A Cotton Incorporated survey conducted by Southern universities found out how many farmers now use GPS guidance and information gathering technology, variable rate input management or automatic section control for a farm sprayer or planter.

Precision farming is difficult to define, so the best way is to do so very broadly.

“It is a very hard term to define precisely,” said Christopher Boyer, assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, at the 2014 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans. “Over the years, as the technology has evolved, so has the definition. If you look back in research papers and journal articles in the 1990s, they defined precision farming as gathering information about in-field variability.”

Boyer and researchers from five other Southern universities, making up the Economics of Precision Farming Working Group, set out to determine adoption rates of precision farming practices with a survey conducted this past year across 14 states. The 2013 Southern Cotton Precision Farming Survey funded by Cotton Inc. was mailed to more than 13,000 cotton producers across 14 states.

“We were able to gather information from this survey about who was using these technologies, but it’s hard to know if they were actually using this information to make management inputs,” says Boyer. “Some of them probably are, but there probably are others who have mounds of information that they don’t use for management input decisions.”

For this survey, researchers defined a precision agriculture adopter as someone who uses GPS guidance and information gathering technology, variable rate input management, or automatic section control for a sprayer or planter.

This is the fourth in a series of surveys dating back to 2001. There were others in 2005 and 2009. “This is giving us a good data set to look at trends of adoption over these years, and we’ve definitely seen growth in adoption. A mailing list for the 2011 marketing year was provided to us, and we asked producers that if they had not grown cotton since 2008, not to complete the survey and to mail it back to us. That insures that we would have respondents who have grown cotton since 2008.”