RL30630 - Precision Agriculture and Site-Specific Management: Current Status and Emerging Policy Issues
7-Aug-2000; Tadlock Cowan; 14 p.
Abstract: Precision agriculture (PA) is a suite of information technologies that can support a farm-based and site-specific crop management system in agricultural production. PA is not a single technology or farming system, but rather a cluster of different techniques. PA uses advanced information technologies to identify and to evaluate temporal and spatial variation in cropland. Rather than apply inputs of production, e.g., fertilizers, pesticides, seed, or water, uniformly across a field, a grower using PA techniques can apply inputs more efficiently based on the biophysical variability of different areas of a field. Proponents argue that PA can increase the yield potential of a farm while reducing the costs from inefficiently applying inputs. Further, by applying fertilizers and pesticides in more efficient amounts, proponents argue that farmers would reduce the environmental effects of over-application. Because PA is in the early stages of adoption, however, these benefits have been difficult to measure to date. Returns to investment in PA have also been mixed according to available research. Questions persist about the appropriate scale of analysis and measurement needed to validly assess the potential benefits of PA. Adopters of PA to date have disproportionately been larger corn, soybean, and wheat producers, which may be partly attributable to the early commercial availability of PA technology, such as yield monitors for these crops; but no hard evidence has emerged that PA technologies are size-biased or crop-specific. PA appears to offer the greatest future potential benefits where a variety of inputs are used and input costs are high, sub-field spatial and/or temporal variability is high, and adverse environmental effects, especially on water resources, must be reduced. Several bills have been introduced in recent Congresses to increase support for public research on PA development. Several public and land-grant universities have also initiated new programs in PA technology and development; additional research and development are supported by the Agricultural Research Service. In contrast to many previous U.S. technological innovations in agriculture, however, PA is currently being developed and promoted largely by private companies. Further diffusion of PA technologies could raise several public policy concerns that the Congress may wish to address. These include questions about the role of public research, education, and extension services; future effects on the organization of production; intellectual property issues associated with ownership and control of the agronomic databases created for individual farms; and other public or appropriate public-private roles to help growers gain access to and achieve some of PA's potential benefits. [read report]
Topics: Agriculture, Natural Resources