Originally published on July 8, 2010


While talking with a farmer over lunch, he mentioned how pleased he was with his family’s recent purchase of a sprayer with automatic boom selection controls.

These are GPS-guided devices that eliminate skips and overlaps by shutting off sprayer boom sections when they enter a sprayed area and turning on boom sections when they leave the applied area.

Agricultural engineers from the University of Kentucky concluded in their field studies that a sprayer using automatic boom section control technology will apply eight to 15 percent less product over the same target area as a sprayer with no controls.

 The technology costs around $3,000, but also requires a GPS receiver and mapping software, which costs about $10,500.

 When combined, these investments produce a precision farmer, but does precision farming pay?Yes, according to my analysis, and at a surprisingly quick pace.

I based my comparisons on a farmer who used automatic boom section controls when applying liquid fertilizer, pre-seed burn-off and in-field crop spraying on his 2010 cereal crop.

 I came up with assumed costs per acre and then extrapolated the per acre savings based on the U of K field studies.

I found that automatic boom section controls saved our farmer a minimum of $4.92 per acre with eight percent less product applied and up to $9.23 per acre with 15 percent less product applied.

 Put another way, our farmer recovered the $3,000 cost of his automatic boom section controls after farming only 610 acres if the savings are only eight percent.


 If the savings are as high as 15 percent, the cost can be recovered by farming as little as 326 acres.

 The costs to get started will be higher if farmers do not yet have GPS and mapping software in their machines because they will need more acres to recover the $13,500 investment.

Using our cereal cost assumptions, a farmer will recover the cost of the GPS system and boom controller at either 2,744 acres with an eight percent savings or as few as 1,468 acres with a 15 percent input reduction.

New users of this technology point out its ease of use, the reduction in mental fatigue and the better job overall.

 The farmer I talked to said he no longer worries about skips or overlaps and is much nicer to be around in the spring.

 Adopting this technology for 2010 was probably a good business decision because the rain and resulting sloughs left all of us with irregular fields.

 Fighting the overlaps and skips would be difficult and costly without GPS and automatic boom section controls.

 My analysis took into account only the reduced input costs and not the returns from a better crop.

 We all know that minimizing overlaps and skips will produce a more productive field and higher profits at harvest.

Precision farming technology also prevents applying product to environmentally sensitive areas. 

Allyn Tastad, chartered professional accountant, is a partner in the accounting firm of Hounjet Tastad Harpham in Saskatoon at 306-653-5100, e-mail at or website All data and information provided is for informational purposes only. Readers are cautioned that laws and regulations are subject to change. Consult your accountant for current professional advice tailored to your situation.