Farming by the foot can be affordable, regardless of farm size, when the cost is by the acre.

Farmers with relatively small acreages are taking advantage of precision farming technology by utilizing high-tech services offered by their local supply cooperatives.

For example, Dave Alme, who farms about 550 acres of corn and soybeans near Stoughton, WI, has implemented grid mapping and variable rate technology (VRT) and is looking at buying a yield monitor.

Alme, in partnership with his father, Melvin, and brother, John, has been using precision farming since the fall of 1995. Currently, the partnership has 250 acres grid-mapped and VRT-limed and fertilized by Danco Prairie FS, Stoughton, WI.

"Precision farming is affordable because it is done by the acre," says Alme. "I can see a by-the-acre return on my investment.

"Danco Prairie FS takes the samples for us, brings back the results, and then we go through our five-year rotation plan to see how we should be managing the land," he explains. "The bulk of the equipment cost is theirs, and they supply us with an agronomist we trust to understand the technology, as well as our land and management style."

Alme used the same by-the-acre logic as with the grid mapping and VRT applications when examining the practicality of a yield monitor.

"If I use $7,000 as the average price of a yield monitor and divide the cost by an expected life span of five years use and then by my 550 acres, the estimated cost over time is $2.55 per acre," he says.

"I feel that I've already seen this much of a savings from the lime applications made using grid mapping and VRT technology, and when you look at it on a per-acre cost and spread it over several years, the cost becomes workable."

Jim Scott, who farms 1,100 acres near Fontanelle, IA, uses the services of Rusty Raper, precision farming coordinator at Rolling Hills FS, Winterset, IA.

When approaching precision farming as a by-the-acre expense, Scott has found advantages similar to those of farmers with fewer acres.

He and his father, Glen, have been using precision farming for two years. He decided to use grid mapping and VRT to determine his farm's soil fertility and better determine some of the nutrient variables in his fields before investing in a yield monitor.

"In addition to now having more agronomic information about my fields, I feel I've covered the cost of a yield monitor with my savings from the fertility management changes we made," says Scott.

"In today's market, you have to be as efficient as possible," adds Raper. "Precision farming allows you to do that and, yes, it works for all farmers because each acre stands alone when the cost is broken down into a by-the-acre expense."