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Precision Agriculture in the 21st Century: Geospatial and Information Technologies in Crop Management
Precision agriculture services can be provided to the producer through traditional distribution systems or by consultants. If services are provided directly to the producer, a consultant could design, integrate, and install a precision agriculture system (i.e., a combination of a global positioning system [GPS], yield monitor, and geographic information system [GIS]) for the operation, much as a computer consultant assists a small business with its computing needs. Alternatively, traditional input suppliers could be the primary customer, acting as general contractors for specific skills, expertise, and services provided by the technology consultant. If they have access to sufficient financial capital, technology consultants could invest in the computers, software, and equipment that suffer from rapid technological obsolescence. If the consultant leases precision technologies to the input supplier, then the producer can have access to the most advanced equipment. In return for their investment, the technology consultant can depreciate the capital costs over a larger acreage base. A variation of this scenario could be a technology consultant who either competes with or supplements the services of accountants, marketing consultants, or other financial assistants in automating all of the farm's electronic accounting and record-keeping functions.
Precision agriculture services will likely be provided locally. For example, computer software such as nutrient or pest management recommendation models will need to be adapted to local (even farm-level) conditions (which tend to vary substantially). Firm size will likely be small because the number of producers in a local area would be limited. However, hardware and software support channels for the service providers could be concentrated at the wholesale level.
Provision of Precision Agriculture Products
An alternative pathway of development of precision agriculture assumes that producers and their crop consultants will buy software and hardware products to implement precision agriculture, thus limiting their purchases of services. That is, the expertise and knowledge needed for precision farming will be embodied in machinery and software to a greater extent than in the services provided by consultants. Integrating the various hardware and software components into one system would provide a seamless flow of data, culminating in either a recommendation or the presentation of alternatives to the producer.
Several manufacturers (i.e., John Deere, Case, Rockwell, Ag Chem, and Crop Technology, Inc.) have developed integrated turnkey systems that combine GPS receivers, GIS software, crop yield monitors, and VRT hardware into precision agriculture systems. Object-oriented software modules could facilitate development of products, including software for mapping and decision support (Environmental Systems Research Institute, 1996; Macy and Dondero, 1996).
Companies providing precision agriculture products may not need to be located in most communities. Information technology companies could be concentrated in technical centers such as Silicon Valley or near universities where technical