If you’re a farmer thinking about getting into precision agriculture, Kelly Robertson, a consultant with Precision Crop Service, Benton, Ill., has some advice – find a provider who believes strongly in your knowledge and experience.

Robertson discussed “the good, the bad and the ugly” of precision agriculture in Midwest corn and soybean production during the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants annual meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., recently.

The “good” of precision agriculture, according to Robertson, is that high fertilizer prices have led to the use of variable-rate potash and phosphate. “Over the last five years, 95 percent of my customer base has gone from a standard rate to some type of variable-rate application. Almost everyone is on variable-rate lime applications.

“We’re also seeing a shift from grid-sampling to smart-grid or zone sampling, using more implement guidance and row shutoffs on sprayers and planters. Our customers run everything from standard GPS with no correction to RTK guidance. We have become very good at finding the 80 percent of the technology which gives us a 20 percent return.”

The “bad” of precision farming, according to Robertson, is that farmers will experiment on precision farming “based on (media stories) they’ve read on its success. Other farmers do precision farming because they can, or because they have the technology (it comes with a new piece of equipment).”

Robertson says that yield monitor calibration on combines “is lacking, and in many cases it’s getting worse. A lot of this is because when you’re farming 10,000 acres, the guy running the combine is worried only about getting done.”

While data collection is a huge benefit of precision farming, “It’s often still about bad data collection instead of good data use,” Robertson said. “We worry about collecting data, and we collect all kinds of bad data, but we don’t want to use good data, or we don’t know how to use it.”

Robertson says the “ugly” aspects of precision farming in the Midwest, is that “dealer support is almost nonexistent in some places. They can sell it, but they can’t support it. As-applied mapping is still nonexistent for the areas I work in. Fertilizer and chemical dealers are reluctant to provide as-applied maps after they do variable-rate applications.”

Robertson says Midwest precision farming tends to “oversell” the accuracy of RTK. But even so, “we don’t need RTK on everything. There is still a lot of inoperability within the hardware. We’re still trying to plug brand X into brand Y to get zero results.”

Making precision agriculture work on your farm requires a scientific approach, according to Robertson. “Precision farming is collecting data, analyzing that data, deriving a conclusion, assigning a value to those conclusions and then and only then, implementing an action plan based on the value of the conclusions.

“That seems fairly simple. But in reality, we skip a whole bunch of steps. For many people precision farming is collecting data and then implementing an action because we have the tools to do it.”