USDA promotes ag precision through tech, broadband
May 1, 2019 at 11:10 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has rolled out its next phase in reviewing the technological progress of the nation’s agricultural industry. On Tuesday, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue released the report, “A Case for Rural Broadband: Insights on Rural Broadband Infrastructure and Next Generation Precision Agriculture Technologies.”
The USDA recently announced it is receiving applications for grants and loans to boost broadband internet access in rural areas nationwide. The new repeat pinpoints that a combination of broadband and using Next Generation Precision technology on farms and ranches may yield $47 billion in national economic benefits every year.
“Broadband and Next Generation Precision Agriculture are critical components for creating vital access to world-class resources, tools and opportunity for America’s farmers, ranchers, foresters and producers,” Perdue said. “Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA is committed to doing our part to clear the way for nationwide broadband connectivity that will allow the next generation of precision agriculture technologies to thrive and expand.”
The report also revealed that if broadband internet and digital technologies were available at a level that meets demand, the economy could benefit at 18 percent of total ag production. More than a third of that percentage is dependent on broadband connectivity, which equates to $18 billion in annual economic benefits.
A statement from USDA reads: “Going forward, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be engaged in multiple facets of infrastructure and technology deployment, including financing rural capital investments and supporting producers who are exploring which Next Generation Precision Agriculture Technologies are best suited to improve their operations and serve their customers.”
The Next Generation Precision Ag Tech report has information graphics illustrating connected technology in three areas: row crops, specialty crops and livestock/dairy producers. In the example of row crops, yield monitoring can consist of monitors mounted in combines to gather harvest data for business decision. USDA states such information can save $25 per acre in input costs for corn farmers.
Location-tagged field data can be uploaded into planning software to optimize planting decision and placement, which can save $6.53 per acre on seed expenses. Satellites or on-site weather stations can forecast local weather more accurately and reduce crop loss by up to 80 percent in some cases.
Although many combines or harvesters can come with GPS options now, the USDA report indicates GPS-autonomous or self-driving vehicles could use GPS to determine field boundaries and save an estimated $15 per acre. Remote diagnostics on vehicles connected with hardware and software may be able to diagnose and in some cases anticipate needs for repair. With internet connectivity, messages can be received remotely. The anticipated savings are applied at $5-$15 per acre.
The USDA also indicates drones can be used with efficiency in agriculture. Drone imagery software may collect growth data, which can be used to calculate productivity. Connected cameras on the drones can also detect disease and weeds with 90-99 percent accuracy. Crop loss may be reduced by as much as 30 percent. Information can be gathered from temperature and moisture sensors in storage facilities, reducing crop loss and increasing sale price. Better internet connectivity can connect farmers directly with buyers, enabling them to earn higher premiums for meeting certain quality standards, bringing between $0.35 and $0.51 more per bushel for corn, soybeans, wheat and rice.
While the report is quick to point out savings per acre, the initial cost of equipment upgrades can be substantial. Weather stations designed for mobile applications and connectivity average around $2,000 per unit. Drones with all the necessary sensors and cameras for ag applications can cost about $10,000 and beyond depending on features. Companies such as Drone Deploy specialize in ag applied drone technology service packages with the lowest tier package started at $149 per month for their services.
Specialty crop technologies include using soil-based plant sensors to control irrigation system and improve water efficiency by 20-25 percent with an increase in yields by 17.5 percent for some crops. Wireless sensors can identify frost patterns, improving forecasts by 50 percent. Using autonomous pickers using vacuums and specialized pincers could reduce overall harvest costs to 35-45 percent of total production costs. Many of the automated pickers are still in development and testing due to issues involving handling of fruits and vegetables to avoid bruising.
Precision agriculture technologies for livestock include bio-sensors tracking ovulation cycles for optimum fertilization rates. Sensors can also listen for sounds of young animal distress, particularly piglets in danger of being smothered. Sensors detecting a distress sound may stimulate the sow to change positions. USDA indicates this measure alone could reduce infanticide in the hog industry by 75 percent. Precision feeding can use sensors to distribute optimal amounts of feed, decreasing costs by $0.12 per cow when analyzing beef production. Automated monitoring can detect early signs of mastitis in dairy cows, thus avoiding $316 in indirect costs per infected cow per year. Drones can be utilized for monitoring herds, reducing the cost of searching for lost cattle by 20 percent.
What’s more, USDA states that farmers implementing internet connectivity with technology can have better business management and quality of life. Technological advancement leads to a “faster learning curve for new fields or crops,” helps maintain better records, generate more free time for research, management and multi-tasking, allows for peer learning over digital means and ultimately can create better physical health and peace of mind due to reduced work hours and stress.
A copy of the Next Generation Precision Ag Tech report can be read online at: https://bit.ly/2vtyFfN
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