying what you need is just the beginning.  Sorting through the many styles and models of the tool you seek to determine which one is best for your needs can be difficult.  As with many major purchases, precision agriculture instruments can have a wide range of prices and quality.  You would not likely buy a new combine harvester without shopping around; that also applies for software packages and guidance systems.  You might want to consider speaking with experts at your local university extension or a consultant to assist you in figuring out which exact tools will best meet your needs.

Third, make sure you understand what it will take to put your new tools to work and how using them is expected to help you achieve greater success in your farming.  You should know if your particular tools can be used with respect to more than one crop; if it will be used on portions of the farm or the entire piece of land; which of your staff will be using the tools; if any special training or support will be necessary.  Your implementation plan can also impact the tools you choose to meet a specific need.  Creating a plan for that implementation early on will help you to eventually enjoy maximum success with your precision agriculture tools

Last, have patience.  Using these innovations will likely take some time to implement and to feel comfortable.  Even very user-friendly tools will sometimes have you feeling frustrated.  It may take more than one season to fully implement your precision agricultural tool, as you not only work out the bugs but also completely integrate and implement the system so as to achieve the results you seek.  For example, if you are looking improve crop yield, you would want to start with a yield map, but that won’t provide much value unless that data leads you to make changes that do improve yield (such as using a new variety or density of planting in particular parts of the field).  Implementing precision agricultural tools is usually more of a change over time rather than a once-and-for-all process that will give you results immediately.   You may also find that you need more than one tool to manage the needs you have.  Nonetheless, you shouldn’t be hesitant to look into the opportunities provided by precision agriculture technology, as there are vast sources of reliable information and experienced growers to help you in the process.

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