How Do You Improve Environmental Stewardship and Increase Yields? Two Words: Precision Agriculture

May 11, 2021

By Curt Blades •  From Spring 2021 American Soybean magazine

Curt Blades is Senior Vice President of Agriculture for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers

The mechanization of farming in the 20th century led to big changes in agriculture. Tractors, combines, harvesters and other farm machines helped each farm produce more and allowed fewer people to farm more land. According to The American Farm Bureau Federation, in the 1930s one American farmer produced enough agricultural product to feed a total of four people; today each American farmer feeds more than 165 people due to a combination of machinery and improved seeds and other crop practices. Farmers are proud to not only feed their families and fellow Americans, but also to produce crops to export to the rest of the world.

But the demands on farmers and farm fields are only increasing. So, what do we do?

Technology now affords farmers the ability to do even more—things that could never have happened before. A lot of GPS-driven technology is in place, giving farmers a whole new set of tools to help dial in the exact placement of seed, fertilizer and crop protection. This technology also helps farmers close the loop with insightful data that helps them monitor what they are doing to determine if there is room for improvement going forward.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), in partnership with the American Soybean Association, CropLife America, and National Corn Growers Association, recently released a study quantifying how widely available precision agriculture technology improves environmental stewardship while providing economic return for farmers.

For the environmental benefits of precision agriculture to take shape, soybean and other growers need to generate more yield and at least break even from a financial standpoint. As a farmer, if you are going to change a practice or invest in a new technology, the economic impact of that action has to be part of the conversation.

The study examined five key areas of the crop farming industry where precision agriculture can make both an environmental and economic impact:

  • Productivity and crop yield
  • Fertilizer use
  • Herbicide use
  • Fossil fuel use
  • Water use

The study then examined five key areas of precision agriculture that can make an impact in those areas:

  • Auto Guidance
  • Machine Section Control
  • Variable Rate
  • Fleet Analytics (Telematics)
  • Precision Irrigation

We are living in a new age of agriculture, and today’s precision technology on equipment can have an enormous positive impact on farmers and the environment.

Over the past 18 years, the growth in corn and soybean yields, for example, has coincided with the widespread adoption of precision agriculture technologies. As precision agriculture technologies become more widely adopted, there is the potential for significant upward movement in yields and savings.

It's important to note that precision agriculture technology adoption is not solely about the immediate benefits of reduced fuel, fertilizer, herbicide or water use. It is also about evolving the U.S. agriculture industry to a more productive, competitive and sustainable state.

Every farmer is trying to do the right things, not just for the next season, but for the next generation. Thanks to technology, there are additional tools available that can help farmers achieve a goal they have always had: provide good food, energy and fiber to the public around the world. The beautiful thing about this new technology is that it doesn't force a choice between environment over economics, or vice versa. With today's precision agriculture technology, farmers can choose both.

If you are interested in more information and seeing a copy of the study, please visit