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Be PRECISE - precision farming Cost:benefit tool

by Kellie Payne, HGCA

Key Points

HGCA and TAG are developing a cost:benefit tool to help growers weigh the costs and benefits of using precision farming technology on their farms. The results are presented in a `traffic light' system that categorises the likelihood of an economic benefit over cost for that farm size, cropping and level of variation. The tool will be launched at the Be PRECISE section of the HGCA stand at Cereals.

There are also publications and multimedia resources available at: www.hgca.com/beprecise. The tool was produced as part of a research review and consultation led by Stuart Knight to provide an up-todate cost:benefit analysis of precision farming techniques for growers of combinable crops. The aim of the review was to pull together available information from a wide range of sources on current capabilities, likely costs and potential benefits. This helped to identify how precision farming can improve growers' production efficiency and offer worthwhile environmental benefits. The tool was created to enable individual growers to get an indication of the techniques most likely to give a benefit over cost for their own farm and particular circumstances. To use the tool a grower will first enter information about their farm including size and cropping, and estimates of soil, crop and yield variability on the farm. They also indicate which precision farming techniques they are considering introducing, such as guidance / auto-steering, variable rate input applications or improved record keeping. The tool can then calculate the likely costs specific to the task, the potential benefits for each technique and then the net benefit to the farm. Growers can alter the techniques they chose to introduce onto their farm, as well as their cropping or estimates of variability, and the calculator will help identify the likely impact of changing these parameters on the costs and benefits of each technique, and the system as a whole. Assessing the benefits The results are presented in a `traffic light' system that categorises the likelihood of an economic benefit over cost for that farm size, cropping and level of variation. For instance, if according to the analysis, the likely cost is greater than the potential benefit the result would be: `unlikely

to give an economic benefit'. If the potential benefit is equal to 1-1.5 times the likely cost, it would be rated as `might possibly give an economic benefit' and if the potential benefit is equal to more than 1.5 times the likely cost it would be categorised as `probably give an economic benefit.' General results from the review analysis and calculator tool suggest that as the farm size increases, the number of precision farming techniques that could potentially be cost-effective increases. The overall net benefit of the system also tends to increase with farm size. But this is not to say precision farming technologies cannot be of benefit to all farm sizes, other variables such as level of variability must be taken into account, which is exactly what the tool is designed to do. The tool is not intended to produce an estimate of the actual costs and benefits that an individual grower would encounter should they choose to use those techniques within that particular system. However it can be used to help with the decision making process as an indication of the precision farming opportunities that are most likely to be worth a grower investigating further.

The cost:benefit tool

Precision farming equipment can be a significant investment for growers; with a range of techniques, equipment and costs available. Therefore, the decision to invest can be a weighty one. In order to help the decision process, HGCA is funding TAG to develop a cost:benefit tool to help growers weigh the costs and benefits of using precision farming technology on their farms. The tool can help indicate which techniques have the greatest potential to produce a cost benefit. The tool is a part of a larger ongoing HGCA knowledge transfer initiative `Be PRECISE - Precision for efficiencies, savings and the environment'. The year-long initiative comprises a series of activities that aims to introduce precision farming and its benefits to growers. It includes the Level 1 workshops that took place in January and February this year, followed by the Level 2 workshops to be held in November and December. During the summer farm walks are being hosted by growers who are already benefiting from the use of precision technology on their farms.

Further information

The tool will be launched at the Be PRECISE section of the HGCA stand at Cereals 2009. Stuart Knight will be on hand to demonstrate the calculator. Information on the cost:benefit analysis will be published as HGCA Research Review 71 and will be available, along with other Be PRECISE resources on the website: www.hgca.com/beprecise.

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