It makes sense to scrutinize the financial returns of precision ag technology costs, says Matt Darr, an Iowa State University ag engineer. But Darr says farmers continually remind him about the intangible benefits of using these tools that in many cases are just as important as dollars-and-cents justification.
This includes older farmers who say the technology not only enables them to manage the complexity of farming and save money on labor, but also reduces the fatigue from long hours of operating a tractor.
Darr says one farmer told him he had shoulder surgery in the summer and that without auto-steer, he would not have been able to drive his combine that fall because it would have been too physically demanding.
“Skeptics will never account for benefits they can’t apply numbers to,” Darr says. “You have to be in the cab to experience many of these indirect benefits that farmers appreciate.”
The return on investment for precision technology understandably happens quickly when farmers cover a lot of acres. But the biggest per-acre payback doesn’t necessarily come in the huge, square fields in the Midwest and Northern Plains because they don’t present the “overlap” challenge of smaller, odd-shaped plots.
Darr says bigger paybacks occur where there is more chance of overlap in applying broadcast fertilizer, spraying and seeding in irregularly shaped fields or those with grass waterways, creeks, streams and wetlands.
Darr grew up on a farm in Ohio, which the family still operates. As an undergraduate at Ohio State…