Expert view

Internet speed hinders farm technology use in Canada

GPS technology and combine yield monitors are the 2 most widely used precision agriculture technologies in Western Canada.

That’s according to a survey of farmers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba completed this winter which drew 261 responses representing almost 1m acres (about 405,000 ha) of cropland.

The survey, which asked growers to base their responses on the 2016 growing season, found 93% felt precision agriculture is useful, and three-quarters of respondents plan to expand their use of the technology in the future.

See also: German initiative to accelerate farm tech uptake in South Africa

More than 60% of crop acres in the survey have been soil sampled, and half of the growers surveyed reported having logged and stored combine yield data. Further, 48% created yield maps and used prescription maps and/or variable rate technology when seeding or applying fertiliser.

Uptake of more advanced applications, however, such as near infrared and normalised difference vegetative index field images or using images stemming from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is still limited. Only about 1 in 5 respondents indicated looking at in-season drone imagery of their crops, although UAV use in agriculture has expanded rapidly in the past several years.

Tractor and air seeder in stubble field planting crop with blue sky and clouds Alberta, Canada. Photo: Shutterstock

Tractor and air seeder in stubble field planting crop with blue sky and clouds Alberta, Canada. Photo: Shutterstock

Work needed on internet infrastructure

Just over half of survey respondents were aged 44 or younger, compared with the age of the average Canadian farmer at 55, and 58% of respondents reported farming between 1,001 acres and 5,800 acres (405-2,347ha).

According to the report, the biggest barrier to further precision ag technology uptake after price is internet infrastructure. Gathering, transmitting and analysing all the data generated by precision agriculture tools depends on the internet. Just over half of respondents are unsatisfied with the speed of their internet service and/or the cellular data coverage in their area.

This is a problem in other parts of the country too. A University of Guelph professor, for example, is leading a project looking at gaps in rural broadband capacity in Ontario. It has a specific focus on how internet connectivity influences the adoption of precision ag tools. But that’s a topic for another day.