On the profitability exercises you did – have you updated those? Have you seen shifts in precision ag in the state?

“One of the things I did when I got back was to get into the USDA’s ARMS (Agricultural Resource Management Survey) database. ARMS is a survey that USDA does every year.

“It took me over 18 months to do that and I had to have security clearance. There’s some sensitive data in the survey. But all I was interested in was adoption levels.

“I tried to get data for only Arkansas or the Mid-South region … but that wasn’t feasible, so I went ahead and did the research for the whole country.

“However, if you look at the rice statistics (which was only surveyed in 2000 and 2006), those are pretty much Arkansas-specific. Arkansas has nearly half the U.S. rice production.

“Most of the farmers I talk to — those who call me — have automatic guidance on their equipment. That isn’t to say those farmers represent the average. The growers I talk to are interested in technology from the get-go, so it’s sort of a biased sample.

“Another thing I work with is spatial analysis of yield monitor data. Again, the farmers I talk to have yield monitors and GPS on their equipment.

“My feeling is probably a third, or less, of the farmers in the state have yield monitor technology. But those I speak with are part of that third.

“We have good evidence that agriculture service providers are making use of GPS navigation technologies.

“The Purdue/CropLife survey conducted by Whipker and Akridge each year reports that more than 80 percent of service providers use lightbars and more than half use automated guidance. The interesting thing here is that this indicates that those lightbars are not on the cutting edge but are rather the status quo.”

Is there a breakeven point for these technologies? Have you come up with a formula for growers to consider?

“Yes. For automatic guidance that’s especially true. I did a presentation on that a few years ago. With yield monitors, it isn’t as cut-and-dried.

“Nowadays, most every farmer has a cell phone in his pocket. Ask them, ‘Is it profitable?’ Of course, the answer depends on how they use it. It wouldn’t take too many times for a farmer to use the cell phone to call in for parts for machines that are torn up in the field before the phone pays for itself. But if he doesn’t use that phone, then it won’t be profitable.

“Yield monitors are the same way. Whether it is profitable depends on how the collected information is used. Data on its own has no value until someone makes use of it.

“I’m very interested in how farmers are using yield monitors. Research results suggest that, other than in cotton, farmers are using yield monitors mainly for moisture readings.

“They want to determine harvest logistics — where will I put this particular load of grain? Which dryer or elevator will get it based on X amount of moisture?

“The third highest use of yield monitors has been to conduct field-scale experiments (with the highest use of yield monitors in cotton). Farmers may want to check a field with, or without, a particular herbicide or fungicide. Or, maybe, they’re conducting their own variety trials.”