By Pat Melgares, K-State Research and Extension news service

MANHATTAN, Kan. –  A study of American farmers’ adoption of precision agriculture technology indicates that during the first two decades of the 21st century, acreage farmed with automated systems has increased ten-fold or more.

The findings are reported in a study conducted by Kansas State University precision agriculture economist Terry Griffin and colleagues with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

The report, Precision Agriculture in the Digital Era: Recent Adoption on U.S. Farms, is available online. Griffin said the report studies adoption of precision technology on several major crops, including corn, soybean, winter wheat, grain sorghum and more.

“The most adopted technologies typically have the word ‘automated’ in their names,” Griffin said. “The reason for that is that they tend to make life a little bit easier for the operators than if they didn’t have the technology.”

As an example, Griffin notes that equipment that provides automated guidance makes life easier for farmers as they work through fields, ‘but the user doesn’t have to understand any of the high technology that goes into it.”

“Automated guidance is embodied into the technology,” Griffin said. “The user is endowed with the ability to use it.”

From 2001 to 2016, auto-steer guidance systems were used on 5.3% of planted corn acres in the United States, and increased to 58% in 2016. Griffin said that 2019 estimates for sorghum and cotton indicated that 72.9% and 64.5% of planted acres, respectively, used auto-steer systems.

Also in 2019, global positioning satellite (GPS) systems were used on 40% of all U.S. farm and ranch acreage for on-farm production, he said.

Data technologies – such as yield mapping and soils mapping – are still important in American agriculture, but Griffin said American farmers are adopting those technologies at much lower rates – less than one-fourth of all planted acres in the U.S.

Griffin said that precision agriculture – and digital agriculture, a closely related term that reflects all information technologies applied to agriculture – is important to American agriculture. The industry will have to greatly increase production in order to feed a hungry world; the United Nations estimates that the world’s population will swell to 9.7 billion by 2050.

Other key findings in the report include:

The detailed report is online from K-State’s Department of Agricultural Economics, and at Griffin also talked about his work recently on K-State’s weekly podcast, Agriculture Today with Samantha Bennett, which is available online.

Griffin can also be contacted by email,, or on Twitter, @SpacePlowboy.