Terry Griffin wants to know how precision agriculture is being adopted in, and how it is affecting, his native Mid-South.

A University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture professor of economics, for many years, he has studied technologies ranging from producer uses (and profitability) of yield monitors to, more recently, adoption of automatic steering and how precision agriculture improves the farmer’s workaday life.

Griffin spoke with Delta Farm Press in late September. Among his comments:

On how precision agriculture can be categorized…

“Precision can be separated into two main categories – and this is true of any technology, especially information technology.

“One type involves information and science that is embedded within the technology itself. A classic agricultural example is Roundup Ready soybeans. A lot of technology went into the genetics but the user doesn’t have to understand it.

“The second type adds information. The classic example in agriculture is integrated pest management (IPM). This technology allows the user to make better decisions but takes a lot more user ability to make use of the information.

“Precision agriculture is the same way. When it first came out, we thought of ‘precision ag’ as yield monitors, GPS and soil sampling. Those are all great things and allowed growers to make really good decisions.

“However, you must be able to handle, analyze and interpret the data in order to understand what’s going on in the field. It takes a lot of skill to make use of yield and soil data.

“GPS guidance is a type of precision ag that is closer to the Roundup Ready mentality. The technology is built into the product and it takes less skill and ability to operate farm equipment and reduce overlaps and skips.

“So, there’s the technology with embedded science and the technology that is, I say, ‘information intensive.’

“The adoption curves are reflective of how precision agriculture is used. Yield monitors were commercialized in the early 1990s. It was 1999 when light bars came on the scene and 2004 when automatic guidance hit the market.

“Those adoption curves are much steeper than the yield monitors and soil sampling adoption curves. They’re just easier to use.”

A short history? Are you still working on the family farm?

“I’m from Paragould, Arkansas, in Greene County, and grew up on a row-crop farm. It’s still in operation but I haven’t spent time on a tractor in about 10 years.

“I got an undergraduate degree in agronomy and a master’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. For my master’s degree project I looked at the profitability of variable rate technologies and I began tracking the adoption of precision ag in the state.

“After that, I went to the University of Illinois and did precision ag work in the Midwest for four years. Then, it was off to Purdue for my Ph.D., where I worked on the theory of spatial analysis. Then, I came straight home to Arkansas.”