The benefits of adopting precision agriculture technologies far exceed the costs required to use such systems, according to a 2003 survey of Ohio farmers.

The survey, which analyzed the adoption and use of 18 precision farming components, found that more than half the respondents believed their overall precision farming system was useful enough to justify the costs. Respondents also commented that precision farming components, such as variable rate application of lime, phosphorus and potassium, geo-referenced soil sampling and satellite field photography, were beneficial to their farming operations.

Marvin Batte, an Ohio State University professor and agricultural economist who led the study, said that such results might aid in the decisions of those farmers looking to adopt such technologies.

"The survey shows how others who adopted this technology are evaluating it and what individual components they are finding most useful," Batte said. "It also helps growers make careful decisions on what technology to adopt, so that it fits their operational needs. Not every precision agriculture component is for every farmer."

Batte will be on hand at the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference in Ada, OH, Feb. 27 to discuss the results of the survey.

About 2,500 farmers were contacted for the study, with half responding. Similar to a study conducted in 1999, the survey analyzed the adoption and use of a variety of precision agriculture components such as yield monitors, guidance systems, boundary mapping and a host of GPS-related techniques. Characteristics such as a farmer's age and educational background, as well as farm size, also were analyzed to determine their impact on precision agriculture use.

"Overall, precision farming adoption has increased," Batte said. "About 30 percent of farmers surveyed had adopted at least one precision farming component, about eight percentage points higher than in 1999. And the average adopter uses about four precision farming components."

The most widely adopted precision agriculture components were geo-referenced grid soil sampling, variable rate application of lime, phosphorus and potassium, and the use of a yield monitor, all of which increased in use by an average of 7-12% from four years earlier.

One interesting result was the adoption of precision guidance systems, such as light bars or auto-steer technologies. More than 5% of respondents have adopted some form of guidance system. In 1999 such technology was virtually unheard of and unattainable.

"You can say that such technology is being adopted rather briskly," Batte said.

The survey also revealed that the rate of adoption and use of precision agriculture technologies is dependent upon a variety of characteristics, such as the size of the farm, age of the farmer and his or her employment status.

"Larger farms lead the way in use and adoption of precision agriculture," Batte said. "For variable rate application of P, K and lime, which usually is priced on a per-acre basis, adoption rates are just over twice as large for the largest farms relative to the smallest sales group. For technologies such as yield monitor, GPS receiver and precision guidance where a fixed investment is required, adoption is 10-15 times greater for the largest than for the smallest farms."

Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed who have adopted one or more precision agriculture components have gross farm sales of more than $500,000 a year.

Farmers age 35 or younger tend to adopt such technologies much quicker than those in older age groups. Nearly 50% of young farmers have adopted precision agriculture technologies, compared to 31% of those aged 50-65. And farmers who work full-time on their farm are more likely to adopt precision agriculture technologies than those farmers who work part time on the farm or work full time at another job.

Some technologies that farmers have not embraced include variable rate seeding, variable rate application of pesticides and GPS or sensor-directed spot spraying of pesticides and herbicides.

Batte believes the rate of adoption of such components is slow because not enough information is available to make recommendations or accurately apply applications for maximum benefit.

The Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference takes place Feb. 26-27. The event brings together nearly 70 speakers from land-grant universities, the farming sector and agricultural industries and organizations. Sessions cover a wide range of topics, including precision agriculture, soil fertility, water quality, insect and disease management, strip-till research, valued-added farming and crop management.

Registration is $35 a day or $50 for both days. For a conference agenda, registration information, or directions to Ohio Northern University, visit the event Web site at http://hancock.osu.edu/ag/ctc/ctc.htm or contact the Hancock County Ohio State Extension office at (419) 422-3851 or the Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District at (419) 223-0040.

Conference sponsors include Ohio State University Extension, Northwest Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Districts, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Farm Service Agency and the Ohio No-Till Council.