Integrated Crop Management: The Other Precision Agriculture

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“Precision agriculture” was a favorite buzzword in agricultural discussions in the 1990s. Proponents of precision agriculture note its promises are twofold: economic benefits for the producer and environmental benefits for society. These benefits are to be achieved by improving the efficiency of input use, based on data obtained with global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS) technologies. Although fulfillment of these promises has been mixed to date, it appears that “precision agriculture” will continue in the agriculture vernacular into the 21st century. In this article, we propose another sense of the term, and argue that precision agriculture, or at least long strides in that direction, is possible short of these highly complex methods and capital investments, through integrated crop management (ICM). As practiced by the producer and/or provided by independent crop consultants, ICM is one alternative to providing information-intensive management on the farm, and has proven efficiency of input use. That is, the promise of economic and environmental benefits holds true in a manner that makes it possible for any producer to implement “precision agriculture.” Using data from users and nonusers of independent crop consultants implementing ICM, this study reveals that several economic and environmental benefits are gained from the information and management recommendations provided by consultants. Pest and nutrient management recommendations have led to decreases in pesticide and commercial fertilizer use. For the majority of users, these input reductions have resulted in an increase in profits since hiring a consultant. Users attributed changes in total cost of production to their consultant's effectiveness, and some reported receiving double or greater return for every dollar invested in consultant services. The results confirm the important role that Iowa's independent crop consultants could play in agricultural production and environmental protection through their promotion of ICM activities. However, the scarcity of consultants in Iowa, and possibly elsewhere, presents a challenge within the industry. Addressing this issue may help in contributing to rural development, economic benefit for the producer, and environmental benefit for all of society.

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