Systems Research Looks for Key
By Kathryn Barry
October 16, 2000
Results of a study now in progress
should help farmers determine which variables limit their yields and whether
precision agriculture techniques could improve their profitability.
Agricultural Research Service
scientists in Ft. Collins, Colo., are measuring all possible environmental
conditions and farming practices that could affect yields on two commercial
farms. Previously, researchers typically modified just one or two
variables--rather than looking at all components of an agricultural system
simultaneously. Their goal: to find the most significant elements.
The researchers also scrutinize inputs like water, fertilizer and
pesticides. Theyre evaluating whether intensive management techniques
like variable-rate application are beneficial to the environment and
financially feasible for the farmer. So far, about half-way through the study,
theyve found that the farmers were overwatering with their center-pivot
irrigation systems. Now the farmers apply less.
Colorado State University, several
state and federal agencies and six private companies also participate in the
research. The multidisciplinary team plans to develop a decision-support tool
based on the project results, to help farmers implement precision technologies
and decide whether precision farming would be beneficial.
The team is also analyzing techniques that measure large areas of the field
economically, such as remote sensing, in order to reduce the cost of precision
More details on this research appear in the October issue of Agricultural Research, the
agencys monthly magazine.
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Scientific contact: Dale F. Heermann, ARS
Water Management Research Unit, Ft.
Collins, Colo., phone (970) 491-8511, fax (970) 491-8247,