It’s no secret that agriculture has always been, continues to be and will be into the foreseeable future a challenging way to make a living. The risks are numerous and the stakes are high. The line between profit and loss is typically razor-thin.

But technology can take at least some of the guesswork out of the process, says a Wharton County, Texas, cotton and grain farmer.

“Agriculture has come a long way,” said Michael Popp, speaking at the Texas Plant Protection Association annual conference. “And it continues to advance. Precision farming now offers us an opportunity to monitor inputs and field conditions and maximize efficiency and profitability.”

Popp says farmers may face a significant learning curve and will need more than a modicum of patience to take advantage of precision ag technology. “We need to accumulate a lot of yield history,” he said. “Some of that takes years to develop. The process can be overwhelming.”

Computer technology is a key to precision ag and can also pose significant challenges, he added. “The equipment may be intimidating, but farmers need to adopt long-term thinking about where they want to go and how they want to get there.”

Global Positioning System technology provides a vehicle to help and is essential.

Requirements to get started include yield monitors, crop histories and quantified yields, all of which help farmers justify decisions. “Variable rate equipment is crucial,” he said.

Some old-fashioned tools are also vital. Soil sampling, for instance, plays a role in analyzing input needs. Popp said creating a soil profile, yield and soil maps, grid sampling and aerial imagery all provide information necessary for adopting variable rate application techniques.

“Producers will need computer support,” he added. “We experience software glitches and we need to learn to use the equipment.” That may require a computer technician to shorten the learning curve.