(01/25/23) ALEXANDRIA, La. — Noble Guedon knows the equipment he uses on his Concordia Parish farm documents a lot of information — from which crop varieties he planted to how much they yielded at harvesttime to how fast the tractor was being driven.
So when his tractor generated a map speckled with red, indicating low yields, he was certain he could figure out the reason by consulting some of the other data that had been recorded. As it turned out, those red spots lined up almost exactly with low areas marked on map made from elevation data.
Guedon concluded that water had been standing in those pockets, hampering crop development. The fix was simple: He located the low spots, filled them in and saw better yields the next year.
At a time when input costs and other farming expenses seem to only get higher, “we all need to essentially do more with less,” Guedon said. Though modern, high-tech farming machinery is a pricey investment, the data it collects can be worth even more, helping farmers make crucial decisions to improve their bottom lines.
“The key is to get more utilization out of that equipment that we purchased and make it pay for itself,” he said.
Guedon was among several farmers, scientists, equipment dealers and others who recently participated in a precision agriculture summit near Alexandria. The program, attended by about 110 people, was jointly organized by the LSU AgCenter and Fletcher Technical Community College.
“The precision ag summit is a way for us to integrate advanced technologies in the ag industry with education and training of our current and future workforce,” said Fletcher Chancellor Kristine Strickland. “The partnership between higher education, our producers, and business and industry ensure that our state is poised to continue to lead our region in ag production. Fletcher Technical Community College is honored to partner with the LSU AgCenter and LSUA in continuing to provide continuing education across our great state.”
“This event was successful in highlighting the academic and industry partnerships that will continue to be important as more and more precision agriculture technology becomes available and integrated into our farming operations in the state,” said Tara Smith, director of the AgCenter Central Region and interim director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service.
Precision agriculture is a term that refers to making use of technology and management practices to farm more efficiently.
Applying precision ag principles and technologies can help farmers lower their costs, use inputs more wisely and conserve resources like water, said AgCenter economist Michael Deliberto. But before investing in new gadgets and putting in extra time and effort to use them, farmers need to consider how long it may take to recoup those costs —something that can be tough to pin down because of variables like yields and prices that fluctuate from year to year.
Land leveling, a common precision ag practice that can boost yields, can take up to six years to pay for itself, according to Deliberto’s calculations.
R.L. Frazier, an AgCenter agent, emphasized the importance of balancing one’s goals with economic feasibility.
He gave an example of dividing a field into smaller zones based on yield-limiting factors, soil conditions and other characteristics. Tailoring the rate of inputs such as fertilizer to each of those zones instead of applying a blanket rate to the entire field may result in better yields. But, he added, “maximum yield does not always equate to maximum profitability or maximum return on your investment.”
Soil testing is crucial to many precision ag practices, as conditions can vary widely within a single field. It is a good idea to ask experts for help with analyzing test results and choosing a course of action.
Andre Reis, an AgCenter agronomist, said a plethora of data is available to inform decisions about fertilizer rates, which can help farmers avoid applying excessive inputs. There is a limit to how high yields can go, he said —meaning that, past a point, extra fertilizer will not have a positive effect.
Brenda Ortiz, a precision ag specialist with Auburn University, encouraged farmers to work with universities and companies.
“We need this data to tackle the biggest challenges that we have in agriculture today,” she said, such as climate change and food security. “We need to do something — and we have the tools to do something. We have a big responsibility to protect the natural resources so we can keep farming so we can keep feeding.”
University programs at both LSU and Fletcher are helping teach students precision ag skills, which are increasingly valued in the job market, said Tri Setiyono, an assistant professor in the AgCenter School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences who studies precision ag and crop modeling. Students learn about such topics as geographic information systems, drones and remote sensing.
These new programs fill important voids in Louisiana, said Mark Arceneaux, an instructor at the Fletcher campus in Terrebonne Parish.
“We are in the business of training ag technicians,” he said. “There’s a shortage.”
Farmer Noble Guedon talks about his experiences with precision agriculture during a summit on the topic Jan. 18. The LSU AgCenter and Fletcher Technical Community College organized the event, which was held near Alexandria. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
Brenda Ortiz, of Auburn University, asks a question of audience members at a precision agriculture summit organized by the LSU AgCenter and Fletcher Technical Community College Jan. 18. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter engineer Randy Price, left, talks with a visitor about using drones like the one seen behind him during the Jan. 18 precision agriculture summit organized by the LSU AgCenter and Fletcher Technical Community College. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
Visitors look over a drone display during the Jan. 18 precision agriculture summit organized by the LSU AgCenter and Fletcher Technical Community College. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
Visitors talk with representatives of an equipment company during the Jan. 18 precision agriculture summit organized by the LSU AgCenter and Fletcher Technical Community College. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter