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Investing in Precision Ag

A poll was recently posted on Agriculture Online that related to concerns about investing in precision ag technology. What I thought was interesting is that the two biggest concerns were that the technology was too expensive (received 36 votes) and that their operation wasn't large enough (received 32 votes). My question. . . in your mind, how big is big enough to invest in precision ag technology - 500 acres, 1,000 acres, 2,000 acres, more than 3,000 acres? The reason I ask is because I'll be tackling this very question in an upcoming package for Successful Farming so I'd love to hear others input. Thanks!


Laurie Potter

Deputy Machinery Editor

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5 Replies

Re: Investing in Precision Ag

I personally will be adding auto steer for next year.  Due to increasing acres, I feel that it is a good insurance investment, to aid in getting crops in the ground.  It will allow me to plant after dark, in which it can be  challenging or impossible to see the marker.  This will allow me to be more productive.  I can start earlier and run later, which could translate ultimately into increasing revenue, based on the weather and possible delayed planting.  Just food for thought.

Frequent Contributor

Re: Investing in Precision Ag

For me, at just over 1000 acres:


  • a lightbar makes financial sense for spraying and fertilizing.  A lightbar is so cheap that you can almost justify it on what you save on not needing a foam marker.
  • Swath control on  the sprayer doesn't.  I've sketched out field shapes and what we might potentially save and it doesn't pencil out
  • Individual row control on the planter.  On this we're getting close.  We currently have an 8 row planter, if we go to a 12 it will pencil out to have individual row control
  • Auto steer.  Nope, makes absolutely no financial sense for us. 
  • Variable rate fertilizer application.  I really want to make this work,  but it just doesn't.  We've run a Veris machine over some fields and there's no coorelation between the Veris zones and yields.  And while we may put less fertilizer on some parts of the field, and more on others, overall we're spending the same on fertilizer, and not changing overall yields.  Just not seeing a finanical reason to do it.

Having said all that, it's not all about the bottom line.  Variable rate N & P management may make sense for environmental reasons, even you can't justify on just dollars and cents.


But, my problem with precision ag is not the cost, but the unreliablity of the equipment.  Honestly, if you do this for a living you know equipment manufacturers have difficulty in building a system where a chain goes around a sprocket reliably.  Precision ag is a long ways from what I'd want to rely on to work on day-to-day basis. 

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cliff seia

Re: Investing in Precision Ag

We bought our first lightbar back in '03 for spraying when we were farming 1,400 acres and it paid for itself very easily within a couple of years.  Now a comparable light bar costs 30% as much as that one did so 500 acres would be enough to pay for one today. 


We got our first auto-steer setup for the planter tractor last year, upgraded to a bigger planter and didn't have enough hydraulic flow on the tractor to run everything on the planter and run the markers so we added auto-steer since it was cheaper than putting a bigger hydraulic pump on the tractor. 


Added section control to our planter last year, divided a 24 row planter into eight, three row sections and at the end of the season we saved 53 acres of seed out of 1,700 planted according to the difference on the two monitors on the planter.  That was 3% seed savings, this year we upgraded some things on the planter so each of the 24 rows is controlled individually and mapped some of the fields better in hopes of reaching a 5% seed savings which I feel is achievable.  The other advantage to section control on the planter is it allows us to run a single 60' wide planter instead of two 30' wide planters and still do a better job in small fields than a smaller planter would do. 

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Re: Investing in Precision Ag

I'm slowing down so I'm a small farm and will get smaller.  I had a problem with soybean spraying two years ago and bought a light bar.  I think it paid for itself the first year.

Last year I added a yield monitor to the combine.  I don't know if it paid in money it I am happy with the extra information.

Autosteer depends on a lot of things.  It relieves a major machinery management task so lets you do other things better.  I think you need the really good autosteer for planting so you have to buy into the expensive stuff.  I don't know what size it pays on.   After the crop is up, if you spray or go down the rows, you either need superb autosteer or you have to drive yourself.  So, I'm not sure when a less accurate system pays.  Either the good stuff or nothing for autosteer.

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Re: Investing in Precision Ag

I run older equipment, so breakdowns and problems do happen.  The auto steer that I invested in this year has easily begun to pay itself back by allowing me to closely monitor the equipment and not where I am driving.  I am catching problems, or potential problems, before they begin to cost more money.  The precision equipment was in my budget, a new planter was not, so away we go with the old equipment and new technology.

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