The value of precision farming technology has grown beyond monitoring yields and reducing grower fatigue. As the physical and digital farm become one, the technology and data generated will impact virtually every business that’s even remotely involved with the production of food, fiber and fuel.

“In agriculture, we’ve moved from talking about commodities to talking about equities,” says Jeff Thurston, cofounder and editor for Germany’s Vector 1 Media. “We see agriculture as an investment not just for food production, but for all the downstream businesses that stem from farming. With this new view on farming, digital records will become increasingly important.”

Precision farming technology makes it all possible. The integration of machine, electronics and agronomy underpinned Agri-Trend’s 2011 Farm Forum event, held November 29-December 1 in Saskatoon, Sask. Nearly 1,000 growers and farm equipment dealers attended. 

Farmers have adopted precision farming technology quickly. In 1999, it’s estimated that 6% of U.S. farmers used yield monitors, a number that’s closer to 50% now. However, emerging countries are beginning to move ahead of the legacy data that exists in mature economies. 

When the Berlin Wall fell, says Thurston, “farms in the former East Germany were in a poor state. Now farmers in West Germany look at the east with envy. They have taken the latest technology and incorporated it. They have iPads in their tractors and are looking at how to apply technology and share data. Their level of production has skyrocketed.”

Much of this involves better use of available data. For example, “Yield monitors are a field’s report card. It tells everything about that field,” said Ag Leader’s James Luke during one of the event’s technical sessions. While the data can help operators make decisions around the farm, it’s also important to other business groups from insurance companies to banks.

“When we combine technology for equipment optimization and information management we have the digital farm,” says Robert Saik, CEO of the Agri-Trend Group based in Red Deer, Alberta. “Farmers can easily share farm data with the businesses that need it.” For example, with the right data in the system, farmers can simply push a button to prepare a crop insurance report.

As people worldwide become more concerned about food safety, digital records may make or break a crop sale. Using data generated by yield monitors, application equipment and other systems, farmers can produce digital maps showing exactly where in the field something happened.

“Farmer’s who are not map-based in a digital form are not going to be able to compete,” says Thurston.