Precision Ag practices vary with age and economic status

Farmers who fear they are falling behind in farm technology might not be as behind as they think.

Studies show that farmers are slower to adopt new technology than previously thought. It usually takes 15 years for new tech to reach a critical mass. Many factors weigh into the speed and degree with which they adopt new ways of farming.

Farm size is one of the main factors: The larger the farm, the quicker and higher the adoption rate. Age, wealth and type of farming operation also are factors.

The number of generations of a family on the farm and the birth year of the farm operators also affect adoption rates. Not surprisingly, younger farmers are introducing digital resources to older generations on the farm.

The Arkansas Farm Management Association found that Arkansas farmers used three of eight surveyed technologies most commonly. Many used none. Very few used all eight.

For example, automated guidance became commercially available more than 20 years ago, yet only 70% of farmers surveyed have adopted this technology.

An agricultural resource survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that farmers use tech in different ways. They may use it to divide crop production, negotiate new crop leases, install tile drainage, monitor crop technology or document yields. Many used monitors to conduct field experiments.

Lack of internet access in many rural areas also slows change. A USDA report shows that only 75% of U.S. farms reported having internet access, and that half of the farms use smartphones or tablets rather than desktop or laptop computers to conduct farm business.

As tech-savvy younger generations join established operations, changing perspectives are inevitable as the numbers of farm owners in the “silent generation” (born before the end of World War II) and baby boomers (born 1946-64) continue to decrease.

Differences in business structure also affect adoption rates.

Multigenerational farms tend to embrace changes quicker than sole proprietors. They also likely own more acres, have more financial resources to invest and can prorate the expense.

Additionally, younger family members, although lacking the financial resources, may convince older, more risk-averse family members of the value of technology.

With life expectancies increasing, many older producers remain active in the farm operation and retain ownership. Their heirs increasingly reach retirement age before inheriting the farm. As a result, the current younger generation will control farm operations at an older age than previous ones.

The main thing is to decide how technology improves efficiencies, profit and quality of life on the farm.

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