NCERA180: Precision Agriculture Technologies for Food, Fiber, and Energy Production

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCERA180: Precision Agriculture Technologies for Food, Fiber, and Energy Production

Duration: 10/01/2016 to 09/30/2021

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

The focus of precision agriculture (PA) has been to apply innovative technologies and principles to manage spatial and temporal variability in crop production to maximize farm profitability. Precision agriculture or at times referred to as site-specific crop management (SSCM), reflects the ability to measure, quantify and manage field level variability. In the North Central Region of the United States, the adoption of precision agriculture has grown significantly with producers realizing tangible benefit from using technologies such as GPS-based guidance, auto-swath and variable-rate enabled rate controllers. More recently, site-specific management of inputs such as nutrients, water, seeding and crop protection has created increased adoption in prescriptive agriculture. However, the process of applying innovative technologies and principles to identify and manage spatial and temporal variability in crop production is promising but remains challenging from a scientific perspective. Today, precision agriculture data is becoming more important in driving farm-level decisions along with generating prescriptions and other input recommendations.

The adoption of PA is high today among US farmers with prescriptive agriculture growing rapidly in which farmers are submitting data and in return receive input prescriptions for seeding, hybrid, nutrients and fungicides. Producers along with the agriculture sector view precision and prescriptive agriculture as a means to improve profitability in an increasingly global economy and reduce the potential for adverse environmental impacts of farm operations. By 2050 worldwide demand for food is expected to increase by 70% (UN-FAO, 2009) and demand for energy by more than 40% (DOE-EIA, 2010). To meet these needs, production systems will need to be intensified and made sustainable in the long run. Precision technologies have a proven record of reducing crop inputs, reducing degradation of our soil, water, and air resources, and minimizing the impact of agriculture on global climate change. A majority of equipment, input suppliers, retailers and agronomists today are providing a level of prescriptive agriculture services. Accordingly, producers are faced with having the proper technology in place to execute prescriptions but also have scientific information available to correctly define zones and associated inputs and rates. The adoption of PA brings very significant changes in farm practices and use of information technologies.

PA and SSCM is a broad-based concept, drawing on the expertise and experience of a number of disciplines. NCERA-180 members and participants represent crop, soil, and weed sciences; entomology, plant pathology, agricultural & biological engineering, applied economics, spatial statisticians, data analytics and rural sociology. NCERA-180 provides a critical linkage for multi-disciplinary communication and interaction among the scientists conducting research, education, and extension activities. NCERA-180 encourages industry representation to maintain an open and realistic discussion. Annual meetings provide a forum for in-depth discussion and analysis of new research developments and coordination of present and future multi-state projects.

Precision agriculture has the potential to differentially transform the productive capacity and minimize the variability of production systems amidst weather extremes and landscape variability by optimizing crop responses over time and space. We intend to advance the science and application of precision crop management, provide knowledge and support to those utilizing precision farming, and to inform and motivate the next generation of leaders in this field. This will benefit society by enhancing the security of food, fiber, and energy production systems, simultaneously reduce the impact or even enhance local soil, water, and air quality, and as a result reduce agricultures impact on global climate change.

Today's agricultural scientists must be concerned with the training of scientists for tomorrow. Communication and coordination of relevant materials that can be used in the curriculum of our universities is an on-going responsibility of NCERA-180 members. The courses at individual colleges and universities tend to focus on the research experiences and expertise of the instructors. This committee works to broaden the learning experience for the students. Individuals involved in NCERA-180 will disseminate information to university students in classroom settings and Extension personnel will provide educational opportunities for state clientele via oral presentations and fact sheets. Development of regional, national, and international symposia will also be an educational outlet for information gathered by the NCERA-180 committee.

The main expected impact of NCERA-180 is the improvement of prescriptive agriculture or SSCM through multidisciplinary and multi-state research and technology transfer. New precision technologies are evolving providing a new level of sub-field execution so one focus on NCREA-180 will be to provide research-based information and science to define practices and agronomic recommendations. This will be achieved through the collaborative development and application of improved techniques to manage spatial variability in crop production and the knowledge transfer to other researchers, educators, extension professionals, farmers, and agricultural industry personnel. Participating individuals will contribute to NCERA-180 will working within their respective states and regionally to disseminate SSCM information.


  1. Facilitate cross-disciplinary, academic/industry research partnerships to address complex issues within cropping systems and regions.
  2. Build experiential learning opportunities in precision applications for secondary education, community colleges and universities.
  3. Provide human expertise and a comprehensive body of resource materials to test and validate new precision offerings, promote adoption, and expedite applications across cropping systems and regions.

Procedures and Activities

To achieve the objectives of the NCERA-180 committee, participants will meet annually to disseminate research results and share extension and educational successes. This organization of multi-disciplinary, multi-state, and multi-commodity efforts has been the most significant achievement of NCERA-180. However, it is difficult to top-down pre-plan such research, education, and extension efforts. They must sometimes organically evolve by bringing together and facilitating discussions of scientists from different perspectives. This has never been more important as it is now because of the recent shift in USDA research funding in favor of large trans-disciplinary research projects. The annual NCERA-180 meetings will develop an even greater focus to promote these efforts among states. Gaps in research and technology transfer will be identified and addressed.

We are broadening our focus beyond food and fiber to also include energy production consistent with national USDA priorities. For example, site-specific technologies related to mitigating climate change and precision technologies for bioenergy production were a major focus in the 2009 meeting in Portsmouth, Virginia and will be again for the 2011 meeting in Arkansas. Climate change and sustainable energy have become major NIFA priorities and many of our members collaborated in submitting a large CAP proposal in 2010. Recently, farm sustainability has become a major focus.

