May 21, 2003 | By: Laura Skillman
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky.

Precision farming technology has been perceived to be worthwhile only for large farming operations, but that may not necessarily be the case.

Farmers who produce primarily livestock and are less than about 100 acres in size believed themselves to be too small to justify the cost of developing computer-generated field maps and applying inputs at variable rates. But that is changing, said Rod Grusy, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Hardin County.

Grusy said research on precision farming, while only in its infancy, has shown that the technology aids in the overall management of large and small farms in addition to having economic benefits. He also noted that converts to this technology come in many forms, including those in the Amish community who are using the technology to manage animal manure application to fields.

Livestock farmers may be turning to precision agriculture to aid them in meeting environmental requirements, Grusy noted. Farmers are being held accountable for ensuring that land application of manure does not contaminate underground and surface water. Precision agriculture technology can be used to maintain precise records showing when, where and how much manure was applied.

With the variety of farms in the Commonwealth, technology will be incorporated at different levels. 

UK is working alongside industry and farmers to determine what precision technologies have the greatest potential to increase farm profits. As part of that effort, on-farm research trials to assess variable application of nitrogen and variable seeding rates are being conducted on two Hardin county farms this year, Grusy said.

UK agricultural economists also have launched a research effort directed toward determining how both the complexity and cost of precision farming technology can be reduced for both small and large farms, he said.

A survey of farmers in Hardin, Meade and LaRue counties showed that about 16 percent were using precision farming for variable-rate application of fertilizer and less then 3 percent of these farmers were small livestock farms.

Grusy conducted the survey that looked at the number of farmers using precision agriculture and farmers’ views on the technology.

Farmers who have invested in precision agriculture don’t regret their decision. Seventy-four percent of the farmers who adopted the technology have a positive attitude about future benefits of the technology and do not regret their investment, according to survey results.

As the technology grows, so too will the need for technical assistance.

“Certainly, in the future, there will be a great need for people who have the technical expertise to analyze the vast amount of information collected on fields and make specific management decisions,” Grusy said.

Contact: 

Rod Grusy, (270) 765-4121