Farmers in South Carolina and across the U.S. are facing a new challenge. Farmers are expecting a 23% drop in profitability due in large part to rising input costs. Keep reading to the end to see the five ways we are fighting rising costs to gain back more than 25% profit in this environment.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projected a staggering $42 billion decline in net farm income for 2023 back in September. Farmers would see a 23% reduction from the previous year.
Two key reasons costs are rising:
Interest rates and input costs: Since 2020, we've witnessed sharp increases in interest rates, which, in turn, have driven up the costs of crucial inputs like fertilizers, fuel, labor, and chemicals. Farming expenses are up $29 billion over last year.
Market pressures: The farm economy is also grappling with slowing agricultural exports and a projected record-large trade deficit for 2023. Commodity prices are facing downward pressure amidst uncertainty in demand.
Given these challenges, it's imperative for farmers to explore innovative solutions to reduce costs without compromising productivity. We have found five ways to increase yield and reduce input costs. We use drone technology to minimize input usage and reduce the time it takes to apply certain products. This results in a large savings on total input and labor costs. The way we do that is as follows:
1. Water Management and Runoff Analysis
Better erosion management can help reduce the amount of fertilizer you need. Creating maps that quantify how much erosion you have from different areas of a field can help you target erosion management practices to the areas you need them the most.
To do this, use a mapping drone to create a map and a surface model (a digital representation of the elevation of different points across the field). We use software products for Pix4D like Pix4D fields and Pix4D Matic for this. Your surface model will contain information on elevation and slope across your field. You can do detailed analysis on that surface in software like ArcGIS, but Pix4D software will allow you to measure slopes and distances in different areas of the field. You need that information for the next step.
Using a RUSLE calculator with information you already know about your soil type, management choices like cover crop and crop planting, and local weather information, you can generate runoff and erosion data. This data can help you make decisions on management practices in the off-season. Using drone data to identify which areas have the highest potential for erosion can help you target management practices to reduce labor costs and fertilizer use.
2. Pre-Emergence Weed Detection and Identification
Reducing pesticide usage is a crucial part of cost reduction. Drones can be used to map fields before planting to identify areas with high weed growth. They can also take detailed imagery to identify what types of weeds are in each area. This information can help you select the product with the best response for that type of weed (we also have an herbicide selection tool based on Clemson's Pest Management Handbook that simplifies the selection process for our members).
Using drones to map out those areas can significantly reduce time and labor for scouting. Once the mapping is done, spraying drones can selectively spray those areas with the chosen herbicide to reduce chemical costs.
3. Crop Emergence and Post-Emergence Weed Control
Monitoring crop emergence with drones allows for quick identification of areas with poor growth. This information can help you quickly determine if you need to re-seed an area. Drones are also a great way to apply herbicides in newly emerged crops. Again, identifying areas with high weed pressure lets you apply the product in a targeted way.
4. Mid-Season Plant Health Monitoring and Intervention
Drones with multispectral sensors can show plant problems weeks before they are visible to the human eye. Getting ahead of issues before they affect growth can help you resolve problems before they reduce your eventual yield.
Software like Pix4DFields or DroneDeploy are both able to process multispectral images and select areas with low values. This can guide your crop scouting efforts and show you exactly what plants to inspect for problems like insects, nematodes, disease, or poor soil health. A simple way to do this is to export or copy over GPS coordinates for points in the field you want to inspect to any GPS app on your phone that can navigate to a coordinate. Use this to find those locations and do further inspections.
5. Lime application
The last key way to reduce input costs is to find new products that can do an old job better for less. The biggest solution we found this year was a liquid lime product. AgriTec ProCal was a huge win for us. We were able to apply this product for less than half the cost of traditional lime. The concentrated liquid formulation also allows us to use GPS-guided drones for application. This results in a more even application without worrying about missing areas and having problems with growth later.
One of our partners runs a large cattle operation with fields in multiple cities. Applying lime everywhere would require moving multiple loads of equipment to multiple places and would require 1-2 full weeks of labor to get everything applied. Liquid Lime and our drone application system took care of all of his fields in 3 days. This is the perfect example of a way to use new technology and products to reduce labor, time, and input costs while achieving better results.
Hopefully, these five techniques can spark ideas of ways that you can use new products and new technologies to reduce cost, increase yield, and stay profitable. By integrating drones into various farming stages, from pre-planting to post-harvest, you can make informed decisions, reduce waste, and potentially mitigate the impact of declining farm incomes.
PS: If you found this interesting, download our free E-Book that goes into more detail on all of these topics, including what equipment and licenses you need and how to use the equipment. https://www.aeroagsc.com/free-e-book-farming-with-drones
PPS: If you want to see how we do this type of analysis for free, reach out here to get a site map and erosion analysis. https://www.aeroagsc.com/contact