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From early experiments with what now would be seen as rudimentary systems for yield mapping, to global positioning system technology that allows equipment to follow prescribed paths across a field, to variable rate application that adjusts seeding, pesticide, fertilizer and plant growth regulator products on the go, to the possibility of unmanned aircraft mapping fields, site-specific agriculture has come of age.
He says adoption of transgenic varieties has been higher because that technology was easy to incorporate into production systems. “The technology is already in the bag.”
About the only decision farmers have to make is whether to purchase varieties with insect resistant traits or just herbicide tolerance. Also, they have choices about which of several systems to use. He also notes that today farmers have limited choices if they want seed without transgenic technology.
Searcy says the next big opportunity for site-specific agriculture could be through use of unmanned aircraft mapping fields. “We see a lot of interest in UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles),” he says. “We may see a lot of potential with UAVs in remote sensing, but the technology still needs a lot of development, and we’re probably not as close to adoption as some proponents believe.”
Potential problems include the low altitude limitations for UAVs—500 feet, as required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). “Most stay at 400 feet to make certain to stay under that limit.”
Low altitude may skew results. Also, the small, lightweight craft are prone to roll, drift and yaw with wind turbulence. With just a slight movement, rows 11 through 21 could be confused with rows 10 through 20, Searcy says.
The technology may be promising, but more research and development is needed. “It may be like early days of yield mapping. The vehicles can collect data, but then what do we do with it? It’s not as simple as some might think.”
Nothing about site-specific agriculture is particularly simple, however. “Producers have to use the data to make decisions,” Searcy says. “It’s not always easy.”
He says the challenge is to gather the information and put it to use without investing too much time and effort and “make it a money maker. It needs to be a seamless turn-key decision for the producer.
“Data,” he says, “is only good if a producer can turn it into a decision that helps him make a profit. The information has to be better than the cost to collect the data.”