The first wave of precision agriculture began with the yield monitor and the promise of improved productivity from a better understanding of the relationship between soils, fertility, genetics and yield. Despite that promise, first-wave profits have been largely generated by hardware that steers tractors and turns planter row units and sprayer sections off and on.

That’s about to change. Not that navigation systems, swath-control and other automation technologies are going by the wayside. But in the future, precision profits will be dominated by decisions driven by data collected by yield monitors and multifunction tractor displays, not by savings from row shut-offs.

“In the past 10 years, we have picked the low-hanging fruit to improve farming efficiency and control costs,” says Matt Darr, a precision agriculture specialist at Iowa State University. “But the writing is on the wall. You can only make so much money by saving money. Long term, it is more production that leads to enhanced profits. Spatial information is a big factor in what is needed to achieve that.”

Spatial information boils down to data, and lots of it. But it will require special savvy to turn megabytes of precision data into information that drives profitable decisions.