Back in the day precision ag meant a horse that could walk a straight line. Today it means managing vast acreages one square inch at a time using mountains of data collected by agricultural drones, satellites and other state-of-the-art devices.

Easy-to-read benefits: lower input and higher yield.

More precise management of fields has two huge benefits: lower inputs and higher yields. Farmers can use field data to employ a “here, not there” approach to adjust herbicide, pesticide and fertilizer placement. And because each square inch gets precisely what it needs, yields go up. Less inputs and more outputs is friendlier for the environment, too, and contributes to more sustainable agriculture.

Rowbots are already working the fields in the Corn Belt.

Soon swarms of drones will be guiding ground robots. What’s exciting is that agriculture has barely scratched the surface with precision agriculture. Farmers used to input field maps based on soil analysis. Then infrared imaging advanced to allow satellite images to capture those data points. Drones are the new hottest ticket, but technology won’t stop there. Now there are products like the Rowbot (www.rowbot.com), an on-the-ground robot that travels between corn rows. The little bots can apply nitrogen exactly where the plant needs it, seed cover crops and collect data for future applications. This is a vision for future technology that will see ground robots in fields guided by drone swarms—tinier versions of today’s model that interact to guide ground units to do things like apply herbicide or fertilizer, take soil tests and more.

A look back … and ahead.

Grandpa’s matched set of gray draft horses could do most anything in a field. The evolution from then to now points to growing and more demanding populations and the need to feed them. It’s exciting to think what the future could hold as data management continues to evolve.

Mike Opperman is a director of account planning at C|O. He’s valued by clients for his keen sense of news and tactical thinking. He grew up on a diversified farming operation and later ran his own 150-cow dairy farm. In short: this is a guy who knows a cow’s behind like no one else on earth.