Our priorities will continue to include topics such as precision management for improved fertilizer efficacy. The increased costs and the need for greater fertilizer use efficiency promote the use of smaller, more numerous management zones that conform to the smaller scale of fertilizer application now possible with contemporary variable-rate applicators and automatic guidance systems. Agronomists, bioscience engineers, and soil scientists need to improve management zone generation and interpretation. Volatile fertilizer costs and crop prices, an increasing emphasis on the deleterious effects of off-site nutrient movement, and the dynamics associated with nutrient inputs and crop removal cause the fertilizer response curve accuracy to also be more critically important. The integration and implications of these issues and the development of management zone guidelines across locations and commodities will be a major focus of this committees research efforts.

Publications will remain a high priority. For example, a follow up to "GIS Applications in Agriculture" (Pierce and Clay, 2007) will include new volumes on "Nutrient Management and Energy Efficiency" (Clay and Shanahan, 2011) and "Invasive Species" (Clay, 2011). A new contract has been signed with CRC press to develop a new volume on "Conservation Planning" that is expected to be published soon. Part of the focus of each meeting has been and will continue to be on collaborative publication efforts. Several group members support the eXtension Precision Agriculture community. They are working on 50 extension publications, 100 FAQs, developing learning modules on extension, and developing interactive on-line tools. We also plan to use annual meetings to have more interaction with industry and producers to help define needs within the agriculture community and potential research areas.

Communication remains important for this group especially with a renewed interest in precision agriculture across the US along with young faculty becoming involved interested in networking and participating in grant developments. Plans are to maintain current information on the NIMISS site while taking advantage of online services to provide documents, proposals, meeting minutes, and other information for the group. We plan to better organize our information (e.g., publications) and activities (e.g., conferences) to enhance. Members will continue to have an active role and leadership in many professional organizations including the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA; We also will continue to be integral in the development and planning of the International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA; and participate in technology conferences such as InfoAg. Informal, impromptu collaboration at NCERA-180 has led to sessions and symposia being planned and developed for the annual meetings of disciplinary societies such as ASA-CSA-SSSA and ASABE. For example, NCERA-180 led the development of the 2005 ASA-CSA-SSSA symposium on Emerging Technologies for Real-Time Integrated Agriculture. The 200 attendees heard from engineers, as well as research leaders from the agronomic societies. Papers from this symposium were published as a special issue of the journal Computers and Electronics in Agriculture. SSCM topics are now a larger part of disciplinary annual meetings. However, this inherently-interdisciplinary topic would tend to be approached from only one perspective at these meetings without continued efforts to broaden the exposure of meeting attendees. The development of such efforts will continue to be a key part of NCERA-180 annual meetings and correspondence, including a goal of one interdisciplinary session per year rotated between disciplinary societies.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • The primary expected outcome of NCERA-180 is an improvement in the understanding of how precision and prescriptive agricultural brings value to the farm and agriculture overall. This outcomes includes new scientific knowledge on how practices such as variable-rate and farm data can improve nutrient and water management.This group will focus on trans-disciplinary and multi-state research and associated technology transfer to consultants, farmers and others in agriculture.
  • This will be achieved through the collaborative development and application of improved techniques to manage spatial variability for food, fiber, and energy production and the knowledge transfer to other researchers, educators, extension professionals, farmers, and agricultural industry personnel. Specific examples are: 1) Based upon the reports, discussion, and results of NCERA-180 meetings, multiple books and extension materials will be published in this next term; 2) Based upon background work at NCERA-180 meetings, appropriate interdisciplinary symposia and sessions will be included as a part of disciplinary (e.g., ASA-CSA-SSSA, ASABE, and AAEA) and inter-disciplinary (e.g., ICPA) meetings. 3) The work on sharing educational modules will result in the improvement of university and college courses by providing a broader perspective and knowledge. Similar sharing will improve extension efforts.
  • Expected outcomeswill incldue extension information that represent joint efforts between university faculty highlighting topics such as quality data collection and use, enhancement of field execution, and benefits of site-specific management of inputs. There are also planned regional and national workshops educating practitioners and consultants on precision agriculture.
  • In terms research, outcomes will include joint proposal development by NCERA 180 participants along with journal publications and other scientific works.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Individuals involved in NCERA-180 will disseminate information to university students in classroom settings and Extension personnel will provide educational opportunities for state and regional clientele via oral presentations, fact sheets and workshops. The NCERA-180 committee will support these educational activities by providing datasets and analytical methodologies to educators. Materials that will be provided to educators will be based upon the objectives and expected outcomes of the NCERA-180 committee. Specifics include sharing of course material, extension information developed for precision ag programming and online delivered information such as videos, glossaries, topical modules containing overview information with examples, and news articles reporting research results.  Development of regional, national, and international symposia will also be an educational outlet for information gathered by the NCERA-180 committee.


The recommended Standard Governance for multistate research activities include the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect, and a Secretary. All officers are to be elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a NIFA Representative.

Literature Cited

Clay, D.E., and John F. Shanahan. 2011. GIS Applications in Agriculture, Volume Two: Nutrient Management for Energy Efficiency. CRC Press.

Clay, S. 2011. GIS Applications in Agriculture, Volume Three: Invasive Species. CRC Press.

Diekmann, F., and M.T. Batte. 2010 Ohio Farming Practices Survey: Adoption and Use of Precision Farming Technology in Ohio. Experimentation report AEDE-RP-0129-10. Publication can be found on-line at

DOE-EIA. 2010. International Energy Outlook 2010 - Highlights. Found on-line at

UN-FAO. 2009. 2050: A third more mouths to feed. Found on-line at

Pierce, F.J., and D.E. Clay. 2007 GIS Applications in Agriculture. CRC Press.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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