Although agrochemicals serve many different specific functions, their general purpose remains the same: to maximize the crop yield of a farm and help grow more food for human consumption. As more innovations have been made in the industry, their effectiveness has only grown.
The same can be said for precision agriculture. In October 2016 the USDA released a report taking a close look at what kind of farmers are typically adopting precision agriculture techniques, and how these techniques affect overall profitability.
Although agricultural trends are not easy to predict, it appears that there is much to be gained from implementing this approach. This may be especially true in regard to the use of agrochemicals.
What Is Precision Agriculture
Precision agriculture essentially refers to a variety of tools, methods, and practices designed to use a farm’s resources most efficiently.
To better understand how the approach works, consider this: typically, a farmer will plant a selected crop uniformly throughout a particular field or plot devoted to that crop. This is so common in agriculture that many don’t even question the process.
However, within that particular field, soil conditions may vary. By using advanced equipment, a farmer could, for example, identify an area within the plot where the soil tends to hold more moisture and nutrients. With this knowledge, the farmer can then plant more crops in that specific section.
In the past, the farmer would still plant them uniformly so they don’t compete for resources. Now, farmers can increase their crop’s yield by finding an area where that is less of a concern.
Essentially, the goal of precision agriculture involves gathering as much specific knowledge as possible about the varying conditions within a field, and planting accordingly.
Based on the USDA’s findings, as of now, it appears that larger farms are more likely to adopt precision agriculture technologies and methods. In fact, farms larger than 2,900 acres are twice as likely to adopt precision agriculture when compared to all other farms.
Much of this likely has to do with the types of technologies that are frequently employed in this style of farming. GPS-based maps, for example, are a common tool, as they are of more use on a farm in which there is a lot more land to cover. However, as the effectiveness of precision agriculture continues to be understood, it’s reasonable to assume that farms of all sizes will find it useful.
Already, the USDA has learned that the various precision agriculture technologies the study focused on (GPS mapping, guidance/auto-steer systems, and variable-rate technology) all help to increase the profitability of a farm. If future studies provide even more evidence of precision agriculture’s financial benefits, it’s likely that the approach will become more widespread.
Again, the goal of precision agriculture is to help farmers get more out of their resources. Fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides all fall under that category. As farmers develop and embrace new ways of understanding the specific soil and field conditions across their entire farms, they won’t simply be planting crops and grazing cattle in new patterns, they’ll also redistribute their use of agrochemicals, applying them more where they are needed and less where they aren’t.
This suggests that there will be an increasing interest in tools and products that allow them to apply agrochemicals in a more precise manner. Simply planting more crops in areas where they are less likely to compete for resources is merely one single step in boosting the overall yield of the farm. Unless steps are also taken to ensure that those crops are fully protected from pests, illness, and competing plants, the full potential of precision agriculture’s effectiveness will not be realized.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea for people in the agrochemical industry to start looking into more ways in which such products can be made compatible with this approach. Farmers may want to use more fertilizer in a section of their field where they’ve identified favorable soil conditions. They may wish to use additional pesticides or herbicides in a small spot where they’ve chosen to grow more crops than they might normally have. In their efforts to grow more crops and make more money, they’ll strive to use agrochemicals with the same degree of precision that they’ve brought to their planting techniques.
Achieving these goals may require the design of new tools or techniques. It will be interesting to see how the industry responds, but it seems fair to say that, in the coming years, it will have to.