Teaching Old Dogs Survival Tricks: A Case Study in Promoting Integrated Crop Management

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New technology in crop production is emerging that can provide site-specific field and crop detail information to some operators. Satellite positioning, commonly referred to as global positioning systems, mapping software, and yield-monitoring equipment are all high-tech methods of providing this precision agriculture. But precision agriculture, or at least long strides in that direction, is possible short of these methods and capital investments. Integrated Crop Management (ICM) is one alternative to providing information-intensive management and precision farming, without the need for hard technology. Major elements of an ICM program include thorough crop production and protection planning, crop rotations, tillage management, and nutrient testing, as well as varying fertility rates based on manure and legume credits, scouting for weeds/insects/diseases, and keeping and analyzing field based records. Inherent in ICM is the involvement of the producer in increasing management tools and the knowledge base to make a decision. This knowledge base is generated to a significant degree from on-farm or site-specific observations. The Iowa Model Farms Demonstration Project (IMFDP) was an extension service program established to encourage farmers to adopt ICM practices. Evaluation of the program reveals that opportunities existed for refined practices among the sample of cooperators, although this was not recognized by all, as nearly half of the original participants did not complete the 3-yr project. Among those who remained in the project, several practices were refined and resulted in increased profitability. Among participants who discontinued the program, many perceived the graduated user fee was not justified from the benefits they experienced. Project staff acknowledged they did a poor job of stressing the successes and noting cost savings made by these producers. Lack of detailed records did not allow a clear analysis of the cost-benefit ratio of the program. While documented success of ICM is necessary, a relationship of trust between the consultant and producer is also essential, for successful implementation of ICM practices.

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