Surveys conducted of Southern cotton producers since 2000 indicate continued adoption of precision farming technology and a significant increase in the use of GPS guidance.

According to surveys of grower adoption in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 seasons, 63 percent of farmers who responded are now using some form of precision farming. Respondents were identified as precision farming adopters if they used any type of information gathering technology, variable-rate management or GPS guidance.

The survey, sponsored by Cotton Incorporated, found that for 2008, 35 percent of respondents reported using at least one information gathering technology, 22 percent reported making at least one variable-rate management decision and almost 50 percent reported using GPS guidance.

About 26 percent reported using information technology to make variable-rate decisions and used GPS guidance. About a third of producers used GPS guidance without any other technology. Overall about 73 percent of those designated as precision farming adopters used GPS guidance.

About 30 percent of those using information technology used zone sampling and grid soil sampling, with yield monitoring and aerial imaging the third and fourth most popular uses.

The survey indicated that producers have been using zone soil sampling and aerial imaging the longest, while electrical conductivity and yield monitoring are more recent adoptions.

Over 90 percent of respondents who reported making a variable-rate technology decision did so with fertilizers, according to the survey, followed by plant growth regulators. Use of variable-rate technology for drainage and harvest aids were also very common.

According to Daniel Mooney, research associate at the University of Tennessee, “The yield monitor seems to be the most commonly used technology for most variable-rate decisions.”

Most adopters making a variable-rate fertilizer application did so using a yield monitor, followed by aerial satellite imaging, hand-held GPS units, Greenseeker and electrical conductivity.

The most widely used guidance system were auto-steer systems, followed by light bars. “Other respondents indicated ‘other guidance systems’ and we haven’t gone through written part of the responses to see what those were.”

GPS guidance systems were most often used for spraying, about 80 percent, followed by planting and tillage.

The survey included only six states in 2000 and grew to 11 states by 2004. In 2008, Texas was added. Six universities are participating in tabulating and analyzing the data.

In 2000, under 30 percent of respondents were classified as precision farming adopters. In 2004, there was a significant increase in adoption for all six states to above 30 percent. The increase slowed from 2004 to 2008. Nevertheless, by 2008, almost all states had precision farming adoption rates of over 50 percent.

From 2004 to 2008, in all states except Texas, there was an increase in zone sampling, yield monitoring and grid soil sampling while the use of aerial photography and handheld GPS devices decreased.

Nearly 80 percent of variable-rate management adopters reported the use of a yield monitor for fertility or lime management in 2008, about the same as in 2004. The percentage of variable-rate adopters using aerial or satellite imagery for fertility or lime increased from 40 percent in 2004 to 50 percent in 2008.

But the biggest change from 2004 to 2008 was in GPS guidance. In 2004, over 75 percent of the respondents reported using light bars, while auto-steer had fewer adopters. By 2008, “we really saw auto-steer coming on, as well as the number of people who reported using both,” Mooney said.

By field operation, the most popular use of GPS guidance was the same in 2004 as it was in 2008, spraying. But it is being used more and more today for planting and tillage, Mooney says.

Mooney says more detail is yet to be extracted from the data. “We’re really just starting to scratch the surface of this data set. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

The survey was sent to nearly 14,000 cotton producers, with almost 1,700 respondents, for an overall response rate of 12.5 percent.

States with the highest response rates were Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee, while Georgia, Missouri and Arkansas, had the lowest response rate. Universities participating in the study were the University of Tennessee, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, University of Florida, Louisiana State University and Texas Tech University.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com