What’s Keeping Growers From Adopting Technology?

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By Karla Arboleda

Precision agriculture technologies are not as widely used as they are available, and researchers want to figure out why this is the case for Florida growers.

Tara Wade, assistant professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) in the Food and Resource Economics Department, is studying this issue. She says global positioning system (GPS) guidance, GPS yield and soil monitors/maps and variable-rate input application technologies are among some of the most widely discussed and adopted precision agriculture technologies.

Wade is researching what technologies would be the most beneficial for Florida growers to adopt, what factors affect their purchasing decisions and how some methods are more eco and farm friendly. She is conducting a survey to determine reasons why growers do or don’t implement technologies.

“Is it that there is not enough information?” Wade asks. “What are these growers’ stories and how is that affecting their adoption decisions?”

Wade’s research shows the decision to adopt technology is dependent on different criteria. She says that technology options are available, but if growers aren’t taking advantage of them, then it is necessary to start asking questions.

“What is it that growers are struggling with?” Wade says in reference to better customizing precision agriculture technology options to growers. “It must be (that) there is something about this industry that is not catering to their needs.”

Before adopting precision agriculture tools, growers need to evaluate if a piece of machinery will be worth the cost. For example, one piece of machinery could be specifically designed to help produce or harvest one type of crop, which Wade says probably isn’t worth the purchase on a smaller farm.

According to Wade, the type of crop grown may impact the market for adaptable technology because the acreage just isn’t there for tech companies to be able to make a profit. Vegetables in the United States are one example.

“Vegetables are a high valued crop in the U.S., but they (have) some of the lowest acreage in the U.S.,” Wade says. The result is that these growers may get left out of innovations.

So where is the happy medium for Florida growers, no matter their choice of crop, to figure out what could be beneficial for their business? According to Wade’s preliminary findings, age and education are factors that contribute to deciding to adopt technology, but there are always outside influences. Access to information, capital expenditure and farm acreage could either motivate or deter growers from looking into a piece of machinery’s potential.

“You need to have a really good working capital to make this substantial financial investment in your farm,” Wade says. “Part of my Extension work is to develop cost-share workshops so that growers can have direct access to the program coordinators, and they can get their questions answered.”

Wade’s current research with Yiannis Ampatzidis, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the UF/IFAS heading this needs assessment, hopes to increase growers’ technology use to improve their economic and environmental sustainability. Surveys will help to better determine how researchers like Wade and Ampatzidis can help Florida growers.

“I want growers, agricultural communities, stakeholders, policymakers (and) water management districts to know that I am here as a resource,” Wade says. “If you want to encourage growers to do a practice, I think the best bet is to get some other growers on board. Growers trust growers.”

Karla Arboleda is a communications intern at AgNet Media in Gainesville, Florida.

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