The Four Rs of Precision Ag

What They Are

Right source, right rate, rate time and the right place. These are the 4Rs of ag most everyone involved in agriculture has heard before. The 4R concept traditionally focused on nutrient stewardship, but those same ideas now have precision ag applications.

Director of Practical Farm Research and agronomy at Beck’s Hybrids, Jim Schwartz, says the goal of the 4Rs is “to find a way to better shepherd resources so we can continue to grow crops while being more efficient, effective and environmentally sustainable.”

U.S. soybean farmers strive to be the most sustainable in the world. Staying on top of the newest innovations in the ever-changing landscape of technology and agronomy helps U.S. farmers maintain their competitive advantage.

Benefits to Farmers

Schwartz mentions the 4Rs concept has some misconceptions or misrepresentations. The 4Rs are by no means a covenant or carved in stone, but a framework for using technology. What’s good for one farm may not help another; the 4Rs are meant to be fluid for each operation. These individual uses are the foundation of precision agriculture on a farm and field-specific applications.

Schwartz believes the benefits to farmers of a 4R strategy in precision ag include maximizing profitability, balancing workload management and environmental sustainability.

“The benefit to the farmer is he or she is more effective; they’re making more money because they have a better understanding of where and when and what and how to apply so that they can grow more,” continues Schwartz. “The benefit to the farmer is gaining or maintaining yield while spending fewer dollars. Farmers want to do the right thing, both for their farm and for the environment.”

Schwartz says when he hears 4Rs, he considers, “Let’s think about creating and implementing a system that is more efficient and effective, both in regard to cost and the environment.” That is sustainability, and that is what precision ag and ag tech are intended to do.

Looking Ahead

Currently, knowing the “right time” is reactive or comes down to an educated guess. Predictive technologies aim to change that position. “So much of what we do now in precision ag is post-mortem,” Schwartz claims. “The next step is the creation of algorithms and [artificial intelligence] so that we start making decisions in real-time.”

When considering how to approach these innovations, Schwartz says, “What’s needed is a willingness among farmers to adopt these practices.” Farmers gather information, but evaluating, understanding and using that data to make decisions is still a challenge for some. If farmers are unsure how to apply the 4Rs to their operations, Schwartz recommends contacting local university researchers or chatting with an agronomist.

For agriculture and the 4Rs as a whole, precision ag will have a big impact on information gathering, information understanding and information implementation. As individual farmers adopt precision ag, the entire industry can use the information to streamline instantaneous processes such as pest identification, as an example. Schwartz believes developing processes to know when and where a disease is likely to develop in a field and acting preemptively to prevent the disease is just one way the 4Rs can benefit the industry.

The 4Rs concept has been around for years, but it’s time to take a fresh look into how precision ag enhances the right source, right rate, rate time and the right place. Using the technology available to inform the 4Rs is advantageous for farmers. Evaluate your farm’s current tech practices and efficiencies and determine how applying the 4Rs could give you a boost in the coming years.

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