Note to readers, attached is the complete final report for FNE04-538.
The use of precision agriculture has been used in the mid-west for several years. The large vast acreage of the Midwestern farm fields makes the use of precision agriculture a valuable economic and environmental tool to producers who use it. In the Northeast and more specifically West Virginia, precision agriculture has not been as widely used, mainly due to lack of economic benefit, which is a result of the lack of soil fertility variation on our small crop farming fields.
As we proceed through a change in agricultural management we are seeing more dependence on grazing of livestock and less emphasis on confinement and continuously grazed systems. As we change out management systems our agricultural priorities change. Ten years ago our priorities may be to concentrate our fertility on hay and crop fields to increase tonnage, whereas today grazing and decreasing our economic inputs through different aspects of grazing has become more of a precedence. As grazing becomes more of a concern for livestock producers increasing pasture fertility, building pasture division fencing and developing water resources takes priority to planting corn for silage or making hay for winter feeding, thus making pasture our “high value” crop in Appalachia.
As producers become more concerned with the productivity of pastures, soil fertility becomes more of a priority. The group members involved in this S.A.R.E Farmer Grower Grant saw an opportunity to utilize the precision agriculture technology resources that were available in the area as a potential economic benefit to producers who solely rely on pastures to graze livestock. Precision agriculture had previously been researched on crop fields, but with little economic benefit to the producer. Group members wanted to research the possibility of using the precision technology on pasture by comparing precision economic data to the conventional method of soil sampling.
On April 12th, 2004, forty seven samples were pulled, representing 68.32 acres of pasture via using the precision method of soil sampling. On that same day the same 68.32 acres was divided into four boundaries and sampled via the conventional method of sampling. Once the soil sample data was returned from the lab the data was entered into a data base file to build the soil fertility maps for the precision method of application.
When observing the results there was slight variation in soil fertility using both methods of sampling. Sampling fees, nutrient requirements and application fees, were compared when analyzing the economic data of the two sampling methods. The precision agriculture method saved the producer $40.86 over the conventional method of sampling.
Nor that the analysis has been complied the data is much unexpected. There was concern among the participants in the project that producers may not seen an economic benefit with a slight to moderate soil fertility variation as sampled by the conventional method of sampling and compared with the precision agriculture method of sampling. When observing the soil fertility maps there were only slight to moderate variations in soil fertility on this particular farm. The participants once felt that there needed to be large variations of soil fertility within a field to make the use of this new technology feasible. The analysis has now shown that the use of precision agriculture technology can be a viable economic benefit for producers who have grasslands as their “high-value crop”.