While still a niche, but growing farming practice, strip-till and precision farming technology intersect on many farmers’ operations to improve efficiency and productivity.

Results of the recently published 4th annual Strip-Till Operational Benchmark study in our sister publication, No-Till Farmer, revealed a 12% increase (nearly 35,000 acres) in acres dedicated to strip-till from 2015 to 2016. A record 446 farmers from 20 states and Canada who identified themselves as strip-tillers responded to the 40-question survey.

Auto-steer and GPS guidance are almost considered standard on many farms, but more progressive systems including variable-rate drives, implement guidance and unmanned aerial vehicles have been inconsistently adopted.

One instance is with variable-rate application of fertilizer, which increased nearly 7 points to 43.2% of strip-tillers’ utilizing the technology in 2015, only to see the total dip to 39.7% in 2016. However, adoption of implement guidance increased dramatically in 2016, to an all-time high of 27.5%, after a benchmark study low of 17.8% in 2015.

Use of RTK-level GPS correction for strip-till operations increased slightly to a record high of 81.3%, an 11% bump over 2013 data. A look at the most popular brands of GPS systems, John Deere maintained its stronghold as the most popular system by nearly a 2 to 1 margin over second place. Some 42.8% of strip-tillers utilize Deere systems.

A new question added to the study asked strip-tillers if they utilize an unmanned aerial vehicle system, or “drone” on their operation, with 22.1% saying “Yes.”

While precision adoption is growing in several areas for strip-tillers, it’s more pronounced among the most successful, in terms of corn and soybean yields. The benchmark study broke down the top 10% of strip-tillers who averaged 250 bushels per acre of corn and 72 bushels per acre of soybeans.

Deere was the most commonly used brand of GPS, with 65% of the top strip-tillers using the system, up from 61.3% in 2015. Use of variable-rate technology was at 54.2% among the top strip-tillers, while 37.5% reported use of implement guidance. Looking at UAV adoption by the top strip-tillers, 25% used the aerial technology on their operation in 2016, just a tick above the total for the overall group.

Savvy dealers tend to know which customers are going to embrace — and pay for — more progressive technologies. Evaluating the top 10% of strip-tillers, they clearly were ahead of the curve with precision adoption and a customer base dealers need to keep in contact with throughout the year.