The report tracked three precision agriculture technologies: information mapping, guidance systems and variable-rate technology. It states, “Yield mapping via Global Positioning System (GPS) grew faster for corn and soybeans than for other crops, while adoption of soil mapping varied substantially across crops. Tractor guidance systems have grown faster than variable-rate input application for all major field crops over the last 10 years.”

Jaynes lynn
Emeritus Editor
Lynn Jaynes retired as an editor in 2023.

Right. That’s probably not news to most of you. But what are the adoption rates? Statistically speaking, how many neighboring farms have technology that you don’t? The study found yield monitoring that produces data for GPS-based mapping is used on about half of all corn and soybean farms. GPS-based yield mapping is used on about 25 percent of farms. Soil mapping using GPS coordinates and variable-rate technology are used on 16 to 26 percent of these farms.

Not surprisingly, the study found farms raising corn and soybeans were the fastest adopters. According to the study, the largest corn farms (over 2,900 acres) have double the precision agriculture technologies, and the applications break this way: 70 to 80 percent of large farms use mapping; about 80 percent use guidance systems; and 30 to 40 percent use variable-rate technology.

While hired labor costs were 60 to 70 percent lower when any of the three precision agriculture technologies were used on smaller corn farms (140 to 400 crop acres), hired labor costs rose with technology adoption on larger farms. The report indicates increased hired labor costs for larger farms may be due to personnel needed for information management and technology management.

Another interesting point in the study was the finding that non-GPS-based soil testing increased the adoption of all three precision agriculture technologies.


Impacts for adoption of technologies included “higher levels of unpaid labor and higher yield goals, representing the farmer’s self-reported yield potential, have a negative effect on precision ag adoption. Unpaid labor is a large, fixed overhead expense that may reduce the flexibility to adopt precision ag technologies. When yield goals are higher, farmers may already be close to the production potential for their land, whereas farmers with lower yield goals may be using the technologies to try to raise yields on land known to be less productive.”

Another impact on technology decision-making was the amount of machinery in stock. Higher stocks of machinery on corn farms had a negative effect on variable-rate technology adoption, perhaps indicating less flexibility in taking on new expenditures.

And now the bigger question: Was adoption profitable? All three technologies were reported to have positive (albeit small) impacts on net returns and operating profits for average sized corn farms. GPS mapping impact on net returns was reported at almost 2 percent. Guidance systems raised net returns by 1.5 percent, and variable-rate technology raised net returns by 1.1 percent.

The report was compiled from U.S. field crop production reports, which dates ranged between 1996 and 2013.  end mark

Lynn Jaynes