The precision-ag technologies available today are so solid that their payback record speaks for itself. The question now has become: How can you afford not to use precision-ag products?
Precision ag is now a mature technology. When asked what’s new in the field, I’d start with active crop-nutrient sensors. They are the Holy Grail of precision ag. Active crop-nutrient sensors make things go full circle and deliver the right amount of material in real time. Over the next three to five years, these sensors will become more active and less predictive. In other words, the prescription fertilizer mix calculated by sensors in front of the applicator will be distributed behind the applicator in the same trip.
We have three players invested in doing this well. Trimble has partnered with the GreenSeeker; Ag Leader has partnered with OptRx and Topcon has partnered with CropSpec. The payback from this technology will come not only from the technology, but also from changing management practices, and that is challenging.
Consider splitting fertilizer applications into more as-needed doses; this shifts more risk onto growers. For example, with mid- to late-season sidedressing, you need to weigh the potential benefits of more targeted nitrogen applications and related environmental benefits against the potential weather risks of not being able to enter your fields at the designated application time.
Certainly floods this summer have reminded many of us of that risk here in central Iowa.