The average cost of farming – Is technology helping, or are the costs just adding fuel to the fire?

It’s an interesting thought – with the cost of maintaining agriculture already at an all time high, is the promise of technology simply adding additional costs with little reward?

Quite simply, the answer is: No

Last month saw the USDA release their findings on the cost of maintaining an average farm in the United States in 2013. The numbers are quite staggering, but in comparison to previous years the change in overall cost has been minimal.

In 2013, Farmers spent $367.3B on agricultural production, a figure that equates to $175, 270 per farm.

Interestingly, this figure is actually 2.3% higher than the costings for 2012, a season that also saw with it a change in the industry brought on by drought and other natural disasters. However while the cost of doing business may have risen, the impact of technology is certainly being felt when you compare this number to the rise in the dollar value of fields and pastures.

Farming Crops Scouting GPS GIS App

Since 2013, the value of US farms rose 8.1%, due to a combination of better land management techniques, and a boost to the property values of rural America.

While technology is seen as an added expensive and has certainly impacted the cost of business, we can also see clearly that those costs are being dwarfed by the overall value that increased efficiency has brought to the industry.

Value that has been achieved in less than 12 months.

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Why you’re wasting time by not adopting Precision Agriculture – How managing data is changing the face of your agribusiness

Hardware and the great divide

The old adage of “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”, these days is seemingly nothing more than a bandaid that covers up our own apprehension – it’s a slogan that isn’t just characteristic of luddites, but also of the thousands of farmers and agricultural professionals that understand the need for change, but also understand the financial risk involved in taking the next step.

It’s a fine line – most of us know how far technology has come, but we also know that beyond the financial investment is the knowledge that as the gadgets begin to pile up, there is no easy way to tie in, manage, and truly understand all of the excess data.

Well, to be honest, that’s not exactly true…

You see the issue of why your data is scattered all over the place comes back to the hardware manufacturers – GPS tracking systems, moisture probes, third party weather instruments, and scouting hardware are great examples of technology that advances your farm manageability, the problem is however the competing market means there is little to no cohesion in the data.

This of course makes it harder for people trying to effectively manage their agribusiness.

In other words the potential for investment in precision agriculture is there, but the sheer size and girth of the ag-tech market is what drives our apprehension.


However, it’s worth the risk: Proven correlation between adoption and profit.

The statistics are there, and they definitively show an increase in the adoption of precision-ag techniques, and a correlation to increased yields.

The 2013 Purdue University Precision Agriculture report has clearly shown that, “Profitability of precision agriculture is site-specific, and there is a strong relationship between estimated profits and adoption” (Source: http://www.ecpa2013.udl.cat/)

A key phrase from the above statement is that precision-ag is ‘Site specific’, meaning the technology itself doesn’t rely on pre-set components; instead the technology moulds itself to the conditions that are specific to the boundaries of its surrounding environment.

pivot irrigation data agriculture crops Crop Data GPS AgricultureGPS data crop field farm

 

 

 

Examples of Site Specific data – from AgDNA

AgDNA (http://www.agdna.com) above is great example of this spatial data at work – it’s an example of hardware creating valuable data, and a single mobile application to draw it all together effectively.

Writing on the effectiveness of precision-ag irrigation data, the editor of Crop Metrics (http://cropmetrics.com/view/news/) compares PDS (Precision Data Specialists) to the ant in the fable of The Grasshopper and the Ant – they noted that businesses that use a PDS save 1-3 revolutions per pivot on their crop management, and save an average of $10,000/yr alone on the cost of wages when manually collating data.

The Holy Grail – Why it’s important to have a single industry standard data collation tool

With all of the above in mind, we can start to see the importance of a single entity that is able to tie in unconnected data – it’s become the holy grail of agribusiness; a unified platform that is able to read all of the previously unconnected data from your hardware devices and present them in a single easy to use software package.

Unlike Einstein’s fevered attempts to unite science in an elegant universe, the task of bringing together spatial data is slowly becoming a reality.

Hence, it’s important to adopt precision agriculture now – while hardware may seem unconnected, the reality is the data they produce is more valuable then we realise. The expansion of software technologies means that raw data from the field can be extrapolated in numerous ways; imagine:

  • Combining current yield results to future weather patterns and soil conditions to be able to accurately predict future yields
  • Being able to automatically manage your planting timetables with upcoming seasonal weather cycles
  • Having the ability to react to current moisture conditions on the fly, more effectively managing your time in the field
  • Effectively removing human error in manual record keeping systems

AgDNA is a great example of a Spatial Data Aggregator (SDA) in action – a mobile application that automatically collates all of your important reports while in the field, and automatically keeps records of vehicle movement.

AgDNA is also free. You can grab it from the App store here

To summarise, precision agriculture is a wise investment – while the apprehension of disorganised data may play a large part in whether farmers adopt the technology, SDA tools like AgDNA are paving the way to make that issue disappear.

And the Holy Grail may yet prove to be more than mere myth.