Most Prairie farmers taking a wait-and-see attitude to precision ag

A new online survey found just about everyone uses GPS but less than half 
use advanced imaging and variable rate

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Prairie farmers are casting glances at precision ag, but not embracing it yet, a new survey suggests.

The online 42-question survey commissioned by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada didn’t get a big response — 261 producers participated — but it offers a glimpse into how farmers view the highly touted technology.

The poll found adoption of two key technologies is nearly universal, with 98 per cent of respondents saying they use GPS guidance on their farm (although only 79 per cent have auto steer) and 83 per cent having yield monitoring on their combines.

And while three-quarters said they “intend to use more precision agriculture in the future,” fewer than half were heavily into more advanced applications. (The survey asked about practices employed during the 2016 growing season.)

For example, only 30 per cent said they’ve looked at near infrared (NIR) and Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI) images of their fields. Just under half (47 per cent) had looked at images captured by satellite or drones.

But nearly half said they used prescription maps and/or variable-rate technology to apply “variable rates or unique rates” when fertilizing or seeding last year (with just under a quarter using one or both when spraying).

The survey also asked about use of farm management software and apps; automatic sectional control; soil sampling; bin sensors; data storage; and other technologies. It concluded “the adoption of (precision agriculture) tools and technologies in Western Canada is strong.”

“Many of the sensors to monitor weather and crops are now in place and the tools to measure the soils, water, vegetation and yields are fully understood,” the survey report stated.

“Each year, more of the farm equipment fleet is capable of capturing data and the systems become more user friendly and reliable for technicians and precision agronomists to process the data into actionable outcomes for the farmer.”

The main goal of the survey is contained in its name: Analysis of Precision Agriculture — Adoption & Barriers in Western Canada. The top barriers it found were: cost, inadequate Internet and/or cell coverage, a lack of knowledgeable people, the fact the technology is continuously evolving, and having older farm equipment.

The survey’s author also warned that the findings are limited — not only because the number of respondents was low, but “the survey length may have resulted in inherent bias favouring respondents with a general interest or knowledge” of precision ag.

Indeed, more than half of the people who took the survey were in the 35- to 44-year-old age group or younger. The average age of farmers is 54 years old.

The biggest response (46 per cent) came from Alberta and nearly two-thirds of respondents said they cropped in excess of 2,200 acres. To see the complete survey, go to “Precision Ag Survey 2017”.

